The final member of the ‘Oval Four’ – four young black men who were ‘fitted up’ by a corrupt police officer nearly 50 years ago – has finally had his conviction overturned. Just before Christmas the Oval Four’s convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal after a 47 year struggle (as reported on the Justice Gap here).
Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell, the officer who framed the four has long since been discredited. Winston Trew, Sterling Christie, George Griffiths and Constantine “Omar” Boucher – then aged between 19 and 23 – were arrested at Oval Underground station in 1972 by a police unit known as “the mugging squad”, who accused them of stealing handbags. You can read Harriet Bland’s interview with Trew for the Justice Gap here.
Trew, Christie and Griffiths had their convictions quashed at the end of last year. Yesterday, Lord Justice Fulford – sitting with Mrs Justice Carr and Mr Justice Goss – quashed Boucher’s conviction, saying that the safety of the conviction was ‘fundamentally undermined’ by the ‘apparent lack of integrity’ of Ridgewell and his team.
According to a report by the Press Association, the hearing with the barristers representing Boucher and the prosecution dialling in by telephone because of the lockdown in the courts as a result of coronavirus. ‘While it is, of course, happy news that Mr Boucher’s conviction has been quashed, the fact that it has taken nearly so long is very concerning,’ Boucher’s solicitor Jenny Wiltshire, head of serious and general crime at Hickman & Rose, told PA. ‘The British Transport Police and the Home Office have known about this officer’s corruption for decades. Yet they have done little to right his wrongs.’
‘DS Ridgewell was first denounced as corrupt in 1973. He was imprisoned in 1980. The BTP could have re-examined his cases then. But they didn’t.They instead left it to his victims to try and work out for themselves exactly how they had been set up, and to gather the evidence they needed to prove their innocence. In my view, the BTP should now conduct a wholesale review of all this officer’s cases. It seems to me very likely that there may be many other victims of his corruption.’
Jenny Wiltshire, Hickman & Rose
Wiltshire added that her client was ‘grateful to the court for agreeing to hold this hearing under difficult circumstances’. ‘Having spent 48 years unfairly labelled a criminal, he was keen to have this heard as soon as possible. The court clearly agreed and conducted the hearing by telephone.’