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Franklin Sinclair, Criminal Law Solicitors Assoc.
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Tuesday, 3 July, 2001, 19:02 GMT 20:02 UK
'Tough fight' ahead for George lawyer
Michael Mansfield QC at the Old Bailey during the trial
Michael Mansfield QC: Will appeal Dando verdict
By the BBC's Danny Shaw

Michael Mansfield is nothing if not a battler.

But the silver-haired barrister now faces one of the toughest fights of his long and distinguished legal career to overturn the "guilty" verdict returned on his client, Barry George, for the murder of Jill Dando.

He will have to work fast - because he has only 28 days in which to lodge an appeal.

He will begin by examining the three-day summing-up of the trial judge, Mr Justice Gage, to look for omissions and mistakes.

Police handout of Barry George
George: Did he receive a fair trial?
The difficulty he faces is that the judge made strenuous efforts to ensure what he said was fair to both defence and prosecution.

He consulted counsel before and during the summing-up and took their views into account.

If there was any hint of imbalance, most observers thought it favoured the defence as Mr Justice Gage continually stressed the presumption of innocence - that it was up to the prosecution to prove the case.

One of the other planks of Mr Mansfield's appeal may be publicity.

In February, he attempted unsuccessfully to have the trial aborted, claiming that press coverage about Barry George's background put him at a disadvantage.

Press coverage

A similar point could be advanced as grounds for appeal - but once again the fact that the arguments have been heard and rejected once already does not augur well for the defence.

It may be more fruitful for Mr Mansfield to focus on the two key areas of prosecution evidence of which the jury had to be certain.

These were sightings of Barry George at the murder scene and his visit to HAFAD, a local disability centre.

If any chinks were discovered in these two areas, Mr Mansfield would have a stronger case.

Miss Dando
Miss Dando: No witnesses to the murder
The identification evidence was particularly controversial because only two people picked Barry George out of a line-up, and one of those expressed reservations about doing so.

Other witnesses either failed to identify him or said it "might" have been him - including one who had had a relationship with a detective from the investigating team.

The evidence of the HAFAD witnesses was also crucial, since it related to Barry George's alibi.

The defence argued before the trial that because a year had passed before the HAFAD staff were interviewed, the timings they gave about Barry George's appearance at the centre could not be relied on.

The state of Barry George's mental health is also likely to be an issue the defence team will focus on.

The jury knew that he had epilepsy and a psychological problem, but nothing else.

Mental difficulties

If they had known of his personality disorders and low IQ, might they have viewed his interviews with police rather differently?

The judge ruled that because of his mental difficulties Barry George would not be penalised for failing to go into the witness box.

However, the defence may argue that the matter was not satisfactorily dealt with, especially since the prosecution referred briefly to it in their closing speech.

Michael Mansfield will scrutinise all these issues with the rigour and tenacity which are his hallmark.

But only if he finds fresh evidence to cast real doubt on the verdict will he stand a chance of quashing the conviction.

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