Jill Dando murder: ‘She was a beautiful person’

Jill Dando murder

by Kristina Beanland |
Updated on

It's been 20 years since TV presenter Jill Dando was brutally murdered on her doorstep. Closer looks back on the case, and talks to her cousin Judith about coming to terms with the tragedy

A new BBC documentary about the murder of Jill Dando marks 20 years since the beloved TV presenter was shot dead outside her home

As the 37 year old reached her front door in Fulham, London, on 26 April 1999, an unknown attacker came up behind her, forced her to her knees, shooting her once in the head. It was 14 minutes before a neighbour noticed her body and raised the alarm. Jill was taken to Charing Cross Hospital by helicopter, where she was pronounced dead.

Jill Dando doorstep

In a moving interview, her cousin, Judith Dando, 59, tells Closer about learning to cope with the loss of Jill.

“I think about her every day,” says Judith. “I miss her so much. She was much more than just my cousin, she was my best friend.”

Judith, who lives in Wiltshire with her husband and daughter, Emilie, 22, lived with Jill in London when they were both in their late twenties.

She recalls, “With just an 18-month age gap, Jill and I had always been close. I loved her outgoing nature and her wicked sense of humour.

“We had different schedules – she had to get up at 4am to present the morning news – but at the weekends, we’d drink in our local pub or throw parties for our friends. As she grew more famous, she remained just as down-to-earth as ever. She was a beautiful person.

“When I gave birth to my daughter, Emilie, in 1996, I asked Jill to be her godmother. She adored Emilie and spoilt her rotten.”

Judith and Jill Dando
©Judith Dando

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Jill Dando

In January 1999, four months before she was killed, Jill announced her engagement to gynaecologist Alan Farthing and the wedding was set for that September.

Judith says, “She asked me to be her bridesmaid and was so excited for her big day.”

On the day of Jill’s murder, Judith was driving to the UK from her home in France.

She says, “I was listening to a tape rather than the radio, so I didn’t hear the breaking news that Jill had been killed. Minutes after I got home, my sisters arrived on my doorstep and that they told me she’d died. I was in total shock. Coming to terms with our loss was hard, especially as the nation mourned her too and she was on the front of every newspaper.”

Barry George
Barry George's conviction was quashed ©Getty

Jill’s murder indeed shocked the nation, and police launched a huge enquiry, but the investigation faced difficulties. Her body had been removed from the crime scene by paramedics, meaning evidence had been disturbed. And there were no witnesses. A neighbour told police he’d heard a scream, and saw a man walking briskly away. Others described a sweaty man on a mobile phone in a nearby park, another crouched by some railings.

But it wasn’t until a year later that an arrest was made. Suspicion fell on local man Barry George – and when a particle of gunshot residue was found in his coat pocket, he was charged. He was found guilty but, after eight years in prison, the evidence against him was deemed unreliable, and his conviction was quashed.

Since then, there have been no new leads, and while the investigation is still open, Jill’s murder remains unsolved.

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But Judith doesn’t dwell on unanswered questions.

She says, “To me, who killed Jill was, and still is, almost insignificant. There’ll never be a good enough reason for someone to take her life. I’m not sure I even want to know [who did it]. It can’t bring her back.”

As the 20th anniversary of Jill’s murder approaches, Judith says she is doing something special to honour her memory.

She says, “I knew I wanted to do something to mark the date. I was out running one day when the idea came to me to run the London Marathon. Jill had undergone life-saving heart surgery as a child, so I decided to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation.

“Jill gives me all the motivation I need to train. When I’m outside and the sun is shining, I feel lucky to be living my life, when Jill’s was taken all too soon. I know that during my toughest miles, she’ll be with me.”

She adds, “But I don’t need an anniversary to remember my best friend. My house is full of photos – my favourite is one of Jill with Emilie on her shoulders, both laughing in the sunshine. I still think about Jill every day.

“I have lots of scrapbooks in my loft full of her newspaper clippings and I look at them when I want to feel close to her. Emilie and I talk about her godmother all the time, and we call Jill her guardian angel. I know for certain that the world would be much richer if she were still with us.”

Judith Dando is running the London Marathon for the British Heart Foundation in memory of her cousin, Jill Dando.

The Murder of Jill Dando, ITV1, 25 April, 9pm.

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