Fi­nal mem­ber of ‘Oval Four’ has con­vic­tion quashed af­ter nearly 50 years

The Guardian - - National - Dun­can Camp­bell

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, 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 to 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 “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 big 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. “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, 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.”

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