Professor Robert Williams

Barry GeorgeThe recent High Court judgement affirming the Home Secretary’s earlier decision to reject Barry George’s application for compensation is nothing short of outrageous.

Barry George was convicted of the murder of the TV presenter, Jill Dando, in 2001, but a second appeal resulted in his conviction being quashed because the apparently decisive forensic evidence regarding gunshot residue was deemed by the Appeal Court judges to have no evidential value.

Despite the fact that George had already spent 8 years in prison, the Crown Prosecution Service decided that it would retry George without the residue evidence. Their case was flimsy and amounted to little more than claiming that George had a ‘bad character’ with convictions for harassment and assault and that he had been seen in the street some hours before the murder. As George lived nearby and walked the streets of Fulham a lot of the time and his most recent conviction occurred at least 16 years before the murder of Dando, this was hardly compelling evidence.

Unsuprisingly, the jury took a relatively short time to acquit George unanimously and he was released. The police have failed to identify any other suspect for the murder and, as I have argued elsewhere, this may be because the perpetrator is out of the reach of the Metropolitan Police and living in Serbia.

Barry George spent 8 years in prison for a crime he was found not guilty of by a unanimous jury verdict yet Jack Straw, the then Home Secretary, rejected his application for compensation on the grounds that he had no reputation to lose and that George had not ‘proved’ his innocence. This is a reversal of the normal burden of proof where we presume innocence before conviction.

The High Court’s opinion seems to be that another jury might have convicted George and that, in the absence of any other definitive evidence establishing the guilt of another person, he has no case for compensation!

Is it just me or is the logic of this decision difficult to follow? The implication seems to be that in future accused persons need to find evidence against someone else in order to ‘prove’ their innocence. 

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