Campaigner for disability rights
Born 1938 Died 2008

Davina Marcia Herbert was born on the 10th July 1938, the only child of Mervyn Horatio Herbert, 17th Baron Darcy de Knayth and Vida Cuthbert. Her father Mervyn was the second son of George Herbert, 4th Earl of Powis and Violet Ida Lane-Fox who became the Baroness Darcy de Knayth in her own right in 1903. Since Mervyn's elder brother Percy Robert Herbert died on the 13th October 1916 of the wounds received in action at the Somme in September 1916, it was he that inherited the title of Baron Darcy de Knayth at his mother's death on the 29th April 1929. Mervyn later became a squadron leader in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during World War II and was himself killed in action whilst flying a Mosquito on the 23rd March 1943 within his own father's lifetime. As Mervyn's only daughter, Davina therefore became a baroness at the age of four, whilst the Powis title held by her grandfather, being limited to the heir male, later went to a cousin.

Davina was later educated at St Mary's School in Wantage, then took a secretarial course and spent a year in Italy and at the Sorbonne in Paris. Blonde, pretty and with a title of her own, the press regarded her as the "catch of the season". She was duly landed and on the 1st March 1960 married the publisher Rupert Ingrams, the third of the four sons of Leonard St Clair Ingrams, and therefore the brother of the now more famous Richard Ingrams, onetime editor of Private Eye. Together they had two daughters and a son over the next three years, until one evening when they were driving home from a dance and their car left the road and hit a tree near Haywards Heath on the 28th February 1964. Rupert was killed outright, Davina survived, but suffered injuries to her face and spine. She was cut free from the wreckage and taken to Cuckfield Hospital, but flown by helicopter to Stoke Mandeville Hospital on the following day when it was established that she had been paralysed from the chest down.

She remained on the danger list until April and was eventually allowed home from hospital to resume her life. However although her mother Vita lamented the fate of her daughter, who was now a widow confined to a wheelchair with three young children to raise, Davina herself refused to be downhearted and insisted that "Mummy, don't you see? Life is so much more interesting now. I have to lie there and work out how to turn over. Life is much more fascinating". Davina subsequently took part in the 1968 Paralympic Games at Tel Aviv in Israel, where she competed in events such as Wheelchair Fencing and the Women's Slalom cervical class and even won a gold medal for swimming in the Women's 25 metre Backstroke class 1 incomplete. She similarly competed at the 1972 Paralympic Games held at Heidelberg in West Germany, where she won a bronze medal for table tennis in the Women's Teams 2 event.

In 1969 she took up her seat in the House of Lords, being amongst the first group of female peers now actually permitted to do so, following the Peerage Act 1963. She became a crossbench peer, and made her maiden speech on what became the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, being one of four wheelchair-bound peers who as the "wheelchair brigade" insisted on having one of the crossbenches removed so that they could speak on the second reading of the private member's Bill introduced by the Labour MP Alf Morris. At the time this intervention was regarded as having done much to increase public awareness of disability issues, and Davina subsequently became a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Disability, being a tireless campaigner for the rights of the disabled who promoted a number of amendments to legislation over the years. When the House of Lords Act 1999 removed the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit in the Lords, she stood for election as a crossbench peer and came top of the poll and became the only one of the original hereditary peeresses to retain her seat. She also served as the president of Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities and received a DBE in 1996 for her services to disabled people. She continued to be an active member of the House of Lords and was one its most assiduous attendees despite her disability, but her health later declined shortly before Christmas 2008, and she later began suffering seizures and was admitted to the Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, where she died on the 24th February 2008 at the age of sixty-nine.

Her death also became something of a minor political issue as Susan Cunliffe-Lister, Baroness Masham of Ilton and president of the Spinal Injuries Association, claimed that Wexham Park Hospital had "very inadequate facilities" and complained that whilst her friend "had been treated for years at the National Spinal Unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital", they refused to admit her on this occasion "for some reason yet to be explained". For their part, the Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust defended their actions and insisted that the care provided to the baroness was "exemplary" and that there was "no clinical need" to send her to Stoke Mandeville. It was however announced that there would be a post-mortem as Davina had been suffering from an "undiagnosed problem" since before Christmas.

She was succeeded as the 19th Baron Darcy de Knayth by her son Caspar David Ingrams.


SOURCES

  • Obituary: Lady Darcy de Knayth, Daily Telegraph, 12/03/2008
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/news/2008/03/12/db1202.xml
  • Obituary: Baroness Darcy De Knayth, The Times, March 3, 2008
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article3469985.ece
  • ‘DARCY DE KNAYTH’, Who's Who 2008, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007
    (http://www.ukwhoswho.com/view/article/oupww/whoswho/U12826, accessed 12 March 2008)
  • Hansard for 25 Feb 2008 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/80225-0002.htm#0802253000081
  • Activist vows spinal care reform, BBC News, 26 February 2008
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/berkshire/7266014.stm
  • Luke Cross, Baroness' death raised in Parliament, Maidenhead Advertiser, 29th February 2008 http://www.maidenhead-advertiser.co.uk/news_article.php?section=5&category=89&story=5732
  • Skill mourns its dedicated President, Lady Darcy de Knayth http://www.skill.org.uk/
  • Fact checking at http://www.paralympic.org/release/Main_Sections_Menu/Sports/Results/
  • The entry for DARCY DE KNAYTH from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition

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