Interview: Innocence and experience
On 26 April 1999, the TV presenter Jill Dando was killed, and 13 months later, Barry George was arrested and charged with her murder. Although the council for the defence were confident that there was no case against him, Barry was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. His sister, Michelle Diskin as she was then, had supported Barry in the past through difficulties caused by his mental health, and she supported him through his time in prison and his appeals, campaigning for his exoneration. Barry’s conviction was finally overturned in 2013. Mrs Diskin Bates now campaigns on behalf of those wrongfully convicted and is the author of Stand Against Injustice (Malcolm Down, 2018).
What was life like for you and Barry growing up?
We had quite a hard life. Our parents’ marriage was very poor – it was toxic – and that always leaves an effect on children. I found myself looking after my brother and my sister a lot. I would take them out every day to play, and it was my job to make sure they were all safe. When my sister had grand mal seizures, I had been trained to look after her.
When Barry was caught shoplifting you had to go home and get your mother, who couldn’t face it and you had to deal with it alone, at the age of 14.
I was often put in a position where I had to deal with things that would have been for an older person, but that was because Mum just couldn’t face things like that. A lot of Barry’s instances of what looked like bad behaviour were down to his disabilities. The shoplifting he did because Mum was feeling down and his only thought was: How can I make her feel better?
There were no diagnoses of his conditions at this point, but what diagnoses did he have later?
He was properly diagnosed only at the time of the first trial [in 2000]. We always knew there was epilepsy, but they also found he had ADHD – he was hyperactive when he was younger – he has Asperger syndrome, he has intellectual disabilities, and he has brain damage that affects his short term memory…
This is an extract from an article that was published in the February 2019 edition of Reform