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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 20:08 GMT
Editor calls for Downing inquiry
Don Hale and Stephen Downing
Don Hale says he is sure of Mr Downing's innocence
A newspaper editor who campaigned for the release of Stephen Downing is calling for an inquiry into the original police investigation now that the conviction has been quashed.

Don Hale, former editor of the Matlock Mercury, says the case should be reopened to find Wendy Sewell's real killer.

He also called for a public inquiry and for charges to be brought against the Derbyshire Police officers involved in the original case.

We want the case reopened. The real killer is still out there

Don Hale

But Derbyshire Police say they want to read the appeal judges' statement in full before making a decision whether to reopen the investigation.

Mr Downing, 45, spent 27 years in jail for a murder he insisted he did not commit.

The Court of Appeal quashed his conviction on Tuesday after judges decided the original confession was unsafe.

Mr Downing, who was 17 at the time with a reading age of an 11-year-old, always maintained that the confession statement had been written for him.

Campaign objectives

During eight hours of police interview he had no access to a solicitor.

Mr Hale, who took up the campaign to free Mr Downing seven years ago, said he was satisfied with the judges' ruling.

But he added that he would have liked them to have gone a step further and say Mr Downing was innocent.

Mr Hale said his seven-year campaign had had three objectives:

  • to get Mr Downing out of jail because he had served over his tariff time
  • to put submissions to the criminal cases board to get the case referred back
  • to get his conviction quashed.

    "I've achieved all those objectives and I'm delighted by that," he said.

    But the fight continues.

    "We will be pressing Derbyshire Police or any other police force to come in and look at the facts," said Mr Hale.

    "Derbyshire Police have been heavily criticised for the way they behaved in 1973 and beyond.

    Wendy Sewell
    Wendy Sewell's badly beaten body was found in a cemetery
    "We need a public inquiry to give us an explanation to all this."

    Mr Hale said the police had been given additional evidence from his own investigations in 1994.

    "DNA is the final clue to this," he said.

    "We have identified several suspects here and if they are compared with DNA, police will be able to eliminate them from inquiries.

    "The killer is still out there and I think we know who it is."

    Police change

    Derbyshire Police said they respected the appeal court's judgement.

    Deputy Chief Constable Bob Wood said: "Police procedures have improved considerably since 1973.

    "Prisoners who have learning difficulties are supported by specially trained advisers or social workers who help them understand what is happening to them."

    He said the force had co-operated fully with the Criminal Cases Review Commission inquiry.

    "They decided that despite many assertions by Mr Downing's supporters they did not need to bring in another police force to investigate."

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