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Home > Reviews > Rot at the Core

Rot at the Core

Author Graham Satchwell and Winston Trew

ISBN No 9780750996181

Review date 03/07/2022

No of pages 134

Publisher The History Press

Publisher URL

Year of publication 30/04/2021


Our Review


£ -

In Rot at the Core: The Serious Crimes of a Detective Sergeant, Graham Satchwell has a powerful story to tell, and tells it well; that Winston Trew in south London in 1972 was a typical victim of a wrongful arrest and conviction, by one of 'many officers who were out of control, and whose crimes were covered up by bosses' (page 101).

You will open this book for the compelling case of a corrupt policeman; you should stay to the end of Satchwell's first half (the second is Winston's Trew's memoir) for penetrating remarks about how corruption can take hold in an organisation and how hard it can be to stand out against it. He recalls that he would ask police trainees, were they 'the kind of policeman you thought you would be before you joined'? It's an important question that can be asked of people working in any trade or profession. There are, as Satchwell sets out, 'slippery steps' to corruption; and always good reasons to take them; and sneers to make at those who stand out against it.

Satchwell does not take long to set out his case. Within a few years of joining the police, 'Detective Sergeant Ridgewell, while in the Transport Police’s Pickpocket Squad on the London Underground, went on a long spree of fitting up young black men for theft, robbery and related offences while his bosses looked away' (page 16). He developed further to 'put himself at the centre of a complex web of organised large-scale thefts'.

The reader can also suspect that as in so many cases, the research necessary for the writing of Satchwell's half of this book made the author think anew; the ‘fit ups’ caused by far the most harm, for the damage they did to people's lives. Second to that was the corruption of other officers. "The theft offences, for which DS Ridgewell received a long prison sentence, were relatively minor," Satchwell noted.

Besides telling an intensely human story, then, the author also has much to tell us about corruption - how it can happen, due to an organisation's culture; that 'and other factors led to the commission of serious miscarriages of justice', by Ridgewell and other 'bet' coppers. Other factors Satchwell lists as 'pressure to get ‘results’, a longstanding and persistent cavalier attitude towards justice, and a ‘top down’ failure to properly lead'. Also, as Satchwell shows, Ridgewell was skilled at recruiting cronies, and corrupting colleagues to do his bidding; including 'otherwise honest men seduced, or trapped' (page 64).

The author starts the story proper with the British Transport Police Pickpocket Squad, in the 1970s. Then we are introduced to Ridgewell, who joined BPT aged 19 as a 'probationary constable' in 1964. Satchwell's own career in the police has some overlap with Ridgewell's, and we learn about the different and harsher occupational culture of the police in London, who preferred to dish out 'corporal punishment' to their fellows, for wrong-doing, because they would 'have found it completely unacceptable to report a fellow police officer', even for a crime.

Ridgewell resigned in 1965 to join the British South Africa Police of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), having already exposed himself as 'a rotten apple'. As Rhodesia declared independence and chose white-minority rule, Ridgewell fled back to Britain. Having shown Ridgewell let back into the police, and given responsibilities, the author then brings into the story Winston Trew; the son of a police sergeant in Kingston, Jamaica, who named his son after Churchill. When nine, Winston's father died in an accident on the London Underground where he worked.

Just as in so many cases of corrupt people, a leopard doesn't change his spots - any number of crimes go uncovered or unreported - so Satchwell suggests it was with Ridgewell; before fitting up Winston Trew and others, a similar case of four others was dismissed at Southwark Juvenile Court, 'on the basis that the evidence of Ridgewell and other officers involved could not be believed. But no punishment followed'.

Here we are at the notorious old ‘sus’ law, of a suspected thief loitering with intent; that did not require a victim, and tainted the accused the moment the accused stepped into the dock – for the charge indicated that the defendant was already known to the police. Fit ups happened because corrupt police were arrogant, and their word (in a different world to now which looked up to those in authority) was trusted by courts.

The story becomes yet more sinister when Ridgewell did come a cropper in court, and had cases collapse. Yet he was not punished, but 'rewarded' with new jobs within the Transport Police; 'no doubt primarily intended to protect Ridgewell' and the force's reputation. As Satchwell caustically adds: "Never mind the innocent who were still in prison." Later the author writes of an 'incredible lack of effort to root out the injustices' that Ridgewell caused.

As with other corrupt people, left checked the thieving only got worse; and more organised, linked with non-police criminals. Ridgewell 'orchestrated the theft of lorry-loads of goods' (page 69) from a depot. Remarkably, as a police detective told Satchwell, Ridgewell got confident enough to plan armed robberies. As in other cases of police corruption, you have to ask, how much did more senior officers know? Or approve? That detective who arrested Ridgewell told Satchwell that he felt 'bitter and isolated'; only junior associates of Ridgewell got caught with him; official help for the corruption inquiry was 'absent'. While that was disappointing - and once more, there were personal and career consequences, that detective felt he was punished in career terms - we have to ask what institution does do a good job of backing those who root out the corrupt.

Certainly despite a 1980 trial ending in jail for Ridgewell, Satchwell writes that 'the true extent of Ridgewell’s criminality will never be uncovered', either in terms of amount in money, or who he did thieving with. Why did Ridgewell do it? Satchwell judges (page 87) that 'it seems to have been about the money, power and the potential for professional advancement'. While in prison he was found dead in a prison toilet cubicle, aged 37. Cause of death was given as heart attack; without a forensic post mortem.

Satchwell at some length considers if Ridgewell were a Freemason, and if Freemasonry had a part to play in Ridgewell's reign of dishonesty, and why the police chose not to get to the bottom of it. Satchwell notes that the reforming Met Police Commissioner Sir Kenneth Newman, and later Sir Peter Imbert (later a member of the editorial board of Professional Security magazine) believed that Freemasonry and the police ought not to mix.