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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What happened when a couple accidentally recorded two hours of their life

The cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic.

If the Transformers series of movies (Transformers; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Transformers: Age of Extinction; and Transformers: the Last Knight) teach us anything, it is that you think your life is going along just fine but in a moment, with a single mistake or incident, it can be derailed and you never know from what direction the threat will come. Shia LaBeouf, for example, thinks everything is completely OK in his world – then he discovers his car is a shape-shifting alien.

I once knew a couple called Dan and Fiona who, on an evening in the early 1980s, accidentally recorded two hours of their life. Fiona was an English teacher (in fact we’d met at teacher-training college) and she wished to make a recording of a play that was being broadcast on Radio 4 about an anorexic teenager living on a council estate in Belfast. A lot of the dramas at that time were about anorexic teenagers living on council estates in Belfast, or something very similar – sometimes they had cancer.

Fiona planned to get her class to listen to the play and then they would have a discussion about its themes. In that pre-internet age when there was no iPlayer, the only practical way to hear something after the time it had been transmitted was to record the programme onto a cassette tape.

So Fiona got out their boom box (a portable Sony stereo player), loaded in a C120 tape, switched on the radio part of the machine, tuned it to Radio 4, pushed the record button when the play began, and fastidiously turned the tape over after 60 minutes.

But instead of pushing the button that would have taped the play, she had actually pushed the button that activated the built-in microphone, and the machine captured, not the radio drama, but the sound of 120 minutes of her and Dan’s home life, which consisted solely of: “Want a cup of tea?” “No thanks.” And a muffled fart while she was out of the room. That was all. That was it.

The two of them had, until that moment, thought their life together was perfectly happy, but the tape proved them conclusively wrong. No couple who spent their evenings in such torpidity could possibly be happy. Theirs was clearly a life of grinding tedium.

The evidence of the cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic: the idea of spending any more of their evenings in such bored silence was intolerable. They feared they might have to split up. Except they didn’t want to.

But what could they do to make their lives more exciting? Should they begin conducting sordid affairs in sleazy nightclubs? Maybe they could take up arcane hobbies such as musketry, baking terrible cakes and entering them in competitions, or building models of Victorian prisons out of balsa wood? Might they become active in some kind of extremist politics?

All that sounded like a tremendous amount of effort. In the end they got themselves a cat and talked about that instead. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder