The Sun says... sorry to Barry George

Man acquitted of Jill Dando's murder awarded "substantial" payout

Barry George, the man acquitted of killing Jill Dando, has been awarded "substantial" damages and an apology from the publisher of the Sun and the News of the World.

George, who has a personality disorder, spent eight years in jail for the shooting of the BBC TV presenter before being acquitted at a retrial last year. He gave an interview because, his lawyer said: "He knew there would be a clamour from the press for his story and he wanted to satisfy the demands of the press . . . and be left in peace."

However, the articles, which appeared in the Sun and the News of the World between August and November 2008, suggested that he could still be guilty of the murder and that he had been stalking other women.

News Group Newspapers has now admitted that the articles:

. . . would have been understood to mean that there were grounds to suspect Mr George of the murder despite his acquittal. It accepts that the verdict of the second jury in acquitting Mr George was correct and it apologises to Mr George for any suggestion otherwise.

The NotW went so far as to say that George had told the newspaper: "I didn't kill Jill Dando -- I was stalking someone else at the time." It now accepts that he never made this statement.

In the own words of his own counsel, George was convicted because he was "the local loner, the local nutter", a stigma that clearly continued to dog him after his conviction. It's a sad demonstration of the kind of thing that makes the British tabloid press notorious worldwide.

The argument for reform of the UK's libel laws -- and particularly their abuse by big corporations to curtail criticism -- is gaining speed. It's good to see them being put to proper use here to protect an individual's reputation from unfair attack.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.