'I've got to set my baby sister free'

Was Ruth Ellis wrongfully killed?
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THE LAST time Muriel Jakubait saw her baby sister Ruth Ellis was in Holloway prison, more than 40 years ago. Even by the standards of an era that favoured execution as a form of justice, there was something particularly callous about Ruth's treatment in those final hours; she wasn't allowed to talk to Muriel or see her young son Andre alone. Jailers stood either side of Ruth while she tried to exchange a few last meaningful words with her sister through a small grille in her cell door.

"I felt like killing myself afterwards," says Muriel, now 77 and living in Woking. "I last saw her a week before her death. I'd just had a baby and she would ask who it looked like. I kept asking, 'Are you all right?', and she would say, 'Don't worry Muriel. I'm not worrying.' I was so desperate to do something."

Forty years later, Muriel is trying to clear her sister's name. She approached the Cardiff-based lawyers Bernard and Lynne de Maid several months ago to review Ruth's case. The de Maids are now preparing an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Lynne de Maid says, "We are looking for Ruth's murder conviction to be quashed and an alternative of manslaughter to be passed. We also hope for an apology for her execution."

Ruth's story, minus the conclusion, seems sadly modern and familiar. She had a predilection for brutal men, from her first husband, George Ellis, to her tragic love affair with the feckless David Blakely.

Muriel's memories of their family life give some insight into Ruth's troubled personal life. "We were never happy. My father was a professional musician, then lost his job when the talkies came. He would hit me, but I always used to shield Ruth by standing in front of her. I've always felt protective towards her, which is why I've always felt so full of guilt about what happened."

Yet Muriel led a very different life to Ruth; settling down with her husband in south-east London and raising five children. She always tried to support her sister: "She used to phone me a lot when she met Blakely. She said she felt life wasn't as great as she thought it would be. She told me she loved David, but he was such a two-timer."

When Ruth was in Holloway, Muriel looked after Andre, who later committed suicide, aged 36. "He suffered the most. He and I went through it together."

She remembers Andre's response the evening Ruth shot Blakely outside a pub in Hampstead. Andre, Desmond Cousen, who was Ruth's new boyfriend, and Ruth's mother arrived on her doorstep.

"My mother just said, 'Ruth has shot Blakely - he's dead.' I shouted at Desmond, 'Who gave her the gun?' He never answered me. Andre told me later it was Desmond. 'He cleaned it and gave it to her and then I never saw my mummy again.'"

In a month that has seen Derek Bentley's case overturned and Holocaust victims winning against the Swiss banks, justice, for once, appears to favour the underdog. The real shift lies within the judiciary, who are now more open, and willing to admit they can get it wrong.

This may be some 40 years too late for Ruth Ellis, but for Muriel it's better than nothing. "I can feel Ruth probing me. I can see her all the time, each time I look in the mirror, because we look so alike. Now I know I've got to fight for her, and set her free."