LONDON -- London’s Court of Appeal on Thursday exonerated three men who had served time in prison nearly 50 years ago following the testimony of a corrupt police officer — one of several high-profile cases involving black men that proved controversial.
Judge Ian Burnett quashed the convictions of Winston Trew, Sterling Christie and George Griffiths who were aged between 19 and 23 when they were arrested after being swept up in a purse-snatching investigation. The men had always maintained their innocence and claimed they were framed by a British Transport Police detective whose career ended in disgrace.
The men were arrested in 1972 at the Oval Underground station, together with another man another man, Constantine "Omar" Boucher. The group, dubbed the “Oval Four,” served eight months in prison but sought to clear their names. Boucher could not be located to take part in the case.
“It is a travesty that these men have waited 47 years for exoneration for crimes that they did not commit,” said Christie’s lawyer, Steven Bird. “Justice has now finally been done."
The men were jailed for eight months for attempted theft and assaulting police. Christie was also found guilty of theft of a handbag.
The case was one of several in the 1970s that involved questionable arrests of black men by a police unit run by the late Detective Sgt. Derek Ridgewell. Amid controversy, he was moved to a department investigating mailbag theft and joined two others in splitting profits from stolen mailbags. Caught and jailed, he died in prison of a heart attack in 1982.
Burnett said there was "an accumulating body of evidence that points to the fundamental unreliability of evidence” that was given by Ridgewell and others closely connected to him.
“We would wish only to note our regret that it has taken so long for this injustice to be remedied,” Burnett said.
But lawyers for the men expressed outrage at the long denial of justice. The case was referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission earlier this year.
"Both the British Transport Police and the Home Office were warned about this police officer's corrupt methods in 1973. They did nothing except move him to a different unit, where he continued to offend,” said Jenny Wiltshire, the attorney who represented Trew and Griffiths. “But even then, the police did not think to review his past cases. Had they done so, these innocent men's lives would likely have been very different.”
Outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Trew, now 69, urged others wrongfully convicted because of Ridgewell's misconduct to challenge their convictions.
“If you are innocent, don't give up," Trew said.