The Criminal Cases Review Commission has referred the theft conviction of Stephen Lawrence Simmons to the Court of Appeal.
Mr Simmons was arrested and prosecuted by the British Transport Police for theft in transit – stealing mailbags from a train at Clapham Goods Yard in South London. He was tried at Inner London Crown Court in April 1976.
Mr Simmons pleaded not guilty but was convicted. He was 20 years old and was sent to Borstal (a youth detention centre). The Judge also made an order for the confiscation of Mr Simmons’ car.
Mr Simmons was advised that he should not appeal against his conviction.
In 2013, Mr Simmons called a legal phone-in on LBC Radio to ask for advice about what he could do in light of the fact that he felt he and his co-defendants had been wrongly convicted. As a result, Mr Simmons searched the internet for mention of the police officer who led the case against him. He learned that, two years after his own conviction, the police officer involved, Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell, had been arrested and subsequently jailed for a similar “theft in transit” offence.
Mr Simmons then applied to the CCRC. The CCRC has conducted a detailed and painstaking review into the circumstances of Mr Simmons’ conviction and the background and record of DS Ridgewell.
As a result, the Commission has decided to refer Mr Simmons’ conviction to the Court of Appeal. The case is being referred on the basis of new evidence relating to:
- circumstances surrounding the exclusion of another confession obtained by DS Ridgewell in a separate goods in transit case;
- acquittals and judicial observations about unreliable police evidence and fabricated confessions in other cases where DS Ridgewell was the lead officer;
- DS Ridgewell’s conviction for conspiracy to steal goods in transit.
The Commission considers that the new evidence gives rise to a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will overturn Mr Simmons conviction and has referred the case accordingly.
DS Ridgewell died in prison in 1982.
Mr Simmons was not legally represented during his application to the CCRC.
This press release was issued by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. For further enquires call 0121 233 1473 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes for editors
- The Commission is an independent body set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. It is responsible for reviewing suspected and alleged miscarriages of criminal justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is based in Birmingham and is funded by the Ministry of Justice.
- There are currently 12 Commissioners who bring to the Commission considerable experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. Commissioners are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.
- The Commission usually receives around 1,500 applications for reviews (convictions and/or sentences) each year. Typically, around 3.5%, or one in 29, of all applications are referred to the appeal courts.
- The Commission considers whether, as a result of new evidence or argument, there is a real possibility that the conviction would not be upheld were a reference to be made. New evidence or argument is argument or evidence which has not been raised during the trial or on appeal. Applicants should usually have appealed first. A case can be referred in the absence of new evidence or argument or an earlier appeal only if there are “exceptional circumstances”.
- If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.