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George Tyndale column: Ugly saga of police shambles.

Byline: George Tyndale

EVERYTHING about the killing of Jill Dando leaves behind a feeling of unease. In the beginning, it was the fact that a young woman could be gunned down in broad daylight on her own doorstep.

Now it is the jailing of a weirdo who may, or may not, have committed the crime - and in between, there has been an entire saga of cock-up and confusion.

Certainly there is not enough evidence to make a positive decision about whether Barry George shot Miss Dando. There is no murder weapon, no witnesses to the crime and no real connection between the convicted man and the TV presenter.

The murder was carried out with such precision that for months police were looking for a professional hitman.

Yet George was a shambling 41-year-old who inhabited a fantasy life and a flat that was a tip. He was such a nutter that his interests included standing in the street and pretending to direct traffic.

The one speck of forensic evidence was a particle of gunpowder residue unearthed by 50 detectives only after his coat had been taken to a photographer's studio previously used for taking snaps of firearms.

But if the pounds 4 million investigation has failed to give us one solid fact about George's guilt or innocence, it has spoken volumes about the state of policing in this country.

Convictions

Here was a man who lived around the corner from the murder scene, who had convictions for sexual attacks on women and who had once been found in a mask, carrying two knives, in the grounds of Kensington Palace.

Locals called the police time after time to name him as a suspect. Yet it was eight months before they even reacted. It took them 395 days to arrest him.

So a hand-picked team of our finest detectives, armed with the best computer equipment money can buy, proved that the police are still incapable of handling major investigations which generate sizeable amounts of information.

Nothing, it seems, has improved since the shambles that was the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry.

But that is no more damning than what we learned about our courts from the fact that the jury took 31 hours to come up with a majority decision so shaky that it has every chance of being overturned on appeal.

As a result, it will hammer another nail into the coffin of our legal system's credibility.

If our treatment of the mentally ill was any more cultured than a fruit machine, Barry George might never have been near a court in the first place.

After his arrest, psychologists rapidly diagnosed six personality disorders.

Yet despite the fact that he haunted GP surgeries, he had only once been referred for psychiatric treatment. When he did not keep the appointment, nobody bothered to pursue it.

And when he was three times caught committing crimes, he was given piffling sentences that had him back on the street in months. When he was found, armed and masked, in Princess Diana's back garden, he was not even charged.

So a man who should have been treated - or safely locked up - was allowed to wander around, indulging in bizarre and dangerous activities that ranged from stalking to raping.

When he supposedly committed an appalling crime in his own neighbourhood, it took the police over a year even to get round to talking to him - and then a jury convicted him on the basis of no real evidence at all.

The Dando case has created an ugly picture of Britain where both the health and legal systems are deeply and dangerously flawed. One way or another, these failings cost Jill Dando her life.

The scandal is that, even now, no-one is even suggesting that they should be put right.

CAPTION(S):

JAILED... Barry George
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jul 8, 2001
Words:634
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