Experts doubt chances of appeal being successful

The defence
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The Independent Online

Barry George's legal team left court yesterday announcing their client would be launching an immediate appeal against his conviction. They face an uphill struggle.

Michael Mansfield QC, the barrister who presented George's defence and who will lead the appeal, will have to show a material irregularity took place during or before the trial that resulted in George being unfairly convicted. It will not be enough to simply argue that the evidence was circumstantial or that the jury came to a wrong decision.

Lack of evidence, on its own, is never a sufficient ground for an appeal to succeed.

Nevertheless, Marilyn Etienne, from George's defence team, said outside the Old Bailey: "Preparations are being put in hand immediately for an appeal."

Mr Mansfield and his team now have 28 days to trawl through hundreds of pages of court transcripts before they make an application for permission to appeal. They will be concentrating on the judge's directions to the jury and, in particular, looking at what he told them about the one piece of scientific evidence ­ the gunpowder residue found on George's clothing and similar to that found on Jill Dando's hair.

Mr Mansfield has already made much about the publicity surrounding the case. Although the trial judge, Mr Justice Gage, said this did not prevent a jury from fairly reaching its verdict Mr Mansfield may wish to return to this point in the appeal.

Legal experts said yesterday there was nothing that really stood out to give George an obvious ground for appeal.

Malcolm Fowler, chairman of the Law Society's criminal law committee, said: "If the evidence was properly before the jury then it is a matter for the jury to reach its decision ­ that, after all, is what they are there for."

He said the 10-1 majority verdict and the time it took them to return a guilty verdict were interesting aspects of the trial but, again, did not constitute grounds for appeal.

Franklin Sinclair, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said: "They [the defence team] may not feel there was enough evidence but they will need more than that to convince the Court of Appeal that something material went wrong."

For a court to accept that the jury came to a perverse verdict there must be a "complete absence" of evidence linking the jury's verdict, said Mr Fowler.

Mr Sinclair suggested the appeal lawyers should also make sure that the judge had made clear to the jury that by not giving evidence George did not have something to hide.

Of more fertile territory might be the liaison between a key witness for the prosecution and one of the detectives investigating the murder.

The detective constable had contact with Charlotte de Rosnay, who gave important identification evidence, although a senior officer had warned him not to do so, it emerged during legal arguments in the absence of the jury.

The alleged relationship was the subject of a newspaper article earlier this year and was raised by Mr Mansfield during the trial. He said then: "There were opportunities for him to discuss the case." But Mr Mansfield did not suggest that the detective tried to influence Ms de Rosnay's evidence, only saying it was clear there was a discussion about the identification. But this again was rejected by the judge.

The first part of the appeal will be before a judge who will decide whether permission should be granted for a full hearing. This will be done in chambers without representations from lawyers. If the appeal is granted it will not take place for at least another six months.

A campaigner from the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation, launched by Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six, said he was "stunned" by George's conviction. "I believe this is one of the worst miscarriages of justice we have ever seen," said John McManus.

"The concepts of 'beyond reasonable doubt' and 'presumed innocent' have gone out of the window in British courts."