Two British Rail workers who were jailed on word of corrupt police officer have convictions quashed

Two British Rail workers have had their convictions for theft quashed at the Court of Appeal after being jailed on the word of a corrupt police officer.

Basil Peterkin and Saliah Mehmet both died with their convictions hanging over them after they were sentenced following evidence from British Transport Police officer Derek Ridgewell.

The detective sergeant had accused the two men of theft from a site he later admitted stealing from.

The officer - who also served in the South Rhodesian, now Zimbabwean, police force - was involved in a number of high-profile and controversial cases in the early 1970s.

Ridgewell died of a heart attack in prison in 1982, aged 37.

The rail workers' convictions were quashed by appeal judges at a hearing in London on Thursday, after the men's cases were referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) - a body that investigates miscarriages of justice.

Mr Mehmet, who died in 2021, and Mr Peterkin, who died in 1991, were both sentenced to nine months in prison in 1977 over the theft of parcels from the Bricklayers Arms goods depot in south London, where they worked.

They said the items found in their possession had been planted, and that any admissions said to have been made by them had been fabricated by the police.

In 1980, Ridgewell was jailed for seven years for stealing property worth £364,000 from the same site, while his colleagues Detective Constable Douglas Ellis and Detective Constable Alan Keeling were sentenced to six and two years respectively.

'Traumatic legacy stayed with them'

Mr Mehmet's eldest son said this morning that today's judgement brings "some relief from the injustice that's lasted nearly half a century".

"Regrettably though, our father doesn't get to experience this judgement today," Regu Saliah said.

"He passed away two years ago and he lived as a victim of DS Ridgewell's corrupt and racist police officer for over 43 years."

Mr Saliah said his father "never managed to comprehend" the injustice he suffered and that it had "left a traumatic legacy that stayed with him his whole life, unfortunately".

"Perhaps even harder for him was knowing that his incarceration left himself and my mother penniless and homeless in 1970s London."

Janice Peterkin and Lileith Jones, Basil Peterkin's daughters, said outside court that they had "got justice at last for our dad".

"We have been determined to fight to see him cleared of crimes he did not commit," they said.

"He didn't deserve to spend time in prison. He was a law-abiding citizen and a family man.

"Basil was unfairly targeted and framed by the ex-policeman Ridgewell, who was clearly racist and corrupt."

'Systemic racism' acknowledged

The family members also called for legislation that would result in an automatic independent review of files associated with police officers who have been sent to prison in order to find possible wrongful convictions.

The chief constable of the British Transport Police apologised for the "trauma" caused by the actions of Ridgewell and acknowledged that "systemic racism" previously played a role in the culture of the force.

The CCRC previously said it had referred 11 cases which relied on Ridgewell's evidence.

The body also confirmed it had been investigating the "historical racist and corrupt practices" of Ridgewell, whose corruption has led to the convictions of members of the so-called Oval Four and Stockwell Six being overturned in recent years.

Henry Blaxland KC, representing Mr Peterkin and Mr Mehmet, told the court that 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.

The barrister said delays over investigating their wrongful convictions meant evidence had been lost and that neither man was alive to have the "satisfaction" of seeing them quashed.

Mr Peterkin was left with a "profound mistrust in the police", as was Mr Mehmet - so much so that when he was later robbed as a minicab driver he didn't want to report it, the court heard.

Mr Blaxland said Ridgewell "should have been sacked in 1973" amid concerns about his actions in a different team.

The officer was moved into a department investigating mailbag theft, where he joined up with others with whom he split the profits of stolen mailbags.

He said there had been a "systemic failure on behalf of the British Transport Police" over investigating prosecutions that relied on Ridgewell's evidence.

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The barrister explained that the only reasons the convictions were at the Court of Appeal was due to the research of another of Ridgewell's victims.

In 2018, Stephen Simmons' 1976 conviction for stealing mailbags was quashed after he discovered that Ridgewell was jailed for a similar offence two years after his own conviction.

Megan Millar, representing the Crown, said the appeals were "not resisted", adding that new evidence "undermines the safety of the convictions".

Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Garnham and Mr Justice Andrew Baker, said: "We can't turn back the clock, but we can quash these convictions."

He added that it was "very unfortunate" that so many years had passed before families had seen justice "rectified" and that Mr Peterkin and Mr Mehmet "have not lived to learn of their vindication".