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Innocent rail workers ‘fitted up’ for thefts by racist police officer posthumously cleared

Saliah Mehmet and Basil Peterkin had their 1977 theft convictions quashed posthumously by the Court of Appeal
Saliah Mehmet and Basil Peterkin had their 1977 theft convictions quashed posthumously by the Court of Appeal - PA

Two British Rail workers jailed for theft almost 50 years ago have had their convictions quashed posthumously after it emerged they were set up by a racist police officer.

Basil Peterkin and Saliah Mehmet were both found guilty of stealing parcels from the Bricklayers Arms goods depot in south London where they worked in 1977.

They were convicted on the basis of evidence provided by corrupt British Transport Police (BTP) officer, Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell, who was subsequently jailed for theft himself.

Ridgewell, who was originally from South Rhodesia, held deeply racist views and was later linked to a string of miscarriages of justice against young black men, including the Oval Four and the Stockwell Six - who recently had their convictions for muggings on the Tube quashed.

Mr Peterkin died in 1991 and Mr Mehmet passed away in 2021, before they were officially acquitted of any wrongdoing.

Henry Blaxland KC, representing the pair, told the Court of Appeal on Thursday, they were “two perfectly respectable and entirely innocent British Transport employees” who had been “fitted up” by Ridgewell - a “dishonest, corrupt and racist” police officer.

Quashing their convictions, Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Garnham and Mr Justice Andrew Baker, expressed regret that it had taken so long to clear their names.

Following the acquittals, Mr Mehmet’s son, Regu Saliah, said the jailing of his father had “left a traumatic legacy that stayed with him his whole life”.

Supporters and relatives of Basil Peterkin and Saliah Mehmet outside the Royal Court of Justice in London
Supporters and relatives of Basil Peterkin and Saliah Mehmet outside the Royal Court of Justice in London - Jess Glass/PA

The families of both men called for a new law that would allow for the automatic independent review of cases involving police officers who are jailed.

Ridgewell, was jailed for seven years in 1980 after he was convicted of stealing £364,000 of property from the same goods depot where Mr Peterkin and Mr Mehmet worked.

He suffered a heart attack and died in prison two years later at the age of 37.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) which referred the case of Mr Peterkin and Mr Mehmet to the Court of Appeal, has seen nine other convictions relating to Ridegwell quashed in recent years.

Helen Pitcher, chairman of the CCRC said: “I urge anyone else who believes that they or a loved one, friend or acquaintance was a victim of a miscarriage of justice to contact the CCRC - particularly if DS Derek Ridgewell was involved.”

BTP Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi said: “I am sincerely sorry for the trauma suffered by the British African community through the criminal actions of former police officer DS Derek Ridgewell who worked in BTP during the 1960s and 70s.

“In particular, it is of regret that we did not act sooner to end his criminalisation of British Africans, which led to the conviction of innocent people, including Mr Peterkin and Mr Mehmet.

“This is simply inexcusable and is something that my colleagues and I are appalled by.

“The actions of DS Ridgewell do not define the BTP of today which is enriched by highly professional, kind and committed officers and staff who are passionate about protecting the public.

“I have also met retired officers who are equally appalled by the criminal actions of DS Derek Ridgewell.

“I acknowledge that, during those times, systemic racism played a role in the culture of the force, as it did across many parts of society.”

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