Stephen Simmons
Stephen Simmons who was convicted of stealing mailbags only to find that the crooked cop who arrested him was himself jailed for mail theft

A man convicted of stealing mailbags more than 40 years ago is a step away from having his sentence overturned after it emerged that the crooked cop who arrested him was himself jailed for mail theft.

Stephen Simmons, who is now 62 and runs an audio and phone equipment business, said: "Throughout my whole life I carried the shame for my imprisonment."

The officer Simmons was framed by was also linked to a notorious series of high-profile cases that impacted race relations in the 1970s.

"I didn't tell my parents at the time, because of the shame and because I thought I would get off a charge that had no truth to it," he told IBTimesUK.

"My father was disabled during the war and my mother worked six days a week as a cleaner in the hospital to bring up six children. When they found out I had been convicted, they simply couldn't believe a police officer would lie."

In 1975 Simmons was out in his Vauxhall Viscount with two friends in Clapham, south London, just after midnight.

They were approached by DS Derek Ridgewell of the British Transport Police (BTP) and two colleagues, and taken in for questioning about stolen mailbags.

The case ended up at trial and although there were no stolen goods in the car, Ridgewell claimed in court that Simmons had said the goods were elsewhere.

Simmons said prior to the trial he was given a duty solicitor who had stopped them halfway through their explanation off what really had happened that night.

Simmons said: "He told us, 'If you call the police liars you will go to prison for a very long time. It's not so much the judge you have to fear, but the jury will simply not believe you'."

Nonetheless, they pleaded not guilty and were all convicted at the end of the four-day trial in April 1976. Simmons was sent to Hollesley Bay borstal in Suffolk at 21 and served eight months of a two-year sentence.

"I could feel myself sink into the dock when I heard a guilty verdict," Simmons said. "All through this 11-month ordeal I thought everybody would eventually see sense and everything would eventually be put right."


He lost his job at a laundry and his flat, but over the years since has managed to build up a successful business.

However, Simmons, who now lives in Dorking in Surrey, said that conviction has haunted him. He has has suffered from ill-health since his sentence. One of his co-defendants, also damaged by the case, became an alcoholic and is now dead.

Stephen Simmons
Simmons in the mid-1970s not long before he ran into DS Derek Ridgewell on a night that would change his life forever

But four years ago Simmons was listening to a phone-in radio show on London's LBC station on legal matters with barrister Daniel Barnett. He rang in and asked for advice about trying to clear his name.

Barnett asked him if he had ever thought about "Googling the name of the officer?"

When he did Simmons said he was "gobsmacked by what I discovered".

Simmons saw that Ridgewell had himself been convicted of conspiracy to rob mailbags from the Royal Mail, was jailed for seven years in 1980 and had died in prison in 1982.

It also emerged was that Ridgewell was responsible for a series of notorious cases where young black men were falsely accused of robbery on the London underground.

One of his victims was Winston Trew, who along with three others became known as the Oval Four and was jailed for two years at the Old Bailey in 1972. Trew has recently written a book about the case, Black for a Cause, in which he investigated Ridgewell's extraordinary career.

Ridgewell began work in what was then southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). In London, he established his police career by arresting dozens of young black men for "mugging" on the underground, a high-profile issue in the 1970s.

He would dress in plain clothes, confront young black men and accuse them of robbing people on the tube. The bent policeman would beat these men up if they resisted arrest and concoct confessions that would send them to prison.

His behaviour led to a series of high-profile campaigns against justice system. Along with the Oval Four, he arrested group who came to be known as the Stockwell Six, the Waterloo Four and the Tottenham Court Road Two.

I just went bent

It was during the last of these cases that Ridgewell was partially exposed.

The two young men arrested at Tottenham Court Road underground station were devout Jesuit students from Oxford University. Presiding judge, Gwyn Morris, halted the 1973 trial and said: "I find it terrible that here in London people using public transport should be pounced upon by police officers without a word."

However, Ridgewell was not expelled from the force or prosecuted, but was instead quietly moved to a new job investigating mail theft.

He joined forces with a couple of career criminals with whom he split the proceeds from stolen mailbags before finally being arrested and jailed for seven years.

Asked by the governor at Ford prison what had happened to him, his response was: "I just went bent," the Guardian reported. At the age of 37, he suffered a heart attack in jail and died.

Having learned all this, Simmons approached the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which examined his case and all three sitting judges referred it to the Court of Appeal.

Simmons says his case is a powerful reminder of how a rogue policeman can wreck so many lives, but his strongest condemnation is for the British Transport Police.

"Ridgewell ruined three lives for no reason and many more I am sure," said Simmons. "But if British Transport Police had prosecuted him or even forced him out of law enforcement, this would not have happened to me or others who were unlucky enough to come across him. The buck stops with the British Transport Police."

The British Transport Police said in a statement to IBTimesUK: "In the last 40 years, there has been a considerable change in how British Transport Police identifies and investigates police misconduct.

"Our dedicated and impartial professional standards department meticulously investigate all allegations of misconduct and ensures that any wrongdoing is identified and dealt with. Gross misconduct hearings are brought before an independent panel and held in public.

"Likewise, where necessary, cases are referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission who conducts their own investigations."

Simmons expects his case to come to once again come to the appeals court over the coming months. He does not expect much compensation, because he spent so little time behind bars. But he does expect a 41-year-old stain to be lifted from his name.