ADVERTISER 150: We report 1975 'George Davis is Innocent' campaign to free bank robber
PUBLISHED: 19:00 21 December 2016 | UPDATED: 08:17 22 December 2016
We reach 1975 in our nightly series to mark the East London Advertiser's 150th anniversary looking at an extraordinary campaign daubed on railway arches to free convicted East End bank robber George Davis. He is finally released because of dubious evidence pinning him to the heist—only to be caught red-handed in another armed robbery with firearms at his side...
1975: Armed robber George Davis becomes a ‘celebrity in prison’ through a campaign to free him after his wrongful conviction for a payroll robbery at the London Electricity Board offices at Ilford the year before.
It is widely believed he was “fitted up” by the cops because of his violent ‘bad boy’ record.
His 20-year conviction is based on dubious identification evidence levelled against the East End robber.
The Old Bailey case reported in the East London Advertiser hinges on blood samples from the location which don’t match Davis or any of the other three in the dock with him.
But the test results had not been disclosed when Davis was first committed for trial, it later emerges.
The armed hold-up involved a long chase with several vehicles the gang commandeered and some robbers getting injured.
Blood samples recovered from the scene form part of the prosecution case.
But only Davis is convicted out of the four because he has been clocked by witnesses at several specific locations where the blood samples had been obtained, even though the blood doesn’t match his.
Yet this vital ‘no match’ evidence hasn’t been disclosed at the lower court where Davis had been committed for trial.
The samples taken from Davis at Walthamstow on May 18, 1974, are passed on to the Yard’s Senior Scientific Officer, Peter Martin, who reports his “negative” findings to the officer in charge of the case on June 20. Yet as late as November that year on a third bail application, this time before a judge in chambers, the police are saying they still await the results from forensic, before the truth eventually slips out.
This sparks the 1975 campaign led by Davis’s wife Rose for his release. Campaigners daub “G Davis is innocent” on railway bridges across London, including Bow Common Lane near the Davis’s home in Campbell Road.
The campaign goes nationwide. The pitch at Headingley is dug up in August—while Davis is serving his 20-year stretch—preventing further play in the Test Match against Australia. Campaigner Peter Chappell is jailed the following year for 18 months for the sabotage.
The Davis campaign overlaps other criminal justice cases, like ‘Free George Ince’ which is also based on identification evidence.
The campaigns merge into the ‘East End Solidarity Campaign to Stop East End Fit Ups’ over a flawed criminal justice system at the time.
Home Secretary Roy Jenkins finally agrees to release Davis in May, 1976, on a Royal Prerogative because of doubts over the evidence and conviction deemed “unsafe”—but extraordinarily states that Davis is “not held to be innocent”.
Then two years after his release, Davis is caught red-handed in an armed hold-up at a bank in the Seven Sisters Road in north London, at the wheel of the getaway van with firearms at his side. Shots are fired in the raid and a security guard is clubbed.
Davis is jailed again in September, 1977, after pleading guilty this time. He couldn’t wriggle out of it.
Davis serves six years—only to be jailed yet again in 1987 after admitting attempting to steal mailbags!
But at least the 1975 conviction for the Ilford hold-up is finally quashed by the Appeal Court after 35 years, in May, 2011, two years after campaigning ex-wife Rose Davis has died.