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THREE black men who were jailed for allegedly attempting to rob a corrupt copper nearly 50 years ago had their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal today.
Courtney Harriot, Paul Green and Cleveland Davidson, all aged between 17 and 20 at the time, were arrested on the Tube 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, who had previously served in the police force of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) under its racist white regime.
Det-Sgt Ridgewell, who had been in plain clothes, claimed the six, who got on the train at Stockwell, attempted to rob him before he fought back and arrested them with a team of undercover officers.
The six 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.
At a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Court of Appeal cleared Mr Harriot, Mr Green and Mr Davidson nearly five decades after they were convicted.
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.”
Two of the Stockwell Six who were convicted, Texo Joseph Johnson and Ronald De’Souza, have not yet been traced. The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which referred the convictions to the Court of Appeal, said it is “desperate to find other men who were part of this group of friends so many years ago.”
Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London after the hearing, Mr Davidson, now 66, said: “It’s vindication that we were innocent at the time.
“It was a total stitch-up, it was a frame-up for nothing.”
Mr Davidson described Det-Sgt Ridgewell as a “corrupt and wicked and evil police officer,” adding: “We don’t know how many other people Ridgewell stitched up. It’s just endless.”
He said his conviction had affected him for the last five decades and ruined his life.
He asked: “We got justice today, but it has not put it right — how can it put it right?”
Winston Trew, whose 1972 conviction for attempted theft and assaulting police was overturned by the Court of Appeal in December 2019, said after the hearing that he was very pleased. He was also framed by Det-Sgt Ridgewell and was jailed for two years, later reduced to eight months on appeal.
His research, detailing Det-Sgt Ridgewell’s long history of “fit-ups” was used in a previous appeal to overturn another conviction based on the bent copper’s evidence.
Mr Trew told the PA news agency: “My research has been vindicated.
“Justice should not only be done, justice should be seen to be done.”
He said Mr Davidson, Mr Green and Mr Harriot had been put through “50 years of torture.”
“They were convicted as young men going out for a night out and they spent the next 40-odd years with a shadow hanging over their lives,” he said.
British Transport Police Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock said: “It is wholly regrettable that the criminal actions of a discredited former officer of this force over four decades ago led to these unsound prosecutions.
“I apologise unreservedly for the distress, anxiety and impact this will have undoubtedly caused those who were wrongly convicted. We understand that nothing can ever make up for the period of time that they spent in custody or the longer-term effect it may have had on them.”
Det-Sgt 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. He 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 Det-Sgt Ridgewell’s corruption has led to wrongful convictions being overturned by the Court of Appeal.
In January 2018, Stephen Simmons’s 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 by Ridgewell’s “mugging squad” of stealing handbags — also had their convictions overturned.
Mr 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.
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 Det-Sgt Ridgewell.
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