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Times takes up local editor's campaign

Editor Don Hale has had the satisfaction of seeing one of his campaigns highlighted by The Times.

Mr Hale, who edits the Matlock Mercury, has led a six-year campaign to free Stephen Downing – who he believes has spent 27 years in jail for a murder he did not commit.

The Times reported on Saturday how Mr Hale turned detective to reveal new evidence and witness statements.

Downing, now 44, was a 17-year-old gardener in the Bakewell cemetery where a 32-year-old typist was brutally attacked one lunchtime in 1973.

Downing, who at the time was described as having a mental age of 11, admitted he found victim Wendy Sewell and turned her body over to check for a pulse. He was splashed with her blood when she suddenly sat up and shook her head. He called for help, but when police arrived they took him away for questionning. Denied the help of a solicitor, social worker or parent, Downing was allegedly “persuaded” to sign a statement admitting the assault. Two days later, when Miss Sewell died, he was charged with murder.

Downing later retracted the original statement and has always protested his innocence. He was ordered to be detained at “Her Majesty’s Pleasure” with a recommended tariff of 17 years. Because he has always refused to admit his “guilt” he has been refused parole and is now one of Britain’s longest-serving prisoners.

Now, thanks to the support of the Matlock Mercury and his own family, Downing is weeks away from knowing if his conviction is to be quashed.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) is now close to deciding whether the case should be referred to the Court of Appeal in London.

Set up in 1997 to re-examine suspected miscarriages of justice, the CCRC has asked Court of Appeal judges to look again at 42 cases. In nearly four out of five cases convictions have been quashed. In only nine cases were original verdicts upheld.

To read two earlier pieces specially written for HoldTheFrontPage by Don Hale about his quest for the truth, select the “By title” option from our “news” link on the left hand side of this page, then click on “weekly newspapers”. Select “Matlock Mercury” from the alphabetical list of newspaper titles which then appears and you will find links to two earlier features.

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