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'George Davis is innocent - OK': UK court partially vindicates campaign after 36 years

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Royal Courts of Justice, home to the Court of Appeal

Thirty-six years after he was found guilty of an armed robbery in London, a court has quashed the conviction of George Davis, ruling it unsafe. The court stopped short of ruling he was definitely innocent, leaving a prominent 1970s campaign that saw "George Davis is innocent - OK" graffiti daubed across the city only partially vindicated.

The case dates back to April 1974, when armed robbers raided the London Electricity Board. A police officer was wounded by a gunshot to the leg. Davis was one of four put on trial the following year, but only he was convicted following two policemen who witnessed the robbery. He received twenty years imprisonment for wounding and armed robbery.

By 1976 he was back out of prison with a Royal Pardon after doubts about his identification were raised by then-Home Secretary Roy Jenkins. The 1970s saw the slogan "George Davis is innocent - OK" written across bridges and buildings around the capital, some of which remains today. Support came from The Who frontman Roger Daltrey, who wore a t-shirt promoting his case, and punk band Sham 69 writing a song about it.

One incident saw a cricket pitch vandalised in 1975, leading to the abandonment of an Ashes Test match in its final day at Headingley. By 1977, however, Davis was back in prison and admitted a role in a different armed robbery, at a Bank of Cyprus branch.

"I have been protesting my innocence since 1974," Davis said yesterday. Lawyers have said evidence that should have overturned the 1975 conviction "had been in the hands of the authorities since 1977."

Following the conviction the case was reviewed by Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Moulder from Hertfordshire Police, who reported back to the Home Office in 1977. Journalist Andy McSmith, writing in The Independent, claims the result "was so damning that for 34 years the Home Office refused to let anyone, including Davis's lawyers, see it."

Moulder's report drew on evidence from Inspector Brian Reynolds, who began the investigation into the robbery before responsibility was passed to the specialist Robbery Squad. Reynolds had criticisms of the Robbery Squad, but said senior officers warned him not to obstruct Davis's conviction in any way. The Robbery Squad was being led by Jack Slipper, whose claim to fame is that he tracked down the Great Train Robbers.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice, collected evidence in the Davis case and referred it back to the Court of Appeal. 36 years ago, a young barrister called David Whitehouse defended Davis. Yesterday, Whitehouse's last day in court before retiring was in the Court of Appeal, hearing Davis's conviction overturned.

"If George Davis had not been so stupid as to rob a bank I might have got the conviction quashed [in the 70s]," he remarked outside court. Asked about being called stupid, Davis remarked "He can call me what he likes after [all] he's done for me."

The appeal was heard by a panel of three judges. Lord Justice Hughes said they were in a "state of ignorance whether or not the defendant committed this robbery and we are unable positively to exonerate him". "We do not know whether Davis was guilty or not, but his conviction cannot be said to be safe," Hughes concluded.

"I have pursued this appeal for all these years because I wanted all those people who worked for, and helped, the campaign in the 1970s to know that their support was justified," Davis said.


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