Police 'must not harass' man cleared of Dando muder, says judge

By John Aston,Press Association
Friday 18 December 2009 12:29

Any harassment of the man cleared of killing Crimewatch host Jill Dando must stop, a High Court judge said today.

The judge spoke out after the police were accused of "unlawfully harassing" Barry George by constantly stopping and questioning him since his acquittal - on one occasion because he had looked at officers "in a funny way".

The judge said he did not know if the allegations were true, but added: "If (George) is being harassed by police officers, or anybody else, let it be known I am prepared to say now it should stop."

George, 49, is fighting a High Court battle over the legality of the supervision of his movements by the Metropolitan Police and other agencies following his acquittal.

He was cleared at a re-trial last year of murdering 37-year-old Dando outside her home in Fulham, west London, in 1999, and says he should now be free to rebuild his life without constant interference by the police.

But he is being supervised under a Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangement (Mappa), which includes probation officers and the local housing authority, because of fears that he might still pose a public risk.

The full legal challenge will be heard next March.

Today, lawyers for George asked the High Court in London, in preliminary proceedings, to order the contents of Mappa documents to be disclosed in time for the hearing and to direct the cross examination of witnesses.

Deputy High Court judge Sir George Newman rejected the bulk of the application, saying it was too wide-ranging.

He described accusations that monitoring by Mappa had triggered the alleged harassment of Mr George, who suffers from learning difficulties, autism and epilepsy, as "speculative".

But he did order a statement to be produced to clarify how Mappa operated and its impact on Mr George, as well as details contained on ViSOR, the police computer system containing information about violent or sexual offenders and suspects.

The judge suggested that Mr George's legal team were using the High Court action to "fish" for evidence that could be used to sue the police for alleged harassment in a private legal action.

Ian Glen QC, appearing for Mr George, told the court Mr George was now attempting to re-build his life in the Hackney area of north London more than nine years after his arrest for the Dando murder.

But he said he had been unlawfully stopped on at least 15 occasions.

Mr Glen said: "The effect of these Mappa arrangements is that police and the housing authority are treating him as a high-risk offender.

"What he wants to achieve is their respect for the jury's verdict acquitting him of murder.

"He wants to be treated as a man with spent convictions (for indecent assault and attempted rape) going back to 1983."

Mr George had been stopped and questioned him in different parts of London, as well as in Cork in Ireland, Birmingham and on the Isle of Wight.

The frequency of the police action violated his right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, argued Mr Glen.

He said there was independent evidence that on one occasion Mr George was stopped because police officers said "he had looked at them in a funny way when he was crossing the road - and that he had loitered near traffic lights and seemed nervous".

On another occasion it was alleged he had been stopped because he was "paying too close attention to coffee shops".

In Cork, he was taken by plain-clothes garda officers to the central police station before eventually being released.

The court heard the police believe he remains a risk to women because of his convictions for indecent assault and attempted rape.

But Mr Glen said those convictions dating back to 1983, and some other unconnected complaints, did not justify the continuing surveillance.

The QC said: "All we are trying to do is get the police off his back. He is being constantly interfered with in his general, ordinary private life."

A jury at Mr George's second trial heard he was watched by police as he stalked a large number of women.

At least one woman has also complained to police about Mr George's behaviour since he was released from prison.

Yesterday, he accepted substantial undisclosed libel damages at London's Royal Courts of Justice over claims that he had pestered women he was obsessed with.