Constantine “Omar” Boucher is the final of a group of four black men jailed nearly 50 years on the evidence of a corrupt London police officer to be freed. He was convicted wrongfully of theft and assaulting the police.
Boucher, now 71, was a member of the Oval Four – a group of young black men who were arrested at Oval underground station in London in 1972 by an undercover police unit.
They were accused of stealing handbags by the unit run by Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell. Ridgewell was notorious for his involvement in a litany of controversial high-profile cases in the early 1970s.
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Boucher was arrested along with Winston Trew, Sterling Christie, and George Griffiths. They were convicted after a five-week trial in November 1972, in a proceeding which was largely based on claims by the police and challenged confessions.
They were all convicted and handed sentences of up to two years in jail which were later reduced on appeal. The convictions were, however, upheld until last December when they were overturned starting with the other three members.
According to BBC, Ridgewell’s career ended in disgrace in 1980 when he was jailed for seven years for plotting to steal goods from the Royal Mail and he died in prison in 1982.
At the hearing Tuesday, 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. 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.”
“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,” The Guardian quoted a spokesman for the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) saying. The commission researched the case and referred it back to the court of appeal.
“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,” Boucher’s lawyer, Jenny Wiltshire of Hickman & Rose, added.