Three black men who were jailed for allegedly attempting to rob a corrupt police officer nearly 50 years ago have finally had their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Courtney Harriot, Paul Green and Cleveland Davidson, all aged between 17 and 20 at the time, were arrested on the London Underground while travelling from Stockwell station, south London, in February 1972.

The trio, now in their late 60s, and three friends – who became known as the "Stockwell Six" – were put on trial at the Old Bailey, largely on the word of British Transport Police officer Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell.

The Stockwell Six were accused of trying to rob Ridgewell, who was in plain clothes and had previously served in the South Rhodesian, now Zimbabwean, police force.

They all pleaded not guilty, but all bar one were convicted and sent to jail or Borstal, despite telling jurors that police officers had lied and subjected them to violence and threats.

Their convictions were referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission on the basis that there is "a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will now quash those convictions".

At a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday, the Court of Appeal cleared Mr Harriot, Mr Green and Mr Davidson, nearly five decades after they were convicted.

Sir Julian Flaux, sitting with Mr Justice Linden and Mr Justice Wall, said: "It is most unfortunate that it has taken nearly 50 years to rectify the injustice suffered by these appellants."

The two remaining members of the Stockwell Six who were convicted have not been traced.

Paul Green and Cleveland Davidson – two members of the so called Stockwell six – have today had their convictions overturned after nearly 50 years

Credit: Jamie Lorriman

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice after the hearing, Cleveland Davidson said: "It’s vindication that we were innocent at the time. We were only young then, we did nothing."

"It was a total stitch-up, it was a frame-up for nothing," he added.

Mr Davidson said: "For 50 years, it affected me… I haven’t been the same.

"My family didn’t believe me, no one believed me because they thought ‘well, you must’ve done something’."

He also said: "We just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time with a bad, corrupt police officer."

Jenny Wiltshire of Hickman & Rose Solicitors, who represented Mr Harriot, Mr Green and Mr Davidson, said: "While the acquittal of these innocent men is welcome news, it is deeply troubling that it has taken so long to happen.

"These men’s entire adult lives have been blighted by false allegations made by a corrupt police officer known to have been dishonest for decades.

"Both the British Transport Police and the Home Office were warned about Ridgewell’s lies in 1973. Yet neither organisation did anything except move him to a different police unit."

Paul Green pictured after having his conviction overturned after nearly 50 years

Credit: Jamie Lorriman

He added: "It is only now, almost half a century on, that the British Transport Police has indicated that it will review Ridgewell’s activities.

"For many of Ridgewell’s innocent victims and their families it is far too little, far too late."

Ridgewell was involved in a number of high-profile and controversial cases in the early 1970s, culminating in the 1973 acquittals of the "Tottenham Court Road Two" – two young Jesuits studying at Oxford University.

He was then moved into a department investigating mailbag theft, where he joined up with two criminals with whom he split the profits of stolen mailbags.

Ridgewell was eventually caught and jailed for seven years, dying of a heart attack in prison in 1982 at the age of 37.

The case of the Stockwell Six would be the third time Ridgewell’s corruption has led to wrongful convictions being overturned by the Court of Appeal.

In a statement, British Transport Police Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock said: "It is wholly regrettable that the criminal actions of a discredited former officer of this force over four decades ago led to these unsound prosecutions.

"I apologise unreservedly for the distress, anxiety and impact this will have undoubtedly caused those who were wrongly convicted."