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Campaigning journalist criticised by police

Campaigning journalist Don Hale has been criticised by Derbyshire Police in a report into the reinvestigation of the murder of Wendy Sewell.

The former Matlock Mercury editor spent seven years fighting to clear the name of Stephen Downing who spent 27 years in prison for her murder, which he maintains he didn’t commit.

But in a report published by Derbyshire Police following a six-month reinvestigation into the case, it is claimed that there are a number of anomalies in Don’s book, Town Without Pity, which was published after Stephen Downing had his conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal.

However Don has said that he stands by the accuracy of the book and the points picked out in the report are minor and irrelevant.

And following the release of the report into the reinvestigation, Derbyshire Police’s deputy chief constable, Bob Wood, said he had a great deal of repsect for the former editor.

He said: “Don Hale, the former editor of the Matlock Mercury newspaper who campaigned for Mr Downing’s release, is someone who I greatly admire.

“I think he has done an extraordinary job given the difficult circumstances he has had to work under.

“When he came into this inquiry there had been rumour and speculation circulating around Bakewell for some 20 years.”

Police say that the former editor’s book was analysed line by line for evidence during the reinvestigation and that a number of witnesses to whom he attributes personal comment have told officers they have never spoken to him and many witnesses who recalled speaking to him say his written version is not their recollection of what was said.

Speculation that Wendy was meeting a lover has also been dismissed by officers who say they found a new witness who spoke to her at 11.30 on the morning she died and was told she was going to visit the cemetery to look at headstones for her father’s grave – an account consistent with the statement of Wendy’s mother taken at the time.

And police say that Wendy’s bag and personal belongings, which Don said were never found, were in fact returned to her husband shortly after the murder.

Don said: “The reason why Wendy was there is irrelevant – we know she was there – and in the book I do put forward the reason given by the family, that she was going to look at headstones for her father’s grave.”

He also said he raised the question about the bag – which Don says was in fact a wicker basket – because it raised the question of a motive, and it did not say what had happened to it in the original police paperwork.

And he said it was difficult for him to respond to claims that he had attributed personal comments to people he hadn’t spoken to as police hadn’t named them.

He said: “I’m happy with the report overall and the reinvestigation. Questions remain unanswered but the problem we’ve all got is it happened 30 years ago and key witnesses have died so we are unable to follow certain leads.

“I’m not going to criticise the police, we worked well together. If I could prove Downing guilty I would – it would end all this speculation – but I can’t.

“I think it will remain one of life’s mysteries. I’d like to clear this up once and for all but we can’t.”

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