Three black men who were jailed for allegedly attempting to rob a corrupt police officer nearly 50 years ago have finally had their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal.
Long road to justice
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 Stockwell Six 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 were 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”.
At a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 6 July, the Court of Appeal cleared Harriot, Green, and Davidson, nearly five decades after they were convicted. Julian Flaux, sitting with justice Linden and justice Wall, said:
It is most unfortunate that it has taken nearly 50 years to rectify the injustice suffered by these appellants.
The judge added:
These appeals are allowed and the convictions are quashed.
The two remaining members of the Stockwell Six who were convicted have not been traced. Previously, the Criminal Cases Review Commission said it is still very keen to hear from the remaining members.
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 would be the third time Ridgewell’s corruption has led to wrongful convictions being overturned by the Court of Appeal.
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”.
In March 2020, the final member of the Oval Four, Constantine “Omar” Boucher, also had his name cleared, prompting calls for a “wholesale review” of all cases linked to Ridgewell.
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