LONDON (Reuters) - The man cleared of murdering BBC TV presenter Jill Dando won substantial libel damages from the Sun and the News of the World newspapers on Wednesday over claims he had pestered women with whom he had been obsessed.
Barry George served eight years behind bars after being convicted in 2001 of Dando’s murder until he was released in August last year when a jury acquitted him in a retrial.
Dando, 37, was shot with a gun pressed against her head on the doorstep of her west London home in April 1999.
George always denied being her killer and told newspapers after his release that he had been pursuing another woman on the day of Dando’s death.
His lawyer Gordon Bishop told London’s High Court on Wednesday that George had brought the libel action over a number of articles in the two papers between August and November last year.
He said that the papers’ publisher News Group Newspapers had withdrawn the “false allegations” and apologised for making them. It had agreed to pay him substantial undisclosed damages and all his legal costs, the Press Association reported.
“I am pleased that the matter between myself and News Group Newspapers has been amicably settled following a successful mediation without the need for litigation,” George said.
Bishop said that immediately after his acquittal, George was interviewed by News of the World reporters and the following day by Kay Burley for Sky TV.
The Sun then published articles about the retrial and George, which described a number of issues that had been kept from the jury.
News Group now recognised that those articles would have been understood to mean that there were grounds to suspect George of the murder despite his acquittal,” Bishop said
“The defendant accepts that the verdict of the second jury in acquitting Mr George was correct and it apologises to Mr George for any suggestion otherwise,” he said.
The following day, the News of the World carried a report of the interviews given by George in which he stated that at the time of the murder he was in a disability centre.
“He also said that an hour later he was in conversation with a woman in the street who became a prosecution witness,” the lawyer told the court.
“Although he accepted he was paying possibly unwanted attention to her, she never expressed that to him. The headline for the article was ‘I didn’t kill Jill Dando... I was stalking someone else at the time’. The defendant accepts that Mr George never made that statement.”
Bishop said various allegations were made in both newspapers in October 2008.
These included that George had become obsessed with Burley, that he pestered a woman whose advert about a dog he had answered, and that he became obsessed with Pam Wright, fiancee of Steve Wright, convicted of murdering five prostitutes in Ipswich.
“The defendant now accepts that, although on one occasion Mr George did cycle to Sky TV studios to try to collect a tape of his interview with Kay Burley, Mr George did not pose a threat and was not obsessed with her,” Bishop said.
Dando’s murder led to one of London police’s biggest investigations.
Before George was arrested, detectives examined a wide range of theories. One was that she was killed by a Serb, angry that she had presented a TV fundraiser for Kosovan refugees.
Others suggested she was killed by an ex-lover or by an underworld hitman for her work helping the police on the BBC’s “Crimewatch.”
After George’s release, detectives appealed for new information on the case, saying a 50,000 pound reward was still available.
Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison