A French fashion boss accused of hiring a bungling hitman who murdered Jill Dando instead of a BBC journalist who exposed him as a sex abuser has described the allegations as ‘fanciful nonsense’.
Gérald Marie, 72, is said to have used the Russian Mafia to try and kill Lisa Brinkworth, who is now 55.
But their gunman may have assassinated TV presenter Ms Dando by mistake, according to extraordinary allegations contained in legal papers filed in Paris.
They are part of an enquiry into multiple rape complaints against Marie, ex-husband of supermodel Linda Evangelista.
Ms Dando was 37 when she was shot dead outside her home in Fulham, south west London, in a notorious cold case dating back 23 years.
Miss Dando was gunned down on the doorstep of her home in Fulham, west London, in 1999
Miss Brinkworth (pictured recently, left; and in the 1990s, right) claimed she was sexually assaulted in 1998 while working undercover alongside Donal MacIntyre to expose sex crimes in the fashion industry. France’s statute of limitations, however, means sexual abuse claims must be reported within 20 years. Lawyers for Miss Brinkworth have filed papers to the Paris prosecutor arguing that the statute does not apply in her case due to years fearing for her safety
Now Ms Brinkworth claims Marie, former boss of the Elite agency, wanted her dead because she claimed he sexually assaulted her in 1998 while she was working undercover to expose crimes in the fashion industry.
In the court papers, Ms Brinkworth’s lawyers reference an alleged conversation witnessed by a former Elite executive in which Marie considered hiring the Russian mafia to ‘deal with a problem’.
The papers read: ‘Shortly afterwards, in April 1999, Jill Dando, another BBC journalist, was shot dead.’
France’s statute of legal limitations for prosecutions at the time stated that sexual assault had to be reported within three years, and rapes within 10 years.
Marie therefore claims that the links with the Dando case have been ‘made up so as to try and get the statute of limitations removed.’
Documents submitted to a Paris court suggested that Marie hired a Russian hitman to murder Ms Brinkworth
Gerald Marie, pictured with ex-wife Linda Evangelista, is being investigated over alleged sexual assaults and rapes
One of his legal team said on Monday: ‘It’s fanciful nonsense aimed at suggesting that Lisa Brinkworth was in fear of her life, and so was too scared to report the alleged attack within a reasonable time limit.
‘In fact, Lisa Brinkworth made no effort to report any kind of sexual abuse at the time, and only started to take action decades later.’
Ms Brinkworth claims she was kept in a safe house following the broadcasting of her exposé on the BBC’s MacIntyre Investigates programme, presented by veteran journalist Donal MacIntyre.
Ms Brinkworth also claims that the BBC did not want her taking legal action, according to the legal papers.
They say that Omar Harfouch, who is now 53 and a Lebanese businessman and politician, was with senior Elite management at a Paris restaurant in 1999, when they discussed the MacIntytre programme.
Jill Dando is pictured with her fiance Alan Farthing in 1999, months before she was shot dead on the doorstep of her home in Fulham. A French court has heard sensational claims that a Russian hitman hired to assassinate journalist Lisa Brinkworth may have mistaken her for Ms Dando. Lawyers pointed out that Ms Dando’s fiance Mr Farthing was also Ms Brinkworth’s doctor
Britain’s biggest police probe since the Yorkshire Ripper: Timeline of the Jill Dando case
April 26, 1999: Jill Dando, the 37-year-old television presenter, is shot dead with a single bullet to the head on the steps of her home in Fulham, south-west London.
May 25, 2000: Police arrest Barry George, also known as Barry Bulsara, following surveillance of his home.
May 29, 2000: Police charge George with murdering Dando.
July 2, 2001: A jury finds George guilty of murder. He is later sentenced to life imprisonment.
July 29, 2002: George loses an appeal against his conviction at the Court of Appeal in London. Three judges rejected his claim that his conviction was “unsafe”.
December 16, 2002: The House of Lords refuses permission for George to mount a further challenge to his conviction.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) continues to look at the case.
March 25, 2006: It emerges that lawyers for George have submitted new evidence to the CCRC which they believe undermines the safety of his conviction.
They say they have new medical evidence which suggests George’s mental problems would have made him incapable of carrying out the crime, and that new witnesses who were not heard at the original trial may provide an explanation for why a particle of gunshot residue was found on his coat.
August 1, 2008: He receives a unanimous acquittal by a jury after being granted a retrial.
January 2010: His claim for compensation for lost earnings and wrongful imprisonment is rejected.
2012: Serbian ‘warlord’ Arkan is named as a suspect in the case, although he had died in 2000.
June 2022: Court documents claim that BBC journalist Lisa Brinkworth was the target of a hit ordered by modelling agency boss Gerald Marie but was confused for Miss Dando. He denies the claims.
‘We’re in the shit,’ Marie is said to have told the others, after ‘learning that a BBC report about Donal MacIntyre and Lisa Brinkworth going undercover for six months at Elite will soon broadcast.’
Ms Brinkworth, then 31, had pretended to be a fashion model, and Gerald Marie said: ‘I got tricked’.
He then described Ms Brinkworth as a ‘huge problem’, to which Vitali Leiba, an Elite agent based in Moscow and allegedly with strong links to the Russian Mafia replied: ‘Consider it done’.
Mr Harfouch claims this was an oblique reference to ‘making [Brinkworth] disappear,’ according to the legal papers.
The Harfouch testimony is now being used by lawyers for 15 plaintiffs – including Ms Brinkworth – to try and get the statute of limitations thrown out.
In a file sent to Paris prosecutors, William Bourdon, Amélie Lefebvre and Anne-Claire Lejeune refer to ‘the fear of physical reprisals, going as far as a contract killing, preventing a filing of a complaint within the required time frame by Lisa Brinkworth, who accuses Gerald Marie of sexual assault in the context of her report.’
The lawyers’ report adds: ‘They are therefore requesting, in an unprecedented approach, an extension of the limitation period, paving the way for a future trial.’
Paris prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into Marie in September 2020, after he was accused of rape and sexual assault by the 15 women.
However, all of the alleged facts took place in the 1980s and 1990s, making them time barred as far as prosecutions are concerned.
No charges have been brought, and Marie remains a free man.
The BBC aired the MacIntrye programme in November 1999, and it alleged that Ms Brinkworth was attacked in a nightclub in Milan, Italy, in October 1998.
In her complaint finally filed to the French legal authorities on September 20, 2020, Ms Brinkworth describes an ‘obscene atmosphere’ created by Marie, who allegedly asked her to ‘perform oral sex’ on Elite executive and to ‘let me fuck you’ for money. (500 euros is mentioned in the legal papers, although France did not start using euros until 2002)
Ms Brinkworth was told: ‘No one refuses the president of Elite and it’s an honour to sleep with this man,’ according to the legal papers.
Ms Brinkworth claimed Marie ‘rode her while she was sitting on a chair,’ and ‘she was terrified of being raped when he started pushing his penis into her lower abdomen.’
Other Elite executives were said to be ‘laughing and applauding’ at the time.
Film footage shows Ms Brinkworth straight after the incident, telling Mr MacIntyre about what happened.
Elite sued the BBC over the allegations, and in 2001 the Corporation agreed never to broadcast the programme again, as part of a confidentiality agreement.
Ms Brinkworth was not part of that agreement and so, according to the latest legal documents, pressure was put on her by Elite to stay silent.
She says she was given protection by the BBC for three years, between 1999 and 2001, and put in three safe houses, at least one of which was surrounded by electric fences.
During a meeting organised in the Paris Senate in September 2021 with the other plaintiffs, Ms Brinkworth met Omar Harfouch, who made a multi-million pounds fortune in Ukraine following the fall of the Soviet Union.
Mr Harfoch said he himself became a ‘target for death threats’ following his support for former Elite models who claimed they were sexually abused.
In the legal documents, Ms Brinkworth is described as being ‘blonde, and of the same height and similar build; as Jill Dando,
They say Ms Brinkworth and Ms Dando were neighbours in Fulham, and that Ms Dando’s partner, Alan Farthing, was Ms Brinkworth’s doctor.
Lawyers for Ms Brinkworth now say that the parallels contributed to a ‘climate of fear’ for their clients, and that ‘she was convinced that her silence ensured her life’.
All of this prevented Ms Brinkworth from filing a sexual assault complaint agaisnt Maire within the three year time limit.
Céline Bekerman, a lawyer for Gérald Marie, said the attempt to repeal the statute of limitations had no chance of success, because it was ‘based on fanciful arguments’.
Ms Bekerman said Ms Brinkworth ‘was never a party to the agreement concluded between Elite and the BBC’, and there was thus never anything stopping her from complaining about sexual assault in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Ms Bekerman said Mr Harfouch’s testatment about the Paris restaurant conversation was not considered a reliable one.
She said Marie denies any wrongdoing and ‘refuses to be the scapegoat for a system and an era’.
Ms Bekerman said a diary kept by Donal MacIntyre during the undercover operation did not even mention any allegation of a sexual assault.
A spokesman for the Paris prosecutors office confirmed that the enquiry into Gerald Marie was ‘ongoing’, and that nobody had been arrested or charged.
What happened to Jill Dando? The theories behind the unsolved murder
Journalist and presenter Jill Dando started her career working for the BBC in Devon. She became a newsreader for BBC Radio Devon in 1985 and that year, she transferred to BBC South West, where she presented a regional news magazine programme, Spotlight South West.
In 1987, she worked for Television South West, then BBC Spotlight before being transferred to London the following year where she went on to achieve national fame. The popular TV presenter was shot dead on Monday, April 26, 1999, outside her home in Fulham, West London.
The murder shocked the nation and has never been solved – making it one of the most infamous cases in Britain. A man named Barry George was charged and convicted of the murder in July 2001, but after an appeal and a retrial at the end of 2008, he was found not guilty.
Despite several theories, the murder remains unsolved. Here are the theories about what happened:
IRA revenge killing
One theory is that the IRA targeted the BBC broadcaster because of her links to police through her work presenting Crimewatch.
IRA member Wayne Aird, who was serving a life sentence in prison for killing a man two months after Miss Dando was shot, wrote a letter from his cell claiming that senior paramilitaries ordered a hit on her.
His letter claimed he was part of a four-man IRA hit squad that shot Ms Dando with a 9mm bullet before escaping in Land Rovers to a safe house. He alleged the killing was covered up due to concerns it may jeopardise the Northern Ireland peace process
In 2014, an anonymous source who is believed to have worked with Miss Dando revealed she was trying to expose a VIP paedophile ring just months before her death
The friend reportedly told the Daily Express: ‘I don’t recall the names of all the stars now and don’t want to implicate anyone, but Jill said they were surprisingly big names.’
No evidence has been brought forward to substantiate the claim Miss Dando was killed to stop the abuse coming to light.
Miss Dando had a large following due to her TV career, leading the police to believe an opportunistic individual may have been responsible.
The police identified 140 people who were ‘obsessed’ with the star. Adding to the theory, one of her neighbours revealed he had seen a sighting of the possible killer – a 6ft white man aged around 40. In the statement he said he heard a surprised cry from Miss Dando ‘like someone greeting a friend’, suggesting she may have known her murderer.
Joe the barman
A report from the now abolished National Criminal Intelligence Service alleged Miss Dando’s murder could be traced back to a hitman called Joe who worked in a bar in Spain and had links to murderer Kenneth Noye.
Noye was jailed for life for a 1996 road rage killing following Crimewatch appeal.
The report said: ‘Joe runs a bar in Tenerife, frequented by leading ex-pat criminals. He’s described as a frustrated gangster reputed to owe money to Kenny Noye. There’s been talk Joe has been keen to rehabilitate his reputation with gangster creditors.’
The Daily Mirror reported that Joe ‘allegedly came to the UK specifically to carry out the crime’, although it ‘appears that Joe was never traced’.
15 days before Jill’s murder Serbian journalist Slavko Curuvija was shot dead outside his home in Belgrade.
Detectives were informed Serbian mobsters who were residing in the UK plotted the assassination over drinks at a nightclub.
A message sent to detectives claimed they carried out the hit in revenge for the Nato-led bombing of a Serbian TV station – but this theory has since been discredited by the Daily Mail.
A professional hit
Barry George was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001, but was acquitted seven years later after his conviction was quashed and a retrial ordered.
After his release, a review suggested the killing had signs of a professional hit – particularly the ‘hard contact execution – which involves pressing the gun against the head to silence the shot and minimise the blood on the killer’s clothes.
An intelligence report identified two suspects from a known London crime family, suggesting the murder could have been in retaliation for a Crimewatch investigation.