The families of two men posthumously cleared of convictions based on the word of a corrupt police officer have called for a reform of the law to ensure their “traumatic” experiences are not repeated.

British Rail workers Basil Peterkin and Saliah Mehmet died with convictions after British Transport Police (BTP) officer Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell accused them of theft from a site he later admitted stealing from.

Their convictions from 1977 were quashed at the Court of Appeal in London on Thursday after the cases were referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) – a body that investigates miscarriages of justice.

Ridgewell, who died of a heart attack in prison in 1982 aged 37, was involved in a number of high-profile and controversial cases in the early 1970s.

In recent years, investigations into his “historical racist and corrupt practices” have led to several convictions being overturned, including for members of the so-called Oval Four and Stockwell Six.

Miscarriages of justice
Basil Peterkin died in 1991 (Family handout/PA)

After Thursday’s ruling, the BTP apologised for the “trauma” caused by Ridgewell and acknowledged that “systemic racism” previously played a role in the force’s culture.

Mr Peterkin and Mr Mehmet’s families, who watched the hearing in a packed courtroom at the Royal Courts of Justice, called for a new law that would allow for the automatic independent review of cases involving jailed police officers.

Henry Blaxland KC, representing the two men, told the court a “systemic failure” by the BTP to investigate prosecutions linked to Ridgewell led to “lamentable delays” in clearing their names.

The barrister said the “perfectly respectable and entirely innocent” pair were “fitted up” by a “dishonest, corrupt and racist” police officer.

Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Garnham and Mr Justice Andrew Baker, said there was “considerable force” in Mr Blaxland’s criticism of the BTP.

He said it is “very unfortunate” that so many years passed before families saw the injustice “rectified” and that Mr Peterkin and Mr Mehmet “have not lived to learn of their vindication”.

“We express our regret that so many years have passed… We cannot turn back the clock but we can quash these convictions,” the senior judge said.

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

Miscarriages of justice
Saliah Mehmet did not live to learn of his ‘vindication’, a judge said (Family handout/PA)

Speaking outside court, Regu Saliah, Mr Mehmet’s son, said his father’s conviction “left a traumatic legacy that stayed with him his whole life” and his imprisonment “left myself and my mother penniless and homeless” while Ridgewell “was kept in his position of power where he continued to victimise families like ours”.

He added: “We hope that this will prompt a new law that following police officers receiving a prison sentence there is an automatic independent review of the cases that they were involved in so that no other family goes through what we had to go through.”

Janice Peterkin and Lileith Jones, Mr Peterkin’s daughters, said: “We cleared our dad’s name and we got justice at last for our dad.

“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.”

Miscarriages of justice
Supporters and family members of Mr Peterkin and Mr Mehmet outside the Royal Court of Justice in London (Jess Glass/PA)

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 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.

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

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

It was research by another of the corrupt officer’s victims, Stephen Simmons, that led to convictions being overturned, the court was told.

In January 2018, Mr Simmons’ 1976 conviction for stealing mailbags was quashed after he discovered via a Google search that Ridgewell was jailed for a similar offence two years after his own conviction.

In 2019 and 2020, all members of the Oval Four – who were arrested at Oval Underground station in 1972 and accused by Ridgewell’s “mugging squad” of stealing handbags – had their convictions quashed.

Four members of the Stockwell Six – a group of young black men accused of trying to rob the corrupt police officer on the Tube while on a night out in 1972 – have also been cleared in recent years after CCRC referrals.

CCRC chairwoman Helen Pitcher 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 she is “sincerely sorry for the trauma suffered” through the “criminal actions” of Ridgewell during his time with the force in the 1960s and 1970s.

She said it is “of regret that we did not act sooner to end his criminalisation” which led to the conviction of “innocent people”.

“This is simply inexcusable and is something that my colleagues and I are appalled by,” she said.

“We cannot undo the past but we can learn from it. This is an important and sombre point of reflection in our history.

“BTP is committed to combating racism, which includes Afriphobia, which led to these historic cases that targeted African youths and destroyed lives.”