On April 26, 1999, the popular television presenter Jill Dando was shot dead on her doorstep in Fulham, west London. Dando had fronted the BBC Breakfast News and the Six O’Clock News, as well as Crimewatch and the long-running travel series Holiday. Her killing sent shockwaves through the broadcast establishment and the public. The 37-year-old, who grew up in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, and attended her local comprehensive school, was loved by audiences and colleagues alike for her down-to-earth manner and lack of pretension. Why, people asked, would anyone want to kill her? The answer was never found and the killing remains unsolved to this day.
This month, a new Netflix series takes a fresh look at the mystery. Who Killed Jill Dando?, a three-part documentary available for streaming from September 26, will revisit the unsolved crime and features new interviews with Barry George, the man wrongly convicted of killing Dando, and his sister. Following a slew of popular true crime documentaries, dramatisations and podcasts, its release suggests the trend of introducing new audiences to old cases is very much still with us. On September 25, ITV1 airs its own latest show in the genre: a drama called The Long Shadow, which explores the crimes of Peter Sutcliffe, the murderer who became known as the Yorkshire Ripper.
But while Sutcliffe’s crimes were eventually solved, multiple questions still hang over Dando’s killing. Now, her brother Nigel Dando hopes the new documentary could finally lead to a breakthrough. “My hope is that the publicity will bring forward someone with new information who can bring Jill’s killer to justice,” he told The Times earlier this year. “I know [it was] a long time ago but someone might know something.”
In 2019, he shared his own theory about his sister’s killing with The Telegraph. “I think it was someone who was on the street at that time, who knew where Jill lived and struck lucky on the morning in question,” he said. “A professional hit just doesn’t seem likely. It was in broad daylight, a bullet casing was left in place and there were so many opportunities for whoever did it to be seen and caught. I just think it was one of those random things. I would just like to ask that person ‘why did you do it?’ There was no obvious motive.”
A multitude of other possible explanations have abounded over the years, some more outlandish than others. In 2001, it looked as if the case had been solved when a local man named Barry George was convicted of the murder and jailed for life. But seven years later he was acquitted at a retrial after a particle of gunshot residue that was found in his coat, and formed a key part of the prosecution, was brought into doubt. Since then, no-one else has been charged and Hamish Campbell, the detective who led the inquiry, has said in the past he believes the case will never be solved.
Here we take a look at seven theories on who or what lay behind Dando’s killing.
1. Mistaken identity
In September 2021, former BBC undercover journalist Lisa Brinkworth was told by her lawyers in Paris that she may have been the intended target, rather than Dando. “I was utterly shocked,” she said afterwards. “I left Paris that evening because I did not feel safe.” Her French lawyers suggested a Russian mafia hitman, ordered to silence her, got the wrong blonde, thirty-something BBC journalist.
The extraordinary new theory came to light amid a legal case Brinkworth was involved in, in which she claimed the French fashion mogul Gérald Marie had sexually assaulted her when she was working undercover. In court documents, lawyers referred to a conversation said to have been witnessed by a model agency executive in which Marie allegedly ordered a member of the Russian mafia to “deal with a problem”. Dando was killed shortly afterwards.
Last year, the Metropolitan Police began investigating the claim, which Brinkworth said was “one line of inquiry out of thousands of leads”.
Nigel has expressed scepticism about the theory. “It seems a bit fanciful,” he told the Times.
Police identified some 140 people who were obsessed with Dando, including men who had sent her sexually explicit fan mail or tried to arrange to meet her. Not long before her murder, Dando had announced her engagement to Alan Farthing, an obstetrician and gynaecologist (who was also Brinkworth’s doctor, as it happened). Could this have driven a spurned admirer over the edge?
Detectives tracked down the 140 who fitted the profile of the obsessed fan, and none were found to be in Fulham that day. Dando’s ex-boyfriends were also tracked down and eliminated from inquiries.
3. Serbian connection
In 1999, Nato was bombing Serbia, and three days before Dando’s assassination, British planes had bombed Radio Television Serbia in Belgrade, which was owned by Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic. Sixteen members of staff there were killed. Could Dando have been targeted by Serbs in some kind of revenge killing?
A caller to the BBC’s Television Centre the day after the murder claimed this was indeed the case. Speaking with an Eastern European accent, the man warned that Tony Hall, then BBC News chief executive, would be next on the hit list, a threat that was taken seriously at the time.
In 2012, Branka Prpa, the widow of a prominent Serbian journalist called Slavko Curuvija, said Dando had been targeted by Serbian warlords after presenting a BBC appeal to help Kosovan-Albanian refugees fleeing Milosevic-supporting militias. Curuvija had also been shot dead outside his home in Belgrade, just 15 days before Dando’s murder. Prpa believed there was a link.
Among those to call the Serbia theory into question was BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson. He had been covering the Nato bombing campaign in Belgrade and pointed out that he would have been a more obvious target than Dando. It was also queried why, if the killing was politically motivated, no-one claimed responsibility.
4. Gangland killing
Dando’s job presenting Crimewatch led to speculation she had angered a criminal element whose activities she had helped to expose. Could her murder have been carried out by a gangland assassin?
In a 2017 ITV programme, an anonymous hit man told Mark Williams-Thomas, a police officer turned investigative journalist, that he knew the culprit but was too scared to name him.
The nature of the killing did indeed seem to point to a professional hit, but for the fact that certain mistakes were made: the killer left a spent cartridge case at the scene, used no silencer on the gun and chose a location where witnesses were likely, and from which there was no clean escape route. Police carried out extensive inquiries in the criminal underworld but ultimately discounted the gangland theory.
This theory also centres around Dando’s job fronting Crimewatch, through which she could be seen to have links to police. Could the IRA have targeted her for this reason?
Wayne Aird, who was serving a life sentence in prison for killing a man two months after Dando was shot, reportedly confessed to being part of what he said was an “establishment cover-up”. He claimed the IRA was not being brought to justice over the murder for fear this might jeopardise the Northern Ireland peace process.
6. Paedophile ring
Was Dando trying to expose a VIP paedophile ring in the months before her death? And if so, could the two have been connected? One theory suggests that the presenter had flagged up to BBC bosses allegations of sexual abuse at the corporation. Speaking about those believed to be implicated, a source told a newspaper previously: “Jill said they were surprisingly big names.”
However, the BBC has countered that nothing it has seen suggests any veracity to these claims.
7. Joe the barman
Contained within a report from the now defunct National Criminal Intelligence Service was a suggestion that Dando’s killing could be linked to a gunman called Joe who worked in a Spanish bar. Joe apparently had connections to Kenneth Noye, the M25 road rage murderer, who was brought to justice following a Crimewatch appeal. Joe, who supposedly owed money to Noye, had apparently been keen to “rehabilitate his reputation with gangster creditors.”
It appears that Joe was never traced.
A three-part documentary called Who Killed Jill Dando? is released on Netflix on Sept 26
This article was first published on March 31, 2019 and has since been updated.