Rose Dean-Davis: Campaigner whose protests led to the freeing of her husband George Davis from jail

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Rose Dean-Davis led the triumphant 1970s campaign which freed her husband, George Davis, from a 20-year sentence for armed robbery.

In what was acclaimed as the righting of a major miscarriage of justice, the campaign, which attracted widespread support, included high-profile incidents such as the sabotage of a cricket Test and ram-raiding the gates of Buckingham Palace and Fleet Street newspaper offices. To this day, the faded slogan asserting that "George Davis Is Innocent" can still be seen in some parts of London.

Within a few years of his release, however, Rose was mortified as her husband was caught red-handed taking part in an armed robbery. After serving a sentence for that, he was later locked up for a third time for another similar offence.

There was no doubt about hispart in the two subsequent hold-ups, since he pleaded guilty to both.Rose, sickened by both his deception and by his womanising, divorced him after his second conviction. To this day, George Davis maintains that he is innocent of involvement in the first offence (despite his release in 1976he has never officially been declared innocent of the crime), and is planning an appeal. But no groundswell ofpublic support for him is evident,probably because he is an admitted armed robber.

George married Rose when thepair were 17, after Rose had fallen pregnant by him at the age of 16. Both of them came from the East End, where her stern father, an army cook, insisted that his children remain silent at meal times. She worked in a laundry and cleaned in a pub while Davis worked at the docks and drove a lorry and a cab.

From the early days, Rose was under no illusions that her husband was an upright, law-abiding citizen.He was often in trouble with thelaw and was convicted of offencessuch as drink-driving and possessing stolen goods.

But although he was charged, and acquitted, of conspiring to steal from a railway yard, Rose continued to believe that he was not capable of really serious criminality. She clung to this belief even after he was convicted of involvement in a violent armed robbery at the London Electricity Board offices in Ilford, during which two policemen were injured – one of them having been shot in the leg.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges, producing several alibi witnesses and challenging identification evidence. He was given a lengthy prison sentence of 20 years, which on appeal was reduced to 17 years. Rose, meanwhile, had launched the Free George Davis campaign together with a friend, Peter Chappell, and an East End network which included Violet Kray, mother of the notorious Kray twins.

The graffiti appeared on manyLondon walls, while Chappell smashed his vehicle into Fleet Street office-fronts. He was eventually jailed for 18 months when he and others dug up the pitch at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds and poured oil over part of the wicket on the eve of a crucial Test match. The cricketing world was especially outraged at this stunt, since the Test with Australia had to be abandoned and declared as a draw, thus denying England the chance of winning back the Ashes.

There were many other protests, concerts and disruptive incidents. Rose was to the fore: it was plain enough that she was absolutelyconvinced that her husband was innocent. An American newspaper described her as "a national figure, regularly on television news programs, her dark eyes blazing, screaming at police during protest rallies and court appearances."

The rock group The Who sported "George Davis is Innocent" T-shirts, while the punk band Sham 69 belted out an impassioned protest song,which contained the lyrics: "Everything they want to pin on you / Everything you say and do / Looking through their photofits / See your face and your face fits".

Although there was much criticism of the Davis campaign, its strength and persistence and in particular Rose's evident moral outrage caused many to wonder whether a miscarriage of justice had taken place. Surely, it was said, the supporters of a guilty man would not maintain his innocence so vigorously.

The campaign culminated in astunning success when Roy Jenkins, that most liberal of Home Secretaries, intervened in a most unusual way and in 1976 released Davis through the exercise of the Royal Prerogativeof Mercy. It was explained that there was doubt about the identificationevidence of police witnesses. Davis was not declared innocent and didnot receive a free pardon. But he was none the less freed, becoming an instant celebrity.

Rose was hailed as a championof the innocent, but the release ofher husband did not bring her happiness. He embarked on what was described as an "18-month bender", flaunting a very public mistress and lots of other women. While muchof the East End seemed anxious tobuy him a drink, Rose worked as a waitress.

Her faith in her husband was shattered when, in 1977, he was caught red-handed during a raid on the Holloway Road branch of the Bank of Cyprus. He was arrested in the getaway van, with weapons arrayed on the seat beside him. Even though he pleaded guilty and was jailed for 15 years, Davis at first tried to convince Rose that he had been "fitted up". She replied, "Yeah, and I'm the Queen of Sheba." She divorced him and changed her name to Dean-Davis.

"I was ashamed," she later wrote. "I felt guilty, like a traitor really. I felt gutted for all those people who had helped us. I never thought he would have gone and robbed a bank in a million years. I was never a gangster's wife, so I stopped defending him."

The Davis campaign obviously did no favours to those who were genuine victims of injustice, such as theBirmingham Six and the Guildford Four, since claims of innocence were from then on regarded with extra scepticism and suspicion.

George Davis went on to serve a third prison sentence for attempted robbery, and after his release, married the daughter of a police chief inspector. In 2006 he broke his silence of many years to tell The Independent that he was launching a legal bid to have his original conviction overturned. Ofhis other two convictions he admitted: "Yes I did them. I pleaded guilty butI have been a good boy since then and have just kept out of trouble." Hewas then working as a driver for a courier company.

He declared: "I want to clear my name for the people who believed in me at the time and for all those who were in the campaign. But also for myself, so that people know that I was telling the truth."

Rose, meanwhile, worked in a brewery, in cleaning jobs, as a catering assistant, and in a children's hospice. Diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2004, she managed to complete a book of memoirs before her death: she called it The Wars of Rosie.

Rosemary Anne Dean, campaigner: born Chichester 19 May 1941; married 1958 George Davis (marriage dissolved, one son, one son deceased, one daughter deceased); died 31 January 2009.