Stephen Downing, who spent more than 27 years in prison for a murder he always claimed he did not commit, has had his conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal.
His case was heard largely as a result of campaigning by award-winning former editor of the Matlock Mercury, Don Hale (right), who has been working for nearly seven years to prove Downing’s innocence. His campaign uncovered evidence to question the original conviction.
Downing’s counsel, Edward Fitzgerald, QC, told three judges that the two pillars of the Crown’s case against Downing, his confession and the forensic evidence at the scene, had both been undermined.
Downing was released from prison on bail a year ago pending the hearing – and it was only his continued denial of guilt that ensured he stayed in prison so long. If he had admitted the crime he could have been released years earlier.
Stephen Downing was 17 when he was arrested for the 1973 murder of Wendy Sewell, in Bakewell, Derbyshire.
Yet it was only in November 2000 that Downing’s alleged miscarriage case was finally referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission back to the Court of Appeal and last February Downing was eventually released on bail pending his appeal.
The case has attracted worldwide attention and Don Hale has been recognised by a series of more than a dozen awards.
They include Journalist of the Year at the What the Paper’s Say awards, being named The Observer’s Man of the Year, lifting the regional BT Media Award for Midlands Weekly Journalist of the Year, a special award for outstanding campaigning journalism at the British Press Awards, and the Big Difference Award for Print/Broadcast Media at the Big Issue/Big Difference Awards, as well as a special Gold Badge for outstanding service to the NUJ.
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