Oval Four cleared 47 years after being framed by detective
The young black men were jailed on false theft charges
Three men jailed in 1972 in a highly controversial case have had their convictions overturned after being found to have been framed by a corrupt police officer.
Winston Trew, Sterling Christie, George Griffiths and another man, all of them black, spent eight months in prison after being accused of stealing handbags at London's Oval underground station, earning them the nickname the “Oval Four”.
But the convictions of Trew, Christie and Griffiths were quashed by the Court of Appeal this week after their case was referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).
The conviction of the fourth man, Constantine Boucher, has not been overturned because the commission has been unable to trace him, the BBC reports.
Who were the Oval Four?
In March 1972, Trew, Christie, George Griffiths and Constantine “Omar” Boucher were arrested at Oval Underground station in south London by a group of undercover police officers, who “aggressively accused them of ‘nicking handbags’ on the tube”, The Guardian reports.
According to the paper, the four men - who were aged between 19 and 23 - were “held overnight, beaten in the cells and charged with attempting to steal, theft, and assault of the police”. After a five-week trial, all four were convicted and jailed for two years in November 1972.
During their stint in prison a campaign in support of the men was launched and they were granted an appeal. Their sentences were reduced but their convictions were upheld, and the men ended up spending eight months in prison.
Since their release in 1973, two of the men - Griffiths and Boucher - have left the country, but Trew and Christie have remained in the UK to seek justice for what they see as their false convictions.
Who is the police officer at the centre of the case?
Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell, who led the operation to convict the men, “made a career from confronting groups of black men on the Tube” and falsely accusing them of stealing or pickpocketing, the Daily Mail reports.
As part of a supposed anti-mugging unit of the Metropolitan Police, he also arrested the groups of men who later became known as the Stockwell Six, the Waterloo Four and the Tottenham Court Road Two.
In the last of these cases, involving two Jesuit students from Oxford University, the trial was stopped by the judge, who said: “I find it terrible that here in London people using public transport should be pounced upon by police officers without a word.”
Following his fall from grace, Ridgewell was given a backroom role investigating the theft of Royal Mail bags but instead “plotted with criminals he knew to steal postal items”, says the Mail. After his scam was revealed, Ridgewell was jailed for seven years.
He died in prison of a heart attack at the age of 37 in 1982, days after telling the jail’s governor: “I just went bent.”
What happened this week?
Overturning the trio’s convictions on Thursday, Court of Appeal judge Lord Burnett said there was “an accumulating body of evidence that points to the fundamental unreliability of evidence given by Detective Sergeant Ridgewell... and others of this specialist group”.
Griffiths’ solicitor Jenny Wiltshire welcomed the ruling, but said it was “deeply concerning that it has taken so long to happen”, the BBC reports.
“Both the British Transport Police and the Home Office were warned about this police officer's corrupt methods in 1973,” she added. “They did nothing except move him to a different unit, where he continued to offend so that by 1980 he was serving a seven-year prison sentence for theft.”
Christie's lawyer Steven Bird said it was a "travesty that these men have waited 47 years for exoneration for crimes that they did not commit".
The case was referred to the to the Court of Appeal by the CCRC earlier this year after another conviction involving Ridgewell was overturned.
In January, a man named Stephen Simmons has his 1976 conviction for stealing mailbags quashed after discovering that Ridgewell had been been jailed for a similar offence just two years later.