ON a leafy London street, presenter Jill Dando was returning from a shopping trip in Hammersmith and had just reached her front door when she was approached by a mystery gunman.
Firing a single gunshot at point blank range, he took the life of the popular TV host, sending shockwaves through the nation.
The Crimewatch star, whose on-air appeals helped catch hundreds of criminals, was murdered as she returned to her £400,000 home in Fulham’s Gowan Avenue at 11.30am on April 26, 1999, after a night with her fiancé Alan Farthing in Chiswick.
She was found on her doorstep by a passer-by 15 minutes later, but paramedics couldn’t save her and the 37-year-old was declared dead at Charing Cross Hospital at 1.03pm.
Although local man Barry George was jailed for her murder in July 2001, his conviction was overturned seven years later, with his defence lawyers arguing that his IQ was too low for him to have executed such a sophisticated killing.
As the 20th anniversary approaches, despite an exhaustive police investigation involving 2,500 interviews and 1,000 statements, the murder remains a mystery.
Here we examine the various theories raised over the last two decades – from an IRA shooting and a Serbian mafia assassination to a hit by a paedophile ring.
1. Was she murdered to stop her exposing a paedophile ring?
In 2014, Dando’s friend and BBC colleague claimed the Crimewatch presenter had been on the verge of exposing a VIP paedophile ring when she died.
The anonymous staff member, said Jill had approached BBC chiefs about her concerns just months before she died and had compiled a dossier on the evidence.
The friend reportedly told the Daily Express: “I don’t recall the names of all the stars now and don’t want to implicate anyone, but Jill said they were surprisingly big names.”
It was also reported that Jill had received death threats after joining a campaign to help children spot paedophiles, and the BBC had increased security at their West London studios.
However, the BBC said it had seen no evidence to substantiate claims the Jill had raised concerns over the high profile paedophile ring.
2. Shot by a crazed stalker
Opening the investigation in 1999, Detective Chief Inspector Hamish Campbell said: “It could either be a stalker or a hitman. However, there are many theories to be explored and nothing will be left untouched.”
But several factors initially led Police to favour the lone stalker theory, including the statement of neighbour Richard Hughes who said he heard a surprised cry from Jill “like someone greeting a friend”, suggesting she may have recognised her murderer.
It was also claimed Jill had “been irritated by a number of obsessive fans”.
The cartridge case and bullet recovered from the scene suggested that the weapon used had been a home-converted replica or a decommissioned gun.
The man wrongly convicted of her murder
Barry George, who lived close to Jill’s home, quickly became a suspect because of past instances of stalking.
At 22, he had been convicted of attempted rape after following a young woman to her home and assaulting her on the doorstep.
He was also released without charge after being found in the grounds of Kensington Palace, then home to Princess Diana, with a 12-inch hunting knife and 50ft of rope.
Police found a stash of photos of female celebrities at his home along with a photo of a man – alleged to be George – holding a blank firing pistol.
They also claim to have found firearms discharge (FDR) residue in the pocket of his jacket, which appeared to match that found on the cartridge.
On July 2, 2001, George was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison but an appeal, in November 2007, quashed his conviction and a subsequent retrial found him not guilty.
Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke ruled George, now 59, was “not innocent enough” to receive a payout.
In 2013, the High Court backed decisions by successive governments to refuse him compensation for the eight years in prison because this is only paid when a new fact emerges to show beyond reasonable doubt that they did not commit the offence.
3. A professional hit by criminal family
After Barry George’s release, a cold case review suggested the killing had the hallmarks of a professional hit.
The method pointed to a “hard contact execution”, pressing the gun against the head to silence the shot and minimise the possibility of blood on the killer’s clothes.
An intelligence report named two suspects from a leading London crime family, suggesting the murder could have been in retaliation for a Crimewatch investigation.
In an ITV documentary in 2017, policeman turned journalist Mark Williams-Thomas spoke to an anonymous hitman who claimed he knew who pulled the trigger but was too frightened to name him.
After being shown a list of 100 names supplied by police he said: “There are names here that I recognise, and there’s one in particular that stands out to me.
“But I wouldn’t identify that person because it’s very dangerous. I’m sure that they would come after me.”
In a later interview on This Morning, Williams-Thomas added: “I am very confident the killer or the person who organised the killing is in that inquiry team database.”
4. Killed by the Serbian mafia
Just 15 days before Jill’s murder Serbian journalist Slavko Curuvija was shot dead outside his home in Belgrade.
Four high ranking members of the State Security Service were later accused of orchestrating the murder in retaliation for criticism of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
In 2012, Curuvija’s widow, Branka Prpa, claimed Jill Dando became a target after fronting a BBC appeal on behalf of Kosovan-Albanian refugees driven from their homes by militias supporting Milosevic.
She told the Daily Telegraph: “I think there is a link between Dando and Curuvija. I think they were both executed.”
Detectives also received a tip-off saying Serbian criminals in the UK carried out the shooting in retaliation for a NATO attack on the Radio Television of Serbia HQ which killed 16 staff members on April 23 – just three days before Jill died.
The timeline to Jill Dando’s murder
10.03am – A postman delivering at the house believed he was being watched by a dark haired man in a suit. At around the same time a traffic warden began to issue a ticket for a dark blue Range Rover parked illegally, but let the driver off when he argued.
11.30am – Jill Dando was shot once in the head on her doorstep. Two witnesses saw a man with thick black hair and a waxed jacket running down the street. Shortly afterwards, a blue Range Rover was caught on camera speeding down Fulham Palace Road away from the scene.
11.40am – Witnesses saw a man crouched by some railings in a nearby park, talking into a mobile phone.
11.50am – A man runs across the road away from Dando’s street forcing a driver to slam on the brakes.
1.03pm – Jill Dando was declared dead at Charing Cross Hospital.
5. Killed by the IRA
The 1990s saw some of the worst attacks carried out by the provisional IRA and it has been claimed that Jill was targeted because of her links to police through Crimewatch.
During Barry George’s second trial, 52,000 documents were made available to his defence team and among them was a a letter from IRA member Wayne Aird, who was serving life for another murder.
He claimed he was part of an IRA squad that had killed Jill but because of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, which was in full swing by 1999, there was an “establishment cover up” to bury the truth.
6. Murdered by Spanish barman
A left field theory rarely mentioned, links the murder to an elusive Spanish barman called “Joe”.
A report by the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which ceased to exist in 2006, mentioned a gunman called Joe who worked in a bar in Spain and had links to murderer Kenneth Noye.
Crimewatch was instrumental in bringing Noye to justice after he went on the run following the road rage killing of 21-year-old Stephen Cameron, in Kent in 1996.
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Noye was tracked down in Spain and extradited in May 1999, the month after Jill’s murder, and subsequently sentenced to life in prison.
The report said: “Joe runs a bar in Tenerife, frequented by leading ex-pat criminals.
“He’s described as a frustrated gangster reputed to owe money to Kenny Noye. There’s been talk Joe has been keen to rehabilitate his reputation with gangster creditors.”
Despite the report, “Joe” was never traced.