Wednesday, May 25, 2011

George Davis IS innocent: He punches the air with joy after winning appeal against his conviction for 1974 robbery

He became a national cause célèbre who inspired some of Britain’s most famous graffiti, including the slogan ‘George Davis is Innocent OK’.

And yesterday, more than three decades later, the 70-year-old’s battle to clear his name finally reached an end as his conviction over a 1974 payroll heist was quashed.

Davis, who was in a packed Court of Appeal for the announcement, said: ‘It should not have taken 36 long years for me to be able to stand here like this.’

He was originally sentenced to 20 years in March 1975 over an armed robbery at the London Electricity Board in Ilford, Essex. It ended in a shoot-out, during which one officer was wounded.

Davis, a former dock worker, was said to have been seen abandoning the gang’s getaway car. But he insisted he was driving a minicab in Central London at the time.

Supporters began daubing graffiti wherever they could. The Who singer Roger Daltrey wore a T-shirt proclaiming his innocence.

Campaigners also vandalised the pitch at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds in 1975, causing a Test match between England and Australia to be abandoned.

In 1976, after serving less than two years from the date of his arrest, Davis was freed under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, sanctioned by the Queen. He had not been ‘found innocent’ – but it was deemed that conviction on the evidence presented was unsafe.

Key to his fresh appeal was new material about Davis’s identification by two policemen.

Lord Justice Hughes said: ‘We do not know whether Davis was guilty or not, but his conviction cannot be said to be safe.’ The judge added: 'As we have made clear, the fact that he was an active and known criminal does not affect this question, nor does it make it any the less important that his conviction should not be upheld unless it is clear that it is safe.'

He said: 'I have made it clear that I have no intention of seeking compensation for my wrongful conviction. '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.'

At his trial, the prosecution relied on identifications of Davis, at identification parades, by two officers who were at the robbery scene and three other officers from a different location, Woodford Avenue.

Lord Justice Hughes said 'new material affecting the identifications of the two policemen at the scene of the robbery is of considerable significance'.

He added: 'We bear in mind that both behaved with exemplary courage and that the attack under which they personally came will have made it very difficult for them to have made dispassionate observations.

Davis was originally sentenced in March 1975 to 20 years for robbery and wounding with intent to resist arrest. The same year the Court of Appeal rejected a conviction appeal bid but reduced his sentence to 17 years. Davis's sentence was remitted by Royal Prerogative and he was released from prison in 1976.

Lord Justice Hughes said the court was 'acutely conscious' of the fact that the jury also had identifications of Davis by the three other officers and by a witness called Mrs Bone, 'and that the other defendants were not so identified'.

He added: 'It is, therefore, possible that the jury discounted in any event the scene of the robbery identifications and relied on the Woodford Avenue ones; this might be the explanation for the decision to convict Davis and not the other defendants.

'The question of safety is for this court. It is not ... answered simply by asking whether the fresh information now available might have affected the jury's deliberations.

'We take the view, however, that it is simply impossible for this court, at the remove of over 30 years, to weigh the evidence as it would be necessary to do to resolve that the conviction is soundly based.'

When the then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins remitted the balance of Davis's sentence in May 1976 he did so, said the judge, on the basis that he was 'satisfied that the identification evidence has been seriously weakened', but that he did not 'have the evidence of innocence to justify recommending a free pardon'.

Lord Justice Hughes said the Court of Appeal was in 'a similar state of ignorance whether or not the defendant committed this robbery and we are unable positively to exonerate him'.

Original report here

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