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Sensemaker audio

Slow justice for the Stockwell Six

Slow justice for the Stockwell Six

Why it took 50 years for a set of unjust convictions – made by a corrupt copper – to be overturned.


Hi, I’m Claudia – and this is Sensemaker – from tortoisemedia.com

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, a story of justice: fifty years in the making. 

***

“We were only young men, we did nothing. We went for a night out, me and my best friend Paul and this was what happened – we didn’t expect it at all. It was a total stitch up.”

Cleveland Davidson

That’s Cleveland Davidson. 

One night in 1972, his life – and the lives of five other young black men – were changed forever. 

Their names:

Cleveland Davidson

Paul Green

Courtney Harriot

Texo Johnson 

Ronald De’Souza  

And Everet Mullins

They were arrested on the London Underground while travelling from Stockwell station by a plain clothes police officer called Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell.

He claimed that the six men had tried to mug him. 

But the reality of what happened was very different… because… nothing  Derek Ridgewell accused them of was true. 

He’d made it all up. 

In fact, the opposite was true: it was the police who had threatened the six men, and beat them up. 

And it later turned out that the Stockwell Six weren’t the only people Derek Ridegwell had falsely accused. 

He sent a string of young black men to jail for crimes they had not committed. 

In fact, he was corrupt through and through. 

In 1980 he was sent to prison himself, for being part of an organised crime conspiracy to steal from the Royal Mail. 

So… why are we talking about this case now?

All of the Stockwell six pleaded not guilty. 

But in court, in 1972, it was their word against the word of a white police officer. 

One was found not guilty. Four were sent to prison. The sixth – who was just 17 at the time – went to Borstal, a type of youth detention centre. 

The convictions haunted them for decades: 

“I haven’t been the same. My family didn’t believe me, no one believed me. They thought oh you must have done something. You know. My mum and father has died and up until that day my father did not believe me.”

Cleveland Davidson

But on Wednesday this week, fifty years after they were sentenced, there was – at last – a little bit of justice. 

The convictions of three of the men – Cleveland Davidson, Paul Green and Courtney Harriot – were overturned by the court of appeal. 

Their joy and relief was clear: 

“I’m just overwhelmed that justice has played out in the end. Paul feels the same. I want to cry right now. But I just have to hold myself together.”

Cleveland Davidson

The criminal cases commission is looking for the other men, to see if they’d like to follow suit. 

But why did it take so long for justice to be done?

***

There were plenty of signs that Derek Ridgewell wasn’t telling the truth about the Stockwell Six… signs that were explored in a BBC news show all the way back in 1973. 

Derek Ridgewell had claimed that the men tried to attack him on an  underground train travelling between Stockwell and Oval tube stations: just one stop on the tube. 

But the BBC journalists found that everything he said went on in the time it takes to get between those stations – around two minutes – just could not have happened that quickly. 

His story didn’t add up. 

And the police officer had made other, similar arrests of black men on the tube network… always claiming they’d tried to rob him or other people. 

There were the Oval Four, the Waterloo Four and the Tottenham Court Road two. 

Just a year after the Stockwell arrests of Cleveland Davidson and his friends, a judge in another one of Derek Ridgewell’s cases – the trial of the Tottenham Court Road Two – threw it out of court because the allegations just weren’t credible. 

Even when Derek Ridgewell himself was jailed in 1980, no one thought to revisit his police work. 

He’d been proven, by a court of law, to be a criminal and he’d admitted to his prison warden that he’d been a corrupt officer – that he just “went bent”. 

But no one did anything about it. 

It was only in 2018 when someone else Derek Ridgewell had falsely accused decided to appeal their conviction – and won – that the corrupt policeman’s lies were finally uncovered.

The Stockwell Six case is the third of his cases to see their convictions overturned. 

Finally, the police have promised a review of all of his police work.

At last there is some justice. 

“We got justice today but it cannot put it right. How can you put right almost 50 years of injustice.”

Cleveland Davidson

It’s a victory for Cleveland Davidson and the other men Derek Ridgewell accused. 

But it’s also a dark story about corruption and racism in the police, and just how long… and how hard… you have to fight for justice. 

Today’s story was written and produced by Ella Hill.

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