Three black men who were jailed for allegedly attempting to rob a corrupt police officer nearly 50 years ago have had their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal.
Courtney Harriot, Paul Green and Cleveland Davidson, all aged between 17 and 20 at the time, were arrested on the London Underground while travelling from Stockwell station, south London, in February 1972.
The trio, now in their late 60s, and three friends – who became known as the “Stockwell Six” – were put on trial at the Old Bailey, largely on the word of British Transport Police officer Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell.
The men were accused of trying to rob Ridgewell, who was in plain clothes and had previously served in the South Rhodesian, now Zimbabwean, police force.
They all pleaded not guilty, but all bar one was convicted and sent to jail or Borstal, despite telling jurors that police officers had lied and subjected them to violence and threats.
Their convictions were referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission on the basis that there is “a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will now quash those convictions”.
Now the Court of Appeal has finally cleared Mr Harriot, Mr Green and Mr Davidson’s names nearly five decades after they were convicted.
Judge Sir Julian Flaux, sitting with Mr Justice Linden and Mr Justice Wall, said: “It is most unfortunate that it has taken nearly 50 years to rectify the injustice suffered by these appellants.”
It is understood that the Criminal Cases Review Commission tried to contact the two other men convicted, Texo Johnson and Ronald De’Souza, but they were not traced.
The sixth man, Everet Mullins, was acquitted.
Ridgewell was involved in a number of high-profile and controversial cases in the early 1970s, culminating in the 1973 acquittals of the “Tottenham Court Road Two” – two young Jesuits studying at Oxford University.
He was then moved into a department investigating mailbag theft, where he joined up with two criminals with whom he split the profits of stolen mailbags.
Ridgewell was eventually caught and jailed for seven years, dying of a heart attack in prison in 1982 at the age of 37.
The case of the Stockwell Six is the third time Ridgewell’s corruption has led to wrongful convictions being overturned by the Court of Appeal.
Jenny Wiltshire of Hickman & Rose Solicitors, who represented Mr Harriot, Mr Green and Mr Davidson, said: “While the acquittal of these innocent men is welcome news, it is deeply troubling that it has taken so long to happen.
“These men’s entire adult lives have been blighted by false allegations made by a corrupt police officer known to have been dishonest for decades.
“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.
“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.”
In January 2018, Stephen Simmons’ 1976 conviction for stealing mailbags was quashed after he discovered Ridgewell was jailed for a similar offence just two years after his own conviction.
In December 2019, three members of the “Oval Four” – who were arrested at Oval Underground station in 1972 and accused of stealing handbags by Ridgewell’s “mugging squad” – also had their convictions overturned.
Winston Trew, Sterling Christie and George Griffiths were all sentenced to two years, later reduced to eight months on appeal, following a five-week trial at the Old Bailey.
Quashing their convictions, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said there was “an accumulating body of evidence that points to the fundamental unreliability of evidence given by DS Ridgewell … and others of this specialist group”.