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Sunday, 11 February, 2001, 02:19 GMT
Downing's contempt for 'real' killers
Stephen Downing leaving Littlehey Prison
Stephen Downing walks into the world after 27 years
A man who spent 27 years behind bars for a murder he insists he did not commit has branded as "scum" the people he says are the real killers.

Stephen Downing, 44, was granted bail last week pending an appeal hearing against his conviction for the murder of typist Wendy Sewell in Bakewell, Derbyshire in 1973.

The Crown has conceded he is "very likely" to succeed because of serious questions about the admissibility of his confession to the crime.

In a newspaper interview, he said he was not bitter about being jailed, but a successful appeal could mean justice might finally be done.

They not only killed her, they robbed me of what should have been the best years of my life

Stephen Downing
Downing, who has been supported in his campaign to prove his innocence by his parents, Ray and Juanita, and local newspaper editor Don Hale, wants the case reopened.

"During my whole 27 years in prison, the staff would try to persuade me to confess," he told the Mail on Sunday.

'Optimistic' of victory

"It was always pressure, pressure, pressure. But I was optimistic that we would win.

"It was hard work but I believed in my cause. I believed in myself. I wanted to clear my name."

He was convicted at Nottingham Crown Court of 32-year-old Mrs Sewell's murder after she was found badly beaten in a cemetery where Downing, then 17, worked as a groundsman.

Wendy Sewell
Wendy Sewell: Badly beaten
His refusal to admit to the crime meant he was not eligible for parole.

He said police had pressured him into signing the confession and he later retracted it.

Incriminating forensic evidence on Mrs Sewell's clothes was found because he discovered her and turned her over, he maintains.

Following his release from Littlehey Prison, Cambridgeshire, on Wednesday, Downing says he is now adjusting to a world he has not seen for more than a quarter of a century and he wants to live as normal a life as possible.

'Worse in prison'

He told the paper he planned to find work, get his own house, pass his driving test and maybe get married and settle in Bakewell.

He continued: "I'm aware there are people in Bakewell who will always believe I am guilty. If they want to have a go, then fine. I will have endured a lot worse in prison.

"I have nothing but contempt for the people who killed Wendy. They are the lowest of the low. They are scum.

"They not only killed Mrs Sewell, they robbed me of what should have been the best years of my life."

Information appeal

Urging local people with information about the crime to come forward, he added: "There has been a killer walking around Bakewell for 27 years and he got away scot free.

"It is not too late for them to be punished for what happened that day."

Derbyshire Police, who have said they would not consider reopening the murder case until the outcome of the appeal, refused to comment on the claims by the paper that detectives had identified four suspects for the killing.

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