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Police criticised in new Downing case row

Former editor Don Hale and freed prisoner Stephen Downing have both rounded on the police who said that Downing is still the only suspect for the 1973 murder of Wendy Sewell.

Downing served 27 years in prison, refusing to make the confession that could have secured an earlier release under rules that can keep people in jail if they do not accept their guilt.

Don Hale, former editor of the Matlock Mercury, has condemned Derbyshire Constabulary for the “hastily arranged” and “stage managed” press conference where they revealed the news late last week.

He said: “I, and the others members of the team involved with submitting evidence to this reinvestigation, were definitely; conveniently, if not deliberately excluded from the live press conference, and we were thereby denied our legitimate and immediate right of reply.

“Of course, I did not want to walk into a ‘bear pit’ or potentially hostile situation but feel my absence and inability to reply to potentially defamatory comments, was a denial of my basic human rights.”

And he added that the widower of the victim, David Sewell, also made a potentially libellous statement at the press conference, indicating how Don might be one of two potential offenders and calling for an investigation to see if Don had committed any criminal act.

But the journalist said: “I have fully co-operated in every way with detectives and handed them every scrap of information possible relating to this case. I feel there can be no allegation whatsoever that I have either withheld any evidence, or distorted any evidence that could have had an influence on this case.”

The police have interviewed 340 new witnesses in the fresh investigation, ending some of the rumour and speculation that has been going around Bakewell, the scene of the crime, for the past 20 years.

The investigation has found no new evidence against Downing – or anyone else.

Don said: “People seem to forget the campaign was a huge success and proved the police evidence was flawed. It was found to be unreliable and the conviction quashed. The police have found no new evidence against Downing or anyone else. Police evidence against him in 1973 was deemed to be flawed and unreliable by the Court of Appeal

“If the police had done their job right 30 years ago, or even eight years ago when I started and all the witnesses were still alive then you would have had a different result. I always tell people to read the book and make up their own minds.”

  • Suspects who believe they were identified in Don’s book, Town Without Pity are reportedly set to sue for libel. But the author claims they were identified as suspects by police and were given pseudonyms in his book.

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