Appeal judges yesterday quashed the convictions of three black men nearly five decades ago after the arresting police officer was revealed as corrupt. In February 1972, the so called Stockwell Six – Courtney Harriot, Paul Green and Cleveland Davidson, along with three friends – were arrested at a south-west London tube station by DS Derek Ridgewell. The men’s lawyers point out that the Home Office was first warned about Ridgewell in 1973 and described the outcome as ‘far too little, far too late’.
The six men were accused of assaulting, with intent to rob, the ‘victim’ Ridgewell, an ex-Rhodesian policeman. 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). The one defendant who was acquitted 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.
Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London after the hearing, Davidson told the Press Association called the ruling a ‘vindication’. ‘We were only young then, we did nothing,’ he said. ‘It was a total stitch-up, it was a frame-up for nothing.’ He called Ridgewell a ‘corrupt and wicked and evil police officer’. ‘We don’t know how many other people Ridgewell stitched up … it’s just endless,’ he added.
Last year, the Criminal Cases Review Commission referred to the Court of Appeal the convictions of two members of the Stockwell Six. The CPS confirmed earlier this year that they would not oppose the appeals. The CCRC is attempting to track down the remaining two members of the Stockwell Six whose convictions still stand so it can re-examine their cases.
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.
Hickman & Rose Solicitors represented the three appellants in yesterday’s successful appeal. The firm points out that both those cases attracted press attention and in 1973 Ian Fraser MP and the National Council for Civil Liberties contacted the Home Secretary to request an inquiry into the cases investigated by DS Ridgewell. ‘The inquiry did not happen. British Transport Police transferred DS Ridgewell to another area of work investigating thefts from Royal Mail bags in transit,’ the firm added..
This is the third time convictions have been quashed involving Ridgewell. Stephen Simmons’ 1976 case was the first. Simmons had been accused and convicted of mailbag theft in 1976, which was quashed in 2018. According to the CCRC, which referred all the cases back to the Court of Appeal, the Simmons case ‘opened the door’ to the other related appeals. In December 2019, four men the so called Oval Four (Winston Trew, Omar Boucher, Sterling Christie and George Griffiths) saw their 1972 convictions quashed too. At the time, Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, told them: ‘Our regret is that it has taken so long for this injustice to be remedied.’
You can listen to our interview with Winston Trew as part of the Justice Gap podcast series here.
In the Stockwell case, the three men were jailed in strikingly similar circumstances to the ‘Oval Four’ who had their convictions for attempted theft of handbags quashed in 2019 and 2020. In 1980, Ridgewell was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for conspiracy to commit theft of £300,000 worth of goods in transit, and he died in prison in 1982.
‘Both the British Transport Police and the Home Office were warned about Ridgewell’s lies in 1973, yet neither organisation did anything except move him to a different police unit,’ commented Jenny Wiltshire, of Hickman and Rose Solicitors. ‘Even when Ridgewell was convicted of theft in 1980 they did not look again at the many clearly unsafe criminal convictions which had relied on his witness testimony.’
‘It is only now, almost half a century on, that the British Transport Police has indicated that it will review Ridgewell’s activities. For many of Ridgewell’s innocent victims and their families it is far too little, far too late.’
Barrister for the CPS, Andrew Johnson conceded that the convictions were unsafe. ‘This was a shocking set of circumstances. It was quite apparent now and has been for many years that DS Ridgewell was a dishonest officer. Misconduct of an officer does not mean that every case where there was a conviction is unsafe, but in this case it is apparent that there was a clear lack of integrity. We accept that these appeals should be allowed and the names of the appellants, albeit many years later, should be cleared.’
The CCRC has not been been able to contact the remaining members of the sx who were wrongly convicted. ‘We are desperate to find other men who were part of this group of friends so many years ago,’ commented CCRC chair Helen Pitcher. ‘They too were convicted. By tracking them down we can take another step towards achieving justice and finally clear their names.’