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Rot at the Core

In 2019, we featured Great Train Robbery Confidential, a book by the retired policeman Graham Satchwell. He has a new book, also about policing – an aspect of it that fascinates the public, but which many in the police are not keen to admit to – corruption. Graham spoke to Professional Security ahead of its publication by The History Press.

Inevitably, the BBC drama Line of Duty comes to mind. The body count alone makes that Sunday night TV story somewhat unbelievable; but the principle remains; of a police unit to investigate corrupt police and what they do with organised criminals. Just as for his book on the ‘Great Train Robbery’ of 1963, that has kept the interest of the press and public ever since, Graham had the help of one of the robbers of that Royal Mail train, Tom Wisbey; so Graham has written Rot at the Core: The Serious Crimes of a Detective Sergeant, with Winston Trew. Trew as a young man was among those ‘fitted up’ by Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell. Winston Trew went to jail but maintained his innocence and his case was finally overturned at the Court of Appeal in December 2019.

After Graham got a call from the crime journalist Duncan Campbell about the case, Winston Trew rang Graham. The other side of the coin of proving a man’s innocence was finding evidence of Ridgewell’s guilt. Graham duly found that Ridgewell led a gang of corrupt police officers, that even in 1980s money stole goods worth more than £1m (several millions in 21st century money). Ridgewell was involved with London gangsters (that is, who weren’t employed as police); and he died, mysteriously, Graham adds, in prison. To add to the mystery were Swiss bank accounts and secret safety deposit boxes, and a hidden will.

As so often in cases of wrong-doing, in that or any era, the actual crime was one thing (as in another true crime book published by The History Press, last year, The Peer and the Gangster). The denial of it and covering up by authority was quite another; whether the motive was to spare police blushes and a (more) tarnished reputation, or outright incompetence or blindness. Graham speaks of ‘manipulation and minimalisation’ of the investigation by senior police officers into Ridgewell’s crimes. Graham says: “There was an incredible, almost laughable support given to Ridgewell by senior police officers, during his reign of fit-ups and involvement with serious and organised crime.”

The review of cases was a ‘complete failure’, Graham went on; and even when Graham looked into what now may look like an historical case (Ridgewell had a background in the Rhodesian Police in the days of white minority rule in what is now Zimbabwe), Graham found uninterest from the police, and retired officers.

Professional Security asked; could these things happen today?! Graham replied: “That’s a great question, it’s a really powerful question,” and he went on to answer it in terms of how he’s framed his book. Ridgewell led a gang of corrupt officers, who organised themselves to do large-scale thefts. Could that happen today? Yes, he said. Could an equivalent connect with organise crime today? Yes. Could a Ridgewell of today be ‘reached’ in prison and killed? Yes. Could police officers today have secret bank accounts, safety deposit boxes and the rest, to store their criminal gains? Yes. Could they plan armed robberies? Yes. Is if possible for senior officers to manipulate or minimise any subsequent investigation? Yes, that is possible.

Could such a man stay on side with senior officers, while organising crime? Yes. Could a Ridgewell get away with it, without cases being reviewed? “No, I don’t think they can. Once the balloon had gone up today, I think there would be so much pressure, they couldn’t ignore him.”

The police of today said that they were unable to find the Winston Trew case papers, such as statements; a year into his own investigation, Graham did find them (‘I can’t say it was detective work, I found them in the most ridiculously unlikely circumstances’).

Having ploughed new ground in the exhaustively gone over ‘Great Train Robbery’, and having made a difference to someone’s life, let alone adding to what we now know about police wrong-doing in and around the 1970s, what was in other ways a brutal and morally dubious era, what now for Graham? Like any author, he has ideas – beyond the usual things that a retired man has, such as family and the garden, and, pre-pandemic at least, travel – but not yet something strong enough that he has to work on it for a year or two. Although it might only be another telephone call away.

– Rot at the Core, by Graham Satchwell and Winston Trew, is published next month by The History Press.


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