Barry George, who spent eight years in prison after being wrongly convicted of the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando, has launched a new High Court battle for compensation as a victim of a “miscarriage of justice”.
His QC told two judges yesterday that – despite Mr George’s unanimous acquittal by a jury at a retrial – a Ministry of Justice “functionary” had unfairly and unlawfully decided that he was “not innocent enough to be compensated”.
Yet for more than 30 years those acquitted on retrials in similar circumstances had been compensated, said Ian Glen QC. The position seemed to have changed in 2008, the year that Mr George was acquitted.
“We are not sure when the policy was changed or whether it was affected by the Barry George case,” said Mr Glen.
He argued that the decision not to treat Mr George’s acquittal as a miscarriage of justice was to go behind the decision of the jury that acquitted him and failed to take account of the fact that no safe conviction could ever be based on the evidence against Mr George.
Mr George, 52, who was not at the hearing at London’s High Court, is seeking a reconsideration of his case that could open the way for him to claim an award of up to £500,000. His high-profile action is one of five test cases assembled for Mr Justice Beatson and Mr Justice Irwin to decide who is now entitled to payments in “miscarriages of justice” cases, following a landmark decision by the Supreme Court in May 2011.
Decisions in all five cases to refuse payouts are being defended by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in a three-day hearing.
Miss Dando, the Somerset-born TV presenter who was the face of the BBC’s Crimewatch programme, was shot dead outside her home in Fulham in April 1999. After his conviction in 2001, Mr George, also of Fulham, was acquitted of killing the 37-year-old presenter at the 2008 retrial.
Mr George’s initial claim for compensation for lost earnings and wrongful imprisonment was rejected in January 2010.
His legal challenge against that decision was put on hold until after a panel of nine Supreme Court justices gave their landmark compensation ruling in the case of Andrew Adams – a former aircraft engineer who spent 14 years in jail before his murder conviction was ruled unsafe.
After the Adams ruling, Mr George was told by the Justice Secretary in June 2011 that he was still not entitled to compensation under Section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
Asking the High Court to quash the Justice Secretary’s decision, Mr Glen said yesterday: “Mr George’s claim has not been properly and fully considered or reconsidered.
“We want the opportunity to have a proper reconsideration at the appropriate level – at ministerial level – when we can have the chance to make our submissions about the state of the evidence and whether a safe conviction (against Mr George) could be based on it.”
The decision to refuse compensation was “defective and contrary to natural justice”.
The hearing continues today.
Jill Dando was born in Weston-super-Mare. She studied journalism at South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education in Cardiff.
She was a keen thespian. She was a member of Weston-super-Mare Amateur Dramatic Society and Exeter Little Theatre Company, with whom she appeared in plays at the Barnfield Theatre.
She was a volunteer at Sunshine Hospital Radio in Weston-super-Mare in 1979 and she started her first job as a trainee reporter for the local weekly newspaper, the Weston Mercury, where her father and brother worked.
After five years as a print journalist, she began employment with the BBC when she became a newsreader for BBC Radio Devon in 1985.
That year, she transferred to BBC South West, where she presented a regional news magazine programme, Spotlight South West. In 1987, she worked for TSW, then worked for BBC Spotlight in Plymouth.