George Davis wins appeal

A man whose case became part of criminal folklore after he was jailed for armed robbery finally had his conviction overturned today after decades of protesting his innocence.





But three Court of Appeal judges who announced that George Davis's 1975 Old Bailey conviction was "unsafe" also said they were unable to "positively exonerate him".



Davis, who has always denied involvement in a raid in April 1974 at the London Electricity Board (LEB) in Ilford, Essex, said afterwards that he was "delighted" his conviction had been quashed, commenting: "This is a bitter-sweet moment for me."



His case attracted widespread attention in the 1970s, with punk band Sham 69 writing a song about him, The Who singer Roger Daltrey wearing a T-shirt proclaiming his innocence and his name being daubed across railway and road bridges.



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



Davis, now 69, who lives in London, 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.



He was arrested again in September 1977 and later pleaded guilty to his involvement in an armed robbery at the Bank of Cyprus in London. He was sentenced to 15 years, reduced to 11 years on appeal.



Today's ruling by Lord Justice Hughes, Mr Justice Henriques and Mrs Justice Macur followed a referral of his case to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), an independent body which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.



Davis's legal team argued that evidence to show the convictions for the LEB raid were unsafe "has been in the hands of the authorities since at least 1977".



He won his appeal today on the basis of fresh material relating to identification evidence.



Lord Justice Hughes said material relating to identifications made by those at the scene of the robbery, and "limited new evidence" affecting the "very positive identification" given by another witness, "so far undermines the case that it is impossible to be satisfied that this conviction is safe".



But he 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."



Following the decision, Davis said he had always claimed he had been falsely identified "but it should not have taken 36 long years for me to be able to stand here like this".



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.



"However, we have no doubt ... neither identification can be safely relied upon."



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".





Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003