Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Sorry we called you a murderer and stalker

The Sun and the News of the World have apologised and paid 'substantial' libel damages to Barry George - the man convicted, and then acquitted, of killing Jill Dando - over several articles suggesting he was guilty and was also a stalker.

Here's one of the key excerpts from the MediaGuardian story:

In his interview with the News of the World, the paper stated that George had told them: "I didn't kill Jill Dando – I was stalking someone else at the time."

News Group now accepts that George never made that statement to them. News Group also admitted that any suggestion George stalked Kay Burley was incorrect.


the Sun and News of the World, further apologised for a series of articles in the two tabloids in which various allegations were made that he had become obsessed with the Sky News presenter Kay Burley, had pestered a woman after answering an advertisement she placed about a dog and had become obsessed with Pam Wright, the fiancee of the Ipswich strangler Steve Wright.

George's lawyer said that:

News Group has now admitted that the articles "would have been understood to mean that there were grounds to suspect Mr George of the murder despite his acquittal. (They) accept that the verdict of the second jury in acquitting Mr George was correct and it apologises to Mr George for any suggestion otherwise."
"The defendant now accepts that, although on one occasion Mr George did cycle to Sky TV studios to try to collect a tape of his interview with Kay Burley, Mr George did not pose a threat and was not obsessed with her nor did he pester any woman who had a dog for sale nor did he become obsessed with Pam Wright," said Bishop.

And from News Group's solicitor Benjamin Beabey:

"The defendant takes this opportunity to correct matters and to apologise to Mr George for any hurt and distress he has felt."

So a series of despicable articles have been retracted, and not before time. But is this really enough?

After all, the George stalking Burley story ran and ran (Google it and see how many articles are found). There was, for example, this Express article and a now removed Mail story headlined: 'Kay Burley offered extra security after Barry George is stopped at Sky News studios'.

There was also a memorable Leo McKinstry column in the Express which said George was guilty (still looking for reference...).

Of course it is surely a coincidence that George did his post-acquittal interview with Kay Burley on Sky - owned by Murdoch. The Sun and News of the World, owned by Murdoch, then run a series of disparaging, nudge-wink hatchet-jobs about George. These included one about him stalking Burley, who happened to be in a relationship with the Sun's political editor George Pascoe-Watson at the time.

It's all very cosy isn't it? It may also be described as a stitch up.

EDIT: The Sun apology reads:

In August, 2008, some of the articles we published on the acquittal of Barry George for the murder of Jill Dando could have been understood to mean there were grounds to suspect him of the murder despite his acquittal.

We are happy to make it clear we accept that the jury's verdict in acquitting Mr George was correct.

Following allegations made in other articles published last October, we accept that Mr George did not pose a threat to Kay Burley nor was he obsessed with her.

We apologise to Mr George for the upset and distress caused by these allegations.

Funny that they are 'happy' to make that clear, but took sixteen months to do it...

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