[24/6/07: I usually don't mess with posts too much after the fact; but I've edited this one quite a lot. In its original incarnation, I seemed to equate possibly dubious prosecution evidence with likely innocence of accused. Sorry.]
Barry George, convicted in 2001 of murdering the TV presenter Jill Dando, has been granted the right to a second appeal. This is good news. I’ve got no special knowledge of or insight into the case – I’ve just followed it in the newspapers and on TV, like everyone else. Still – it’s seemed possible for a while now that George’s conviction could be a miscarriage of justice, and a fresh appeal is to be welcomed.
Of course one should be wary of drawing strong conclusions from casual acquaintance with the complex facts of a criminal case. Appearances can be deceptive: that’s why miscarriages of justice happen in the first place.
All the same, from the middle distance the case against George has always looked flimsy. The most compelling piece of evidence was firearms residue found in the pocket of his coat. But we now know (see, for instance, this panorama documentary) that the coat was photographed by police before it was tested for forensic evidence; for this it was removed from its protective airtight bag, in a room also used for storing firearms. There have also been claims that the police officers who arrested George, or who searched his home, were carrying firearms. The police deny it – but it seems the new appeal may be linked to fresh evidence. According to the BBC, “Mr Moore [George's solicitor] says there are new witnesses able to contest [the police's claims].” The Criminal Cases Review Commission have permitted a new appeal on the grounds that (in the words of the commission chairman): “the weight placed on that evidence [the firearms residue] at the trial, and presumably by the jury, was inappropriate, was incorrect.”
It’ll be interesting to see what happens now.