08:56, December 05 391 0 theguardian.com

2019-12-05 08:56:05
'Oval Four' men jailed in 1972 cleared by court of appeal in London

Three men who were convicted nearly 50 years ago on the evidence of a corrupt police officer have finally had their names cleared by senior judges.

Winston Trew, Sterling Christie, now both 69, and George Griffiths, now 67, were arrested – along with Constantine “Omar” Boucher – at Oval tube station in London in 1972 by police who accused them of stealing handbags.

The patrol that arrested them, which was set up to target thefts on the Northern line and was known as “the mugging squad”, was led by DS Derek Ridgewell, who was later jailed for seven years for conspiracy to steal.

The Oval Four, as they became known, were convicted of attempted theft and assaulting police, and Christie was also found guilty of theft of a handbag, after a five-week trial at the Old Bailey.

All four were jailed for two years, later reduced to eight months on appeal. But Trew, Christie and Griffiths’ cases were referred to the court of appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission this year after another conviction involving Ridgewell was overturned last January. Boucher’s conviction was not referred as the CCRC was unable to trace him.

The lord chief justice, Lord Burnett – sitting with Mrs Justice McGowan and Sir Roderick Evans – quashed the three men’s convictions at a brief hearing in London on Thursday.

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.”

In a statement after the hearing, Trew said: “I wish to express my gratitude to the CCRC and in particular, to my case officer, Anona Bisping, for the excellent and detailed work submitted by her in this dated and complex case.”

Christie said: “I wish to thank everyone who supported us over the years in trying to right this miscarriage of justice, those who attended meetings, raised funds and distributed leaflets from various organisations.

“I would also like to thank my family and friends who have always supported us and known the truth about these convictions.”