Two men who were jailed nearly 50 years ago on the word of a corrupt detective could finally have their names cleared.
The cases of two members of the so-called “Stockwell Six”, who were accused of attempting to rob that officer on the underground, are now being referred to the court of appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).
The case is the latest involving the late Det Sgt Derek Ridgewell of the British Transport Police (BTP), who died in 1982 in prison, where he was serving a sentence for conspiracy to steal mailbags. The CCRC is now seeking to contact the remaining co-defendants in the case so that they, too, can have their cases referred.
Courtney Harriot and Paul Green were part of a group of six young friends from south London who were charged with assault with intent to rob on an underground train in 1972. The supposed victim of the alleged attempted robbery was Ridgewell. His practice, which led to many convictions, was to confront young black men at underground stations, accuse them of theft and then attribute incriminating remarks to them. If they resisted arrest, they were also accused of assaulting the police.
At their Old Bailey trial in 1972, Ridgewell said in court that he had been accosted by Harriot and the others on a journey between Stockwell and the Oval tube stations and that Harriot snapped his fingers at him and said: “Give me some bread, man.” He alleged that Harriot then pulled out a long bladed knife and told him: “Your wallet or it’s this!”
Ridgewell claimed that he drew his truncheon and knocked the knife from Harriot’s grasp as other undercover officers from adjoining compartments arrived. He claimed that Harriot then shouted “fuzz!”
The defendants, who all pleaded not guilty, told the court that the offence never took place and that they were arrested as they left the Oval station, subjected to violence and threats by the police and had words attributed to them that they never said. However, Green was convicted of assault with intent to rob and sent to Borstal. Harriot was sentenced to three years in prison. Co-defendants Cleveland Davison, Texo Johnson and Ronald De’Souza were convicted of related offences and the sixth, Everet Mullins, was acquitted.
The BBC Nationwide programme investigated the case in 1973 and concluded that it was impossible for Ridgewell’s version of events to be true. The programme showed that the sequence of events he described as happening could not possibly have taken place in the course of a single stop on the underground lasting less than two minutes.
This is the third case involving Ridgewell to go to appeal. In the first such case, the 1976 conviction of Stephen Simmons for mailbag theft, was quashed in 2018. Four other men, Winston Trew, Omar Boucher, Sterling Christie and George Griffiths – the so-called Oval Four – all had their 1972 convictions quashed in December last year. The lord chief justice, Lord Burnett, told them: “Our regret is that it has taken so long for this injustice to be remedied.”
Following that case, the CCRC attempted to make contact with the Stockwell Six and received responses from Green and Harriot.
“It is a challenge to investigate cases as old as this because most of the information from the time has been destroyed, but in this case our earlier referrals involving Ridgewell have helped pave the way,” said CCRC commissioner David Brown. “What we really want now is for the other Stockwell Six co-defendants to contact us so we can look at their cases and hopefully send their convictions for appeal as well.”
Winston Trew welcomed the news. “It’s great that other victims of Ridgewell could soon have their names cleared,” he said. Trew and former BTP detective superintendent Graham Satchwell have written a book about Ridgewell’s activities, Rot at the Core, to be published next year.
“One striking aspect of the case is that the words the police claimed that the defendants used like ‘fuzz’ and ‘bread’ were words used by white hippies not young black men who referred to the police in those days as ‘Babylon’.”