Final member of 'Oval Four' will finally have named cleared

Final member of ‘Oval Four’ who was wrongly convicted in 1972 after arrest by notorious Scotland Yard ‘mugging squad’ will finally have named cleared

  • Winston Trew, Sterling Christie, George Griffiths, Constantine Boucher were four
  • Arrested at Oval station, 1972, convicted of attempted theft, assaulting police
  • All four were sentenced to two years, later reduced to eight months on appeal
  • Trew, Christie, Griffiths convictions overturned by Court of Appeal in December
  • Watchdog referred Boucher’s conviction as a ‘real possibility it will be quashed’

The final member of the ‘Oval Four’ – four black men who were wrongly convicted nearly 50 years ago on the evidence of a corrupt police officer – is set to have his name cleared.

Winston Trew, Sterling Christie, George Griffiths and Constantine ‘Omar’ Boucher were arrested at Oval Underground station in 1972 by a police unit known as ‘the mugging squad’, who accused them of stealing handbags.

The unit was run by Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell, who had previously served in the South Rhodesian – now Zimbabwean – police force, and was involved in a number of high-profile and controversial cases in the early 1970s – which led to calls for the Home Secretary to open an inquiry.

A poster calling for justice for Mr Christie, Mr Trew, Mr Boucher and Mr Griffiths (pictured in that order) after the sentencing in 1972

The Oval Four were convicted in November 1972 of attempted theft and assaulting police, and Mr Christie was also found guilty of theft of a handbag, following a five-week trial at the Old Bailey.

All four were sentenced to two years, later reduced to eight months on appeal.

Mr Trew, Mr Christie – both now 69 – and Mr Griffiths, now 67, had their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal in December, after a referral by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) earlier in 2019.

Winston Trew  (pictured in 1972) and Sterling Christie were part of a group of friends who became known as the Oval Four after being jailed in controversial circumstances for muggings on the Tube

Mr Boucher’s conviction was not referred to the Court of Appeal, as the CCRC had been unable to trace him.

But, in a statement released on Monday, the CCRC said Mr Boucher, who now lives in the US, had contacted them after his co-defendants’ convictions were overturned.

The watchdog added it had referred Mr Boucher’s conviction on the basis that there is ‘a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will quash his conviction’.

Quashing Mr Trew, Mr Christie and Mr Griffiths’ convictions in December, 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’.

The judge said it was ‘clear that these convictions are unsafe’, adding: ‘We would wish only to note our regret that it has taken so long for this injustice to be remedied.’

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice after that hearing, Mr Trew urged anyone else who might have been wrongfully convicted as a result of Ridgewell’s misconduct to challenge their convictions, saying: ‘They should come forward and contact the CCRC.’

Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell, a policeman who fled to Britain from Rhodesia in 1965, joined the Met but was later jailed for mailbag theft

He added: ‘If you are innocent, don’t give up.’

Mr Trew and Mr Griffiths’ solicitor, Jenny Wiltshire of Hickman & Rose, welcomed that decision, but said it was ‘deeply concerning that it has taken so long to happen’.

She added: ‘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, so that by 1980 he was serving a seven-year prison sentence for theft.

‘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.’

Ridgewell was involved in several controversial cases, 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 before he was caught and jailed, eventually dying of a heart attack in prison in 1982 at the age of 37.

In January 2018, Stephen Simmons’ 1976 conviction for stealing mailbags was also quashed after he discovered Ridgewell was later jailed for a similar offence, just two years after his own conviction.

In January 2018, Stephen Simmons’ 1976 conviction for stealing mailbags was also quashed after he discovered Ridgewell was later jailed for a similar offence, just two years after his own conviction

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