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Former editor calls for ‘Ripper’ case to be reopened

A former editor who helped clear the name of a man wrongly convicted of murder has called for a reinvestigation of the case – after new evidence suggested it could be linked to the Yorkshire Ripper.

Don Hale, a former Matlock Mercury editor, carried out a campaign which saw Stephen Downing cleared after spending 27 years in jail for the murder of Bakewell woman Wendy Sewell in 1973.

Now new evidence has come to light from former detective Chris Clarke, who is investigating a series of unsolved murders which could have been linked to Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe.

The ex-detective gained a copy of the pathologist’s report into the murder, which showed the victim was kicked and choked with a ligature before being struck several times with a pickaxe handle, a mode of attack used by the Ripper.

Don said he believed crucial evidence about the murder had been “buried” by the police because the pathology report was not made available at the trial of Stephen Downing, who said he was not questioned about the use of a ligature.

And the former editor said a specialist team should now investigate potential links with the Ripper, which were revealed by Sunday newspapers at the weekend.

Said Don: “Chris Clarke is now calling for a full independent inquiry into the conduct of Derbyshire Police during the period of the Sewell murder. Opportunities were available in 1973, in 1981 and again of late to properly investigate and resolve this murder – but for whatever reason Derbyshire Police failed yet again.

“Both Chris and I believe this murder has always been a deliberate cover up. Several important leads were ignored in 1973 and due to the activities of the victim it was easier to blame someone else and to keep a lid on Wendy’s affairs.

“There is a clear pattern that vital evidence was ‘buried’ at the time and since. Chris believes the police had an ulterior motive and may be potentially guilty of ‘unlawful detention’ and ‘malicious prosecution.’

“I feel the Sewell case and all the other potential Ripper links warrant a specialist team to study and investigate all the claims.”

At Downing’s appeal in 2002, fresh evidence contradicted his alleged confession, which he retracted before the trial, and supported his claims of innocence with new forensic and photographic evidence.

The following year, police launched a reinvestigation, which Don criticised for not being thorough enough.

Don won awards for his work in clearing Downing’s name.

Derbyshire Police had not responded to requests for a comment at the time of publication.

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  • January 15, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Were this story about any other editor then I would have sighed and stopped reading.
    But Don Hale is a top-class journalist who did an immense service to the public by helping to get Stephen Downing’s conviction quashed.
    Derbyshire police should now take their cue from Don, given all he did to see justice was done for Stephen.
    It is now the force’s job to see justice is done for the murdered woman’s family.
    Having worked as a journalist in Derbyshire, though, I hold out little hope of HTFP of getting a decent response from the county’s police force.

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