Police CorruptionA Half-Century Wait for Justice
Duncan Campbell reports on another victim of a corrupt police sergeant who framed young black men in the 1970s
Nearly 50 years after he was wrongly convicted of assault with intent to rob on the London underground, a 67-year-old man had his conviction quashed today by the Court of Appeal.
Texo Johnson, one of the so-called ‘Stockwell Six’, is the latest victim of the spectacularly corrupt British Transport Police (BTP) sergeant, Derek Ridgewell, who specialised in framing young black men, to be cleared.
The court expressed its regret that it had taken so long for the conviction to be overturned and questions are still being asked as to why there was such a delay when Ridgewell’s dishonesty was widely known about by his colleagues and the courts at the time.
Johnson, then aged 17, was with friends Courtney Harriot, Cleveland Davidson, Paul Green, Ronald De’Souza and Everett Mullins travelling on the underground from Stockwell tube station in south London in February 1972. DS Ridgewell, head of a BTP’s ‘anti-mugging squad’, claimed that the group attempted to rob him at knife-point and all six were arrested by other undercover officers who – by extraordinary coincidence – happened to be close by. The young men were then subjected to violence and had false statements attributed to them.
One of the six, Everett Mullins, was acquitted at the Old Bailey trial after it was shown that his reading and English were not good enough for him to have read his signed confession. The other five were convicted and received jail sentences. Green and Johnson were sent to Borstal because of their age. The convictions of Harriot, Davidson and Green were quashed in July this year. Attempts are now being made to trace De’Souza, whose conviction would also be automatically overturned.
“While the result of today is great, it does not take away the pain and suffering of that awful night,” said Texo Johnson, who now lives in the US.
His case was referred to the Court of Appeal after his sister learned of the successful appeals of his friends and contacted the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
‘Too Little and Too Late’
Despite the many claims made at the time of Derek Ridgewell’s corruption, he was transferred to the BTP unit in charge of mailbag security. There, he participated in a series of mailbag thefts himself and set up a Swiss bank account with the proceeds before he was arrested and jailed in 1980 for seven years for conspiracy to rob. He died of a suspected heart attack in Ford prison in 1982.
His career is examined in detail in the book Rot at the Core by Graham Satchwell, a former BTP detective superintendent, and Winston Trew, one of the ‘Oval 4’, whose own wrongful conviction was finally quashed in 2019.
During a brief, uncontested hearing, Judy Khan QC, representing Johnson, told Sir Julian Flaux, the Chancellor of the High Court, sitting with Lord Justice Dingemans and Lady Justice Andrews, that “this is a truly shocking case”. The court agreed and paid tribute to the work done on the case by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which had referred the case to the Court of Appeal.
Earlier this month, the current BTP Chief Constable, Lucy D’Orsi apologised for Ridgewell’s behaviour.
She said: “We cannot undo the past, but we can learn from it. I am sincerely sorry for the trauma suffered by the British African community through the criminal actions of former police officer DS Derek Ridgewell who worked in BTP during the 1960s and 70s. In particular, it is of regret that we did not act sooner to end his criminalisation of British Africans, which led to the conviction of innocent people. This is simply inexcusable and is something that my colleagues and I are appalled by.”
But in response to the apology, Winston Trew, who attended the hearing, said: “It’s too little and too late. They knew about his corruption as long ago as 1973 and sat on their hands. The evidence was always there.”
Speaking after today’s hearing, Texo Johnson’s lawyer Jenny Wiltshire said: “It is, of course, welcome news that my client has been cleared of all wrongdoing in this matter. But next February will mark half a century since he was falsely accused of criminality by a corrupt police officer.
“Texo has lived his entire adult life with this hanging over him, and time has not lessened his ordeal. He has said that the pain of what happened still lingers, and that it is something he will take to his grave. This didn’t need to be the case. The British Transport Police knew about DS Ridgewell’s corruption in 1973, but it took until this year for the force to undertake any review of this officer’s cases.”
The chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Helen Pitcher OBE, said it was a further step in achieving justice but that it did not end there.
“Mr Johnson is the fourth member of the so-called ‘Stockwell Six’ to get his conviction quashed,” she said. “We believe there may be other convictions out there which are unsafe as a result of the involvement of DS Ridgewell.”
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