A fourth member of the so called Stockwell Six – a group of black men falsely accused of assaulting British transport police nearly half a century ago – yesterday had his conviction quashed at the Court of Appeal.
Four months after three of the six were cleared (as reported on the Justice Gap here), Texo Johnson has has had his conviction overturned for the alleged ‘mugging’ of a corrupt police officer called DS Derek Ridgewell.
His solicitor Jenny Wiltshire, of Hickman & Rose Solicitors, pointed out next February would mark half a century since he was ‘falsely accused of criminality by a corrupt police officer’. ‘Texo has lived his entire adult life with this hanging over him, and time has not lessened his ordeal,’ she said. ‘He has said that the pain of what happened still lingers, and that it is something he will take to his grave. This didn’t need to be the case. The British Transport Police knew about DS Ridgewell’s corruption in 1973, but it took until this year for the force to undertake any review of this officer’s cases.’
Wiltshire continued: ‘Considering this huge delay – and the potential it created for material to get lost – it is unsurprising that the force’s available records have revealed no further mischief to be unravelled. I sincerely hope that the police’s internal review of DS Ridgwell’s actions is as thorough as it could have been and that there aren’t other victims who had to yet to achieve the justice they deserve.’
Sir Julian Flaux, sitting with Lord Justice Dingemans and Lady Justice Andrews, said it was ‘most unfortunate that it has taken nearly 50 years to rectify the injustice suffered’.
The six men were accused of assaulting, with intent to rob, the ‘victim’ Ridgewell, an ex-Rhodesian policeman in February 1972. After a trial in which five of the six men were found guilty, despite telling jurors that police had subjected them to violence and threats, the men were sentenced to prison sentences of up to three years and borstal for those under 18 (Johnson was just 17 at the time – he’s now 67). At their 1972 Old Bailey trial, the men – who together became known as the ‘Stockwell Six’ and are now all aged in their late 60s – pleaded not guilty, arguing that DS Ridgewell and his fellow officers lied, subjected them to violence and told them to sign statements admitting to robbery.
Courtney Harriot was sentenced to three years in prison; Cleveland Davidson and Ronald De’Souza to six months in prison; and Paul Green and Texo Johnson to borstal training.The one defendant who was acquitted (Everett Mullins) was proven to lack reading abilities which meant he would not have understood the confession – one that had been handwritten by Ridgewell – that he had signed.
The convictions of Harriot, Davidson and Green were quashed in July this year after their cases were referred to the Court of Appeal by the miscarriage of justice watchdog the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).The CCRC had been unable to contact Johnson. But he got in touch with the organisation at his sister’s urging after she saw media coverage of his friends’ case. The CCRC is still trying contact the other two men.
Ridgewell was head of the British Transport Police’s ‘anti-mugging unit’ and was implicated in four trials which became controversial: the Oval Four, the Stockwell Six, the Waterloo Four and the Tottenham Court Road Two. The accused in the Tottenham Court Road Two case were two devout Jesuit students from Rhodesia who were studying social work Oxford University. Their trial judge Gwyn Morris halted their trial, saying: ‘I find it terrible that here in London people using public transport should be pounced on by police officers without a word.’ Magistrates in the Waterloo Four case also criticised DS Ridgewell’s methods.
Ridgewell’s corrupt methods were first exposed in a Nationwide documentary and became so notorious that in 1973 there were calls for the Home Secretary to open an inquiry into his cases. Instead, the British Transport Police moved him from a unit investigating ‘muggings’ to its mailbag theft unit, where he continued to break the law.
In 1980 Ridgewell pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal mailbags involving theft of goods in transit valued at well over £300,000 (equivalent to almost £1.3m today) and was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. He died in prison in 1982.
Some 36 years later, in 2018, the Appeal judges finally acquitted Stephen Simmons of mailbag theft after he researched DS Ridgewell’s history of criminality on the Internet. In hearings in 2019 and 2020 all four members of the so-called Oval Four had their convictions for attempted theft and assault quashed. You can hear Winston Trew of the Oval Four in a Justice Gap podcast (here).