BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 18:56 GMT
Who did kill Wendy Sewell?
Don Hale and Stephen Downing
Don Hale and Stephen Downing met Tim Sebastian
The former newspaper editor who campaigned for the release of Stephen Downing after he was wrongly jailed for 27 years for the murder of Wendy Sewell, says he has "a very good idea" who the real killer was.

Speaking in an interview with Tim Sebastian for BBC HARDtalk, Don Hale, who fought to clear Mr Downing's name for seven years, said the evidence incriminates another individual.

"The evidence clearly points to one person in particular and a couple of associates who deliberately tried to cover the evidence up," he said.

He would like to see the case reopened and has called for a public inquiry.

I caught sight of her through some gravestones and it shocked me to find that somebody was lying there.

Stephen Downing

Stephen Downing was convicted of murder after it was claimed he attacked and savagely beat Ms Sewell, 34, in a churchyard in Bakewell, Derbyshire, where he worked as a cemetery attendant.

He was released last week after his conviction was overturned at the court of appeal.

Mr Downing, who also took part in the interview for BBC HARDtalk remembers the night he found the badly beaten body of Wendy Sewell in the graveyard.

"I caught sight of her through some gravestones and it shocked me to find that somebody was lying there," he said.

"I didn't realise at the time, with such a distance between us that she was badly bleeding."

False Confession

He described how he tried to communicate with her.

"She was making guttural sounds in her throat. Although I did try and speak to her, I wasn't getting any reaction until she started thrashing about, which startled me and I stood back," he said.

Ms Sewell died two days after the attack from her injuries.

Wendy Sewell
Wendy Sewell worked as a legal secretary
Following the incident, Mr Downing, who had the reading age of an 11-year old, signed a statement admitting to the attack. He later retracted it saying it had been written for him.

He explained his reasons for signing the statement in the interview.

"I was being bullied, harassed," he said.

"I was 17 with no real education. I left school without any qualifications or anything like that."

Admitting he was a "naive teenager", Mr Downing said he thought he was helping the police with their enquiries.

"At the time I didn't realise what I was letting myself in for," he added.

Mr Hale believes that the statement could have been tampered with, as it was written in pencil. He also claimed it was full of inaccuracies.

"Just looking at what Steven was forced to sign for in the statement - it didn't even bear any resemblance to the known facts," he said.

"Discounted evidence"

Mr Hale went on to say that after Mr Downing signed a statement confessing to the attack any new evidence that came to light was "discounted".

He referred in particular to a witness he spoke to during his investigations who admitted seeing a blood stained man running away from the cemetery on the night of the crime.

Speaking about his 27 years in jail, Mr Downing admitted that he often felt dehumanised.

Stephen Downing in his teenage years
Stephen Downing described himself as a "naive" teenager
"You were just herded around like cattle really. You're just a statistic and nobody cares about you," he said.

However he claims he has also learnt a lot from the experience.

"I consider it a learning curve. I've been able to educate myself there, so it's not been 27 years wasted in that sense," he said.

You can hear the HARDtalk interview in full at the following times:

BBC News 24
24 January 0430GMT, repeated 2230 GMT

BBC World
24 January 0430GMT, repeated 1130GMT, 1630GMT, 1930GMT, 0030GMT.

Don Hale
"There's a lot of pressure to make sure I keep quiet."
See also:

20 Jan 01 | UK
March for murder convict
07 Feb 01 | UK
A long road to freedom
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories