10:16, March 24 214 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-24 10:16:04
Final member of Oval Four has 1972 conviction overturned

A man convicted of theft and assaulting the police in a high-profile case nearly 50 years ago has had his conviction quashed at the court of appeal.

Constantine “Omar” Boucher, now 71, was one of the Oval Four, a group of young black men who were framed by a corrupt detective and accused of carrying out muggings on the underground in London.

Boucher, along with Winston Trew, Sterling Christie and George Griffiths, were arrested in March 1972 by a group of undercover police officers at Oval tube station in south London and accused of “nicking handbags” on the underground. They were beaten in the police cells and then charged with attempting to steal, theft and assault of the police.

During a five-week trial at the Old Bailey that concluded in November 1972, none of the supposed victims of the thefts appeared and the evidence was based mainly on police claims and contested “confessions”. All four were convicted and given sentences of up two years in prison or borstal. The sentences were later reduced on appeal but the convictions upheld.

DS Derek Ridgewell of the British Transport Police, who led the so-called “mugging squad” and was responsible for a series of other notorious cases in the 1970s, died in prison in 1982 where he was serving a sentence for stealing mail bags.

Trew, Christie and Griffiths all had their convictions quashed last December but at that stage it had not been possible to trace Boucher, who had moved to the US.

Lord Justice Fulford, sitting with Mrs Justice Carr and Mr Justice Goss, quashed Boucher’s conviction, saying it was “fundamentally undermined by the apparent lack of integrity of DS Ridgewell and the team he led”. He added: “It is clear that Mr Boucher’s conviction is unsafe. It is highly unfortunate that it has taken nearly 50 years to rectify this injustice.”

Trew, whose research into Ridgewell played a major part in the appeals, welcomed the decision. “The quashing of Omar’s convictions today finally puts an end to the case of the Oval Four,” he said. “Although I have not seen him since the late 1970s, I expect he will be feeling as happy as I since my convictions were quashed last December by the lord chief justice.”

A spokesman for the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which researched the case and referred it back to the court of appeal, said: “The commission is very pleased that all of the Oval Four have now had their convictions quashed thanks to our work. These cases may be of some vintage, but what we have found in these and many other older cases we’ve referred over the years, is that wrongful convictions often have complex, serious and lasting effects on their victims.”

Boucher’s lawyer, Jenny Wiltshire of Hickman & Rose, said: “While it is, of course, happy news that Mr Boucher’s conviction has been quashed, the fact that it has taken nearly so long is very concerning. The British Transport Police and the Home Office have known about this officer’s corruption for decades. Yet they have done little to right his wrongs. DS Ridgewell was first denounced as corrupt in 1973. He was imprisoned in 1980. The BTP could have re-examined his cases then. But they didn’t. In my view, the BTP should now conduct a wholesale review of all this officer’s cases. It seems to me very likely that there may be many other victims of his corruption.”

Ridgewell was involved in a series of controversial cases in the early 1970s in which young black men were falsely accused of crimes. His tactics were exposed in the 1973 acquittals of the “Tottenham Court Road Two”, two young Jesuits studying at Oxford University. He was moved to a team investigating mailbag theft, where he joined up with career criminals with whom he split the profits of stolen mailbags. He was jailed for seven years and died of a heart attack in prison in 1982 aged 37.

It is understood that some of the “Stockwell Six”, also arrested by Ridgewell and his team, are having their cases reviewed. This news was welcomed by Trew. “I understand that members of the Stockwell Six have also applied to the CCRC to have their wrongful convictions referred to the court of appeal. This is wonderful news as this is exactly what I called for last year when I urged other victims of Ridgewell’s fit-ups to come forward. This is great news in these troubled times.”

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