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Legal hold-ups delay Hale's campaign victory

Don Hale’s campaign to get convicted murderer Stephen Downing released from prison has suffered a major setback.

The Matlock Mercury editor has been told that Downing won’t be released this week as expected – and may not be home before Christmas.

Although Downing’s conviction for the 1973 murder of Wendy Sewell was referred to the Court of Appeal three weeks ago, unexpected delays with his bail application could mean he stays in prison until his appeal hearing – which may be six months away.

Don Hale, who is convinced of Downing’s innocence, was quick to express his disappointment with the way the case had been handled.

He said: “The solicitors have not been forthcoming with information in the past few weeks and both Stephen and his family are becoming increasingly concerned at the unexpected delays.

“I and fellow campaigners are not convinced the solicitors are up to speed on this application or are acting in his best interests.”

Don and his campaign team are now seeking urgent legal advice to force either the Criminal Cases Review Commission or the barristers to let him see the ‘statement of reasons’, which is essential to the bail application and subsequent appeal.

He said: “As a group we have decided to take independent legal advice to try to force them to reveal the reasons for the delay and terms of reference for the referral.

“Time is crucial and as I provided the original submission, I believe I should have sight of these confidential documents.”

Downing, (44), has spent 27 years in prison for the murder of Wendy Sewell in the town’s cemetery in September 1973.

Despite his plea of innocence, Stephen, then a backward teenager of just 17, was convicted of murder and ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure with a recommended tariff of 17 years.

He has spent more than ten years beyond this tariff and is denied his freedom, or even an appearance before the Parole Board, due to his continued denial of the offence.

Don Hale has been campaigning for his release for the past six years and his work has been covered by the national press as well as the BBC and Channel Four.

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