16 MARCH 2002, Page 49

Crazed cabbalistic claptrap. . .

Benji Wilson

DEAD ON TIME: HOW AND WHY BARRY GEORGE EXECUTED JILL DANDO by John McVicar John Blake Publishing, £14.99, pp. 311, ISBN 1857823648 Bany George murdered Jill Dando on 26 April 1999 because Dando was once friends with Cliff Richard. Cliff had been given the lead role in the musical Time back in 1986, which had incensed Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the popular soft-rock band Queen. George, a loner in combat fatigues with petit mat epilepsy and a cleft palette, was obsessed with Mercury to the point that he claimed he was his cousin. In short, therefore, the key to understanding why Barry George shot Jill Dando is Queen lyrics — and Ninjitsu, Zoroastrian religion, a bullet crimped in the shape of a chrysanthemum, the film Highlander, the number 39, the Japanese transliteration of 'Dan-do' and the colour yellow.

That, at least, is the verdict of John McVicar, McVicar, as those familiar with the 1980 film McVicar will be aware, is an ex-con made good, a man who served a life sentence for armed robbery before refashioning himself as a sociologist and journo. He now earns his crust selling crim's-eye-view commentaries to newspapers: every time the nation reels at another unfathomable crime. McVicar plays Poirot.

As a document worthy of serious judiciary attention Dead on Time rather shoots itself in the foot by being littered with errors, literals and even whole paragraphs repeated. If McVicar was ever going to provide a solid crib to unravel a surreal crime (and it is worth mentioning that if the Queen thing seems barmy, no one else has done any better) he should at least appear infallible. To take one example, given that so much depends on Queen and their lyrics, to call the band's drummer Robert Taylor (aka Roger) is a touch unfortunate.

But Dead on Time is much better when swallowed as served: rough-edged copshow conjecture, laced with Mc Vicar's inimitable Sweeney-style bravado. There's also a stellar cast to enjoy, headed by Mohammed 'Mo' Al Fayed and Benjie 'The Binman' Pell. Mo was Mc Vicar's proprietor when he was the crime reporter on Punch; Pell came up with the Queen theory. My own theory is that in the interim McVicar may have dispensed with the services of a decent editor, and not just because of all the proofing gaffes — several courtroom lortgueurs and tirades against public schoolboys, fat women and mankind in general could easily have been expunged if the sole purpose of this book was to make a convincing case.

That, however, would have deprived us of McVicar railing against policing by numbers, or reminiscing about the days when hard-nosed coppers didn't play by the rules. And the book would be much the poorer without the touching lament for McVicar's tan terrier Clem, killed in the course of the trial when McVicar threw a stick into the Thames for Clem to fetch. Unfortunately, whilst fetching the stick Clem drowned.

So although Dead on Time is a mildly crazed assemblage of facts, theories and cabbalistic claptrap, miraculously it ends up being rather good fun. On this occasion some half-baked off-cuts have made a memorable stew.