Barry George loses compensation case

Barry George Mr George was first convicted in 2001 but an Old Bailey retrial took place in 2008

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Barry George, wrongly convicted of the murder of BBC TV presenter Jill Dando, has lost a bid for compensation.

His case followed a Supreme Court ruling that widened the circumstances under which compensation could be paid.

But the High Court ruled he did not qualify because jurors could still reasonably have convicted him despite new evidence that led to his acquittal.

Three other men also failed in similar cases but a fifth was successful and will have his case reconsidered.

'Flawed' decision

In May 2011 the Supreme Court redefined the legal meaning of what amounted to a miscarriage of justice.

Analysis

Innocent until proven guilty, right? Not when it comes to compensation claims for people whose convictions have been quashed - the government sets a very high bar.

In essence, the wrongfully convicted have to show there's no existing evidence on which they could be found guilty - or that they are "clearly innocent". Unless all the key evidence in the case has been demolished at their appeal they're unlikely to succeed.

Those who have had a retrial, after their conviction was overturned, will also probably lose out. The grounds were widened a little by the Supreme Court in May 2011, which gave renewed hope to Barry George that his damages claim might succeed.

But the High Court's decision has closed the door - unless the Supreme Court justices can be persuaded to reconsider the issues.

Previously, compensation was only awarded for a miscarriage of justice if a claimant could effectively prove they were innocent.

But the nine Supreme Court judges widened this by saying that if a person could prove that no set of circumstances could possibly lead to their conviction by a jury, they could get compensation.

Ian Glen QC, appearing for Mr George, 52, who spent eight years in prison before being cleared in 2008 after a retrial, had argued that the decision to refuse damages to a maximum of £500,000 was "defective and contrary to natural justice".

He said that despite Mr George's unanimous acquittal by a jury at his retrial, the Ministry of Justice had unfairly and unlawfully decided he was "not innocent enough to be compensated".

But for more than 30 years those acquitted on retrials in similar circumstances had been compensated, said Mr Glen.

Not to treat Mr George's acquittal as a miscarriage of justice "went behind the decision of the jury that acquitted him" and failed to take account of the fact that no safe conviction could ever be based on the evidence against him, the QC said.

But the High Court judges Lord Justice Beatson and Mr Justice Irwin said: "There was indeed a case upon which a reasonable jury properly directed could have convicted the claimant of murder."

Unsafe conviction

Mr George's lawyers indicated they would seek to appeal to the Supreme Court - a so-called "leapfrog" appeal.

Nicholas Baird, said Mr George and his family were "terribly disappointed" and wanted to "reflect" on the judgment before making any comment.

Miss Dando, 37, was shot dead on her doorstep in Fulham, west London, in April 1999.

Mr George was convicted in 2001 but an Old Bailey retrial took place in 2008 after doubt was cast on the reliability of gunshot residue evidence.

But the case brought by Ian Lawless, jailed for eight years for murder before being freed by the Court of Appeal in 2009, was successful.

Mr Lawless was jailed for life in 2002 after confessing to the murder of retired sea captain Alf Wilkins on the Yarborough estate in Grimsby, Lincolnshire.

His trial heard he had made various "confessions" to third parties, including regulars in a pub and a taxi driver.

But in 2009, his conviction was ruled unsafe after fresh medical evidence revealed he had a "pathological need for attention".

The High Court judges ruled that in his case the decision to refuse compensation was legally flawed and must be reconsidered in the light of their judgement.

The other three cases which failed were:

  • Justin Tunbridge was sentenced to nine months in prison in 1995 for two counts of indecently assaulting a woman. His case was referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, an independent body which investigates possible miscarriages of justice, which found fresh evidence relating to the credibility of the prosecution case. Conviction quashed in 2008
  • Kevin Dennis was convicted in 2000 of the murder of a man in an Ealing nightclub with his two brothers and another man. His appeal was granted on the basis the evidence of the expert witness on CCTV images could no longer be relied on. The murder conviction was quashed in March 2004 and a retrial held in 2005, but he was acquitted by direction of the judge
  • Ismail Ali was convicted of actual bodily harm (ABH) against his wife and sentenced to a year in prison in June 2007. His conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal in November 2008 based on new evidence from a series of recorded telephone conversations, which Mr Ali said were between the couple

Another 11 cases were awaiting Friday's landmark ruling.

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