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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 March, 2004, 15:05 GMT
Hale sleuths on after Bakewell
Don Hale and Stephen Downing
Don Hale (l) was given an OBE after his work on the Downing case
Don Hale still has a few loose ends to tie up before he hangs up his sleuthing hat for good.

Many would have expected the former Matlock Mercury editor to retreat into less stressful endeavours after spending seven years helping to seal the release of Stephen Downing.

Mr Downing spent 27 years in prison for the murder of typist Wendy Sewell in Bakewell, Derbyshire, before his conviction was overturned in 2002.

But Mr Hale's help was soon sought on six other "miscarriage of justice" cases, including that of Barry George, the man convicted of killing BBC presenter Jill Dando.

The journalist-turned-writer and investigator claims to have unearthed evidence that would prove George was convicted on unreliable, circumstantial evidence.

The case is now with the Criminal Cases Review Commission, but it could be a year before George's lawyers hear if they are to get another chance at appeal, Mr Hale says.

(The programme) gives the impression that the main thrust of the campaign was to dig dirt on the victim and to find the real killer
Don Hale

He is also involved in the appeal of Graham Huckerby, whose case - by bizarre coincidence - was the first Jill Dando featured during her time on the BBC's Crimewatch programme.

The security van driver was the alleged "inside man" when robbers got away with 6.6m in cash from a Salford bank in 1995.

Human rights

In March last year he was jailed for 14 years. Directions on his appeal case are expected soon.

Mr Hale acknowledges the nature of his work makes him a "thorn in the side" for many people who would rather he took early retirement.

But he's not planning on going anywhere for the moment.

Don Hale is in the public eye again this week, with the screening of the first part of the BBC drama In Denial of Murder.

The programme is based on the case of Stephen Downing and the infamous Bakewell cemetery murder of Mrs Sewell in 1973.

BBC One's In Denial of Murder
Stephen Tomkinson (l) plays Don Hale in the BBC drama

The makers say they set out to interweave Mr Hale's fight to get justice for Stephen Downing with stories about the victim - who was later labelled a promiscuous woman in some news reports.

Mr Hale has made no secret of the fact that he's not happy with the final result, the second part of which is due to be broadcast on Sunday night.

He says the first part of the programme, in which he is played by Stephen Tomkinson, was a "half-hearted" attempt to tell the story.

It contained factual errors, misinterpretations and key omissions, he claims.

"It was very well produced and acted but I was disappointed about the gaps and mistakes made," he said.

"It also gives the impression that the main thrust of the campaign was to dig dirt on the victim and to find the real killer.

The film is based on detailed independent research and involved interviews with many people, not originally met or interviewed by Don Hale
Mark Redhead, Hat Trick Productions

"That was not the aim and would not have helped Stephen. It was really a human rights issue.

"I hadn't realised before this case that people who don't admit the crime, who are 'in denial of murder', are there for life."

The case eventually went through the European courts, leading to a landmark decision that changed European law and was later adopted under the Human Rights Bill.

The programme "ignored" this, Mr Hale says.

But head of drama at Hat Trick Productions, which made the film for BBC One, was adamant the programme makers set out to create an independent production.

"The film is based on detailed independent research and involved interviews with many people not originally met or interviewed by Don Hale," said Mark Redhead.

"These people offer a different view of the Stephen Downing case and the events surrounding the murder of Wendy Sewell.


The already complex case was further complicated while the writers were researching the story - not least by a police re-investigation in 2003, which eliminated everyone but Stephen Downing from the suspect list.

Mr Redhead said the drama provided a "more balanced and accurate account" than Mr Hale's book, Town Without Pity.

In Denial of Murder was "not the authorised version according to Don Hale", he added.

Mr Hale is the first to admit that anyone who took a trip to Bakewell would still find a huge mix of opinions and recollections of the 30-year-old case.

"I have had a lot of response from people since the first part went out on TV, some of whom agree and some of whom disagree with me," he said.

"So in a way, this is probably the ideal ending to this case. People will be left to make their own minds up."

Between investigative jobs, Mr Hale has written six books, and has just been commissioned to turn some of his stories into a detective series.

As for the miscarriage of justice casework, the hunger that has kept him going for almost a decade might just be beginning to run out.

"You do get so hammered by the authorities, and it can get depressing. I think I may have done my time," he said.

But a reference to the Barry George case in the final episode of In Denial of Murder will leave viewers wondering just where they are going to see Don Hale pop up next.

  • In Denial of Murder, BBC One, Sunday 7 March, 9pm.

    The inside man or just a victim?
    16 Nov 03  |  England
    Journalist will not face charges
    15 Sep 03  |  England
    Honour for campaigning journalist
    13 Dec 02  |  England
    Downing murder conviction quashed
    15 Jan 02  |  England


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