BREAKINGA PHONE HACKING
How Jill Dando
was tracked to her doorstep
While the detective leading the inquiry into the television presenter’s murder says the case will never be solved, Byline Times reveals a crucial clue the police missed.
As Graham Johnson and Dan Evans of the Byline Investigates team have exclusively revealed today, detectives investigating the murder of Jill Dando 20 years ago overlooked an important clue about her killing. In 1999, Scotland Yard investigated evidence that someone purporting to be her brother tried to access personal details from utility companies three months before the BBC presenter was killed.
Operation Oxborough came to the conclusion this was most likely the result of tabloid journalists trying to track down her new address after Dando announced her engagement to Alan Farthing.
Byline Times can reveal…. voice mail interception is the most likely way Dando was targeted by her killer.
But thanks to expert analysis from former Sunday Times investigator turned whistle-blower John Ford, it is possible the detected blagging operation was to obtain mobile phone billing in order to access Dando’s voicemails.
The police were not to know at the time, but phone hacking was rife in the late 1990s among private detectives and journalists working for Britain’s tabloid press. Looking back, former detective Jacqui Hames, a co-presenter of Crimewatch with Dando and a victim of phone hacking herself, told Byline Times: “There was a lot going on in her private life. I’d be shocked if Jill wasn’t being hacked around the time of her murder.”
Byline Times can also reveal something even more disturbing about phone hacking beyond the privacy intrusion: voicemail interception is the most likely way Dando was targeted by her killer.
Timeline of the Hit
Jill Dando was killed with a single shot to the head from a 9mm semi-automatic pistol within seconds of parking her car and approaching the door to her flat in Gowan Avenue in Fulham on the morning of 26 April 1999. Police have consistently been mystified about how her killer could have known she was coming, as the 37-year-old presenter did not live there anymore, having moved in with her fiance in Chiswick months before.
Despite exhaustive searches of CCTV and eye witness reports, detectives could not discover any evidence Dando was followed when she left her new home around 10.00 am before arriving at the doorstep of her old flat at 11.30 am. The only eye-witness evidence is from a postman delivering to her house in Fulham around 10.00 am who said he believed that he was being watched by a man in a dark suit.
However, analysis of Dando’s phone billing records reveals the most plausible way any killer could have known she was coming – voicemails.
At the time of Dando’s murder, the ‘dark arts’… were deployed by private detectives who worked simultaneously with Fleet Street, corrupt police, and underworld gangs
Dando’s agent, the Roseman Organisation in Chiswick, had been pressing her to change the ink and the paper of her fax machine of her house in Fulham as an important contract was failing to come through. Allasonne Lewis from the agency left a voicemail on her phone at 10.09 am that morning, which Dando retrieved two minutes later.
Dando then drove to the Kings Mall shopping centre near to her new home, calling her agent back around 10.30 am as she bought fax paper from Rymans before trying to find an ink cartridge for her fax machine at Dixons. Her agent’s assistant left another voicemail on her phone at 10:44 am
Dando’s BMW was last caught on CCTV en route to Fulham around 11.10 am. On Fulham Road, she stopped to buy two fillets of sole from Copes Fishmongers. The last call on her mobile was at 11:42 am from the passerby who found her body and used her phone to call the ambulance.
Jill Dando was declared dead at Hammersmith Hospital an hour and a half later.
Stalker or Assassin?
Because of the near impossibility of anyone following or tracking Dando’s movements on the morning of the 29 April (as far as they knew then), lead detectives in the murder investigation soon began to gravitate to the idea that an obsessive stalker was the most likely suspect in the murder.
“I’d be shocked if Jill wasn’t being hacked around the time of her murder.”Dando’s friend and colleague, former detective Jacqui Hames
Within a month, they brought in the forensic psychologist Dr Adrian West who eventually provided three offender profiles. Though the first concluded a ‘lone stalker’ was just one of many possibilities, the second moved closer to the theory.
A third offender profile was drawn up after police charged Barry George with Dando’s murder in 2000. The 33-year-old suffered from a number of mental disorders and learning difficulties and had an IQ of 75. George was convicted in 2001, but his conviction was quashed due to the unreliability of the evidence six years later.
Had the police known what we all know now about the vulnerability of voicemail messages and the industrial use of phone hacking at the time, it’s unlikely they would have relied so heavily on the obsessive stalker theory, and instead would have turned to a different set of suspects.
Now it looks more likely that Dando’s voicemail was hacked, and that could have given away details of her whereabouts to her murderer(s), the focus turns to organised crime and its media connections.
Criminal Media Nexus
There is no suggestion that any tabloid newspaper would have deployed phone hacking in order to target Dando for anything but salacious gossip. But their failure to admit what they were doing could well have obstructed the original police investigation.
According to John Ford, the ‘omerta’ or code of silence around phone hacking in Fleet Street meant the police back then had no idea Dando’s mobile could have been targeted. If they had, detectives might have checked if her voicemails had been intercepted and tracked the number of whoever intercepted it.
At the time of Dando’s murder, the ‘dark arts’ of obtaining confidential records by deception (‘blagging’), phone and computer hacking were deployed by private detectives who worked simultaneously with Fleet Street, corrupt police, and underworld gangs.
Though there’s no suggestion they were at all involved in the Dando murder, the notorious detective agency Southern Investigations in South London was a prolific supplier of confidential information to journalists at both the News of the World and the Mirror Group at the time of Dando’s murder.
At this time, in 1999, a bug had been placed in its Thornton Heath office by specialist police investigating the axe-murder of the founder of the detective agency, Daniel Morgan, 12 years earlier. The surveillance tapes caught his former partner, Jonathan Rees, boasting to journalists about his personal contacts in the Dando investigation, and telling a senior Mirror journalist that everything they were doing was ‘illegal’.
Had the police known what we all know now about the vulnerability of voice mail messages… it’s unlikely they would have relied so heavily on the obsessive stalker theory
Meanwhile, Rees and his partner Fillery were reported to have worked for several underworld organisations, including helping to track down an undercover officer who had caught the South London gangster Joey Pyle importing heroin. According to an undercover informant and former police officer, Derek Haslam, Rees told him once that he had helped track down someone from Eastern Europe who was later assassinated.
But Southern Investigations was only one of many organisations involved in tracing, hacking and blagging around the end of the millennium. A top secret report into police corruption in North London Operation Tiberius notes that, in 2000, a major trafficker of Class A drugs was using a contact at The Sun newspaper to obtain ex-directory numbers and ‘checks’ to see if he was under police surveillance.
While the hunt for Dando’s killer is not resolved, and with eyes turning away from the lone obsessive to the possibility of an organised hit, the links between phone hacking, corrupt private detective agencies and London’s criminal underworld should not be ignored.