On 12 September 1973 a seventeen-year-old naive and vulnerable young gardener Stephen Downing returning from a short lunch break encountered the badly beaten and unconscious figure of thirty-two year old Wendy Sewell lying on the footpath of Bakewell Cemetery close to Catcliff Wood and the consecrated chapel where she had been attacked. Stephen ran to the nearby workmen’s building and in the meantime the perpetrator of the attack who had been hiding, dragged Wendy’s body out of sight to a second location where she was subsequently found soon after.
There then occurred a horrifying sequence of events which were to change his young life forever. He was immediately taken into custody and questioned at length without a solicitor and eventually signed a false confession statement and Wendy was to die some two days later from her injuries.
Following a very biased prosecution based three day trial during February 1974 Downing was found guilty by a jury, convicted and sentenced to what was eventually a full life sentence.
Just eight months later during October 1974 there followed an appeal with fresh evidence from an eye witness who saw Wendy Sewell alive after Downing left the cemetery for lunch, however the prosecution rubbished this evidence and the appeal failed.
In the many years which followed Downing’s incarceration he was moved from prison to prison, continuing to maintain his innocence and in doing so jeopardised any chance of parole as he was “In Denial Of Murder” until eventually his plight reached journalist Don Hale, whose tireless efforts eventually led to a Criminal Cases Review and appeal in which Downing was released as a middle aged man after some twenty-seven years, the longest miscarriage in the United Kingdom legal history.
I thought that this was an excellent way of discussing the concerns that have been raised by this unsafe conviction. I really enjoyed that it was the first hand account from the author that explained what happened at the time of the murder, through to his arrest and conviction, his appeals and eventual release.
The author poses a lot of questions in the book which I don’t think will ever be answered and certainly at the moment there are no answers to them and the Police are not looking for anyone else in connection with the case.
I was aware of the case but not in too much detail as it took place before I was born, but the book did make me wonder how the case managed to get as far as it did with the discrepancies, the breaches that took place regarding Police procedures and protocol but that said they had a false confession. The changes that have taken place since show that there were errors with the handling and this has since been acknowledged.
It left me with questions regarding the murder and I think that they show that the case is still far for clear cut. This is one that I would recommend is read for you to make your own mind up regarding the case. I for one am firmly sitting on the fence.
It is 4 stars from me for this one, I thought it was a really interesting book and a must read for people like me who have a great interest in true crime – highly recommended!!