Three men have finally had their convictions overturned, nearly 50 years after they were jailed in ‘a total stitch-up’ for allegedly ‘robbing’ a corrupt police officer on the London underground.
Courtney Harriot, Paul Green and Cleveland Davidson, now in their late 60s, were aged between 17 and 20 when they were accused of trying to steal from Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell.
They all pleaded not guilty, but were convicted despite telling jurors that police officers had lied and subjected them to violence and theats.
Mr Harriot, Mr Green and Mr Davidson became known as the Stockwell Six, along with three friends also accused of accosting Ridgewell, who worked for British Transport Police and was in plain clothes.
They were all put on trial at the Old Bailey and all but one were convicted and sent to jail or borstal over the alleged attack while travelling from Stockwell station in south London in February 1972.
Their convictions were referred to the Court of Appeal on the basis that there was ‘a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will now quash those convictions’.
At a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London today, the Court of Appeal cleared the three, 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.’
The judge added: ‘These appeals are allowed and the convictions are quashed.’
Speaking after the hearing, Cleveland Davidson said: ‘It’s vindication that we were innocent at the time. We were only young then, we did nothing.’
‘It was a total stitch-up, it was a frame-up for nothing,’ he added.
Mr Davidson said: ‘For 50 years, it affected me… I haven’t been the same.
‘My family didn’t me 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 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.’
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 had previously served in the South Rhodesian, now Zimbabwean, police force.
He 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.
The corrupt cop 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.
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.