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Town Without Pity

April saw the launch of award-winning journalist and former Matlock Mercury editor Don Hale’s book Town Without Pity.

It tells the story – both skillfully and graphically – of the author’s successful eight year campaign to clear local man Stephen Downing of the 1973 murder of Wendy Sewell in Bakewell churchyard.

This is a true life drama that looks and reads like a best-selling detective novel – which if it were, could justifiably be categorised as ‘compelling'; but this is a true story – and as such it goes onto my ‘absolutely riveting’ list.

The Downing Case has received worldwide media coverage. Infamously known as the ‘Bakewell Tart Murder’ it has been the subject of much speculation and conjecture and has hardly been out of the news in recent years.

This book dispenses with the need to speculate further and in providing the answer to the question on everyone’s lips – ‘if Stephen Downing is innocent then who did kill Wendy Sewell?’ – gives the authors own account of how he unearthed an elaborate cover-up which convinced him of Downing’s innocence and revealed the truth of what took place that fateful day back in September 1973 at Bakewell cemetery.

The book, co-written with local husband and wife team, Hamish McGregor and Marika Huns tells how Stephen Downing, who was a naive seventeen year old with a reading age of eleven, worked as a gardener in the cemetery.

He was taken to the police station, interrogated for nine hours without access to a solicitor and signed a confession he could not read. Forever afterwards and during his 27 years in jail he maintained his innocence even though he was offered his freedom if only he would ‘admit’ his guilt.

After Don Hale was approached by Stephen’s parents he began a private investigation and learned of all the evidence, including witness statements, which seemed to show a version of the events of the day of the murder, which contradicted the ‘official’ version – evidence which the police seemed to discount.

Who was the man a witness claims to have seen running away from the murder scene?

Who was the man seen with Wendy Sewell minutes before she was attacked?

Everyone in the town seemed to have a theory as to who the real culprits might be. As Don Hale continued his investigation he was threatened, warned off, and attempts were made on his life.

This is the story of how one man operating on his own, fought tirelessly and courageously in order to piece together the evidence – and how his heroism eventually secured the release of Stephen Downing after the longest running miscarriage of justice in British legal history. The reader can follow the trail of clues and discover what the authorities want to hide.

Since the book’s publication Derbyshire police have announced the re-opening of the Wendy Sewell murder case – and the book has repeatedly sold out, especially in Bakewell!

Town Without Pity is set to become a best-seller and has already been nominated by Century for two major awards with the Crime Writers Association – the Debut Dagger Award and the Macallan Gold Dagger Award for non-fiction.

(© Tom Bates April 2002)

Town Without Pity, by Don Hale, former editor of the Matlock Mercury (written with Marika Huns & Hamish McGregor), is published by Century; Random House.
ISBN 0 780712 615303 14-99.

  • Tom Bates is a published author with five books to his name and writes for the county magazine Reflections. He is local to the Matlock area, where the events for Town Without Pity unfolded.

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    ©NEP 2002