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Stephen Downing served 27 years for the murder of Wendy Sewell. He is the longest miscarriage of justice in British legal history. Yorkshire Ripper: The Secret Murders, ITV 2022
Stephen Downing, jailed 27 years ago for a murder he said he did not commit, has been freed on bail by the Court of Appeal.
Downing, 44, is being released from Littlehey Prison in Cambridgeshire to await the hearing of an appeal against his conviction and life jail sentence for the killing of Wendy Sewell.
The married typist’s badly beaten body was found in a cemetery where he worked in his home town of Bakewell, Derbyshire.
Bail was not opposed by the Crown, which conceded the appeal was ‘highly likely’ to succeed in the light of serious questions raised over the admissibility of Downing's confession statements which formed a main plank of the prosecution case.
Downing, who was 17 at the time but had the mental age of an 11-year-old, has always denied murder and so has been ineligible for parole. Ananova online article
The quashing of Stephen Downing’s conviction for murder last week was not just an indictment of our police and courts. It sheds awkward light on our parole system, too. Mr Downing’s prison treatment was prejudiced throughout by his refusal to admit guilt.
During 27 years of incarceration – convicted of an offence for which you might normally serve 12 years – he was beaten, scalded and abused. That is still disgracefully commonplace in our prisons. But Mr Downing was also deprived of better jobs, training opportunities and parole consideration on the basis that he was – in Home Office jargon – IDOM, in denial of murder. Parole is no longer automatically refused in such cases, but it is still frequently withheld. (The exceptions are, all too often, only those where journalists are taking an interest). Guardian Unlimited online article 20th January 2002
Since his release from prison, Stephen Downing has been able to walk through the streets of Bakewell a free man.
In January last year the Court of Appeal decided that his conviction for the 1973 murder of Wendy Sewell was unsafe.
It was hailed as a triumph for campaigning journalism ... and an end to one of the worst miscarriages of justice in English legal history.
In the small Derbyshire town, Mr Downing was suddenly a celebrity. People stopped him in the street to say hello. There were smiles, handshakes, and words of encouragement. BBC online article 27th February 2003
Bakewell, Derbyshire 12 September 1973 … September 1994 Matlock Derbyshire … ‘Simple: our lad Stephen is in prison for murder … 21 years he’s been in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. In Denial of Murder I, dad and mum at Matlock Mercury, BBC 2004
‘He sounded nice. He’s been in prison for twenty years. Well a lot of murderers get out for half that.’ ibid. journalist to family
‘I enclose a list of questions. Please reply as fully as possible.’ ibid. journalist’s letter to Stephen
‘There’s something going on here: something to do with the Downing case. I’m serious, Ron.’ ibid. journalists in office
‘He was only 17. He was terrified, dad.’ ibid. journalist with family in jam-jar
‘An innocent lad who’s had the best years of his life stolen from him.’ ibid. journalist with family
‘I’ve been through everything in here, Don.’ ibid. Stephen
‘The police never mentioned tights.’ ibid. journalist
‘[rozzer] Had it in for Stephen ever since he was a kid.’ ibid.
‘It wasn’t the first time he’d attacked a woman.’ ibid. rozzer to journalist
‘He couldn’t be there that night. ibid. journalist
‘I’m pregnant, David.’ ibid. victim
‘Too many members of the brotherhood with too much to lose.’ In Denial of Murder II, rozzer to journalist
‘Wendy had a baby with Marshall. You knew that, didn’t you?’ ibid.
‘There’s no record anywhere you were cautioned.’ ibid.
‘27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.’ ibid. journalist to press
‘The police are in total denial.’ ibid.
24 years ago this man was convicted of a brutal murder in a small community. On leave from prison he was welcomed in his home town – the very place you’d expect him to be shunned. Many now doubt the guilt of Stephen Downing. Murder in the Graveyard: Wendy Sewell murder, BBC 2013
Bakewell cemetery in Derbyshire: On September 12th 1973 a woman was viciously attacked here. Two days later she died. ibid.
He lived near the graveyard and enjoyed the job [gardener]. ibid.
Why was the woman Downing murdered seen alive after it’s claimed he attacked her? Why was another man seen running in panic from the cemetery? Why do experts argue Downing’s confession is nonsense? And why are there gaps in the forensic evidence? ibid.
Before his trial Stephen Downing had retracted his confession. ibid.