‘Stockwell Six’ convictions quashed 50-years after corrupt police officer set up innocent men

Three black men who were jailed almost 50 years ago on false allegations of attempting to rob a corrupt police officer have had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Courtney Harriot, Paul Green and Cleveland Davidson, together with three friends, were arrested while travelling on the London Underground from Stockwell station in February 1972. 

They were accused of attempting to rob undercover police officer DS Derek Ridgewell, who was head of a British Transport Police “anti-mugging squad”.

The group, who are now in their late 60s, became known as the "Stockwell Six" after they went on trial at the Old Bailey.

Five of them were convicted and jailed following evidence from Ridgewell – who was subsequently linked to a string of miscarriages of justice against young black men.

Ridgewell, who served in the Rhodesian police force, was himself later convicted of stealing mailbags and died of a heart attack in prison aged 37.

The Stockwell Six convictions were referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

At a hearing on Tuesday the convictions of Mr Harriot, Mr Green and Mr Davidson, were all quashed.

The two remaining members of the Stockwell Six who were convicted have not been traced.

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."

The judge added: "These appeals are allowed and the convictions are quashed."

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice after the hearing, Mr Davidson said: "It’s vindication that we were innocent at the time. We were only young then, we did nothing."

He added: "For 50 years, it affected me… I haven’t been the same. My family didn’t believe me, no one believed me because they thought ‘well, you must’ve done something’."

He also said: "We just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time with a bad, corrupt police officer."

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 the latest case involving Ridgewell to result in the Court of Appeal overturning a 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.

In January 2018, Stephen Simmons’ 1976 conviction for stealing mailbags was quashed after he discovered Ridgewell had been jailed for a similar offence.

In a statement, 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.

"We have examined all available records which suggest that (Derek) Ridgewell was the principal officer in other investigations and have not identified any additional matters that we feel should be referred for external review."

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