Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Stephen Downing & The Murder of Wendy Sewell

The murder of Wendy Sewell and the subsequent arrest and trial of Stephen Downing, is one of those notorious cases that Police wish would just fade away.  Stephen Downing spent 27 years in prison before his conviction was finally quashed in 2002, but the killer of Wendy Sewell remains at large.  As far as the Police are concerned, Downing is the killer and even issued a Colin Stagg-style "We are not looking for anybody else".  Recently, the shit hit the fan when retired cop Chris Clark revealed that he obtained a copy of the pathology report, and this report was allegedly buried by the Police.  He said that it would have exonerated Stephen Downing.  Nothing new there.  What are the facts about the murder of Wendy Sewell?

    Stephen Downing was 17 years old, working as a groundsman in a cemetery in Bakewell, Derbyshire.  It was the 12th September 1973, when he returned from a break, he came upon the bloodied body of Legal Secretary, Wendy Sewell, aged 32.  He ran to a phone to call 999.  Wendy had most of her clothes removed, indicating sexual assault, and had been bludgeoned severely.  Police spotted some blood on his clothes , so they arrested him and took him in for questioning.  He was grilled for nine hours, and the questionable tactics by Police included not informing him of his rights, and preventing him from sleeping by shoving him and pulling his hair.  Stopping people sleeping is known as Sleep Deprivation.  He was also mentally challenged, having the mind of a middle school pupil.  But this was in the golden days when rules went out of the window.  It was said that officers ran bets on who would extract "The Confession" from him.  After all this time, he signed a statement, inexplicably written in pencil(after all, pencil is easily erased), a statement written out by an officer, he said.  Stephen Downing was barely literate. It could easily have read "Cor blimey guv, You've got me bang to rights on this.  By the way, I committed every unsolved crime in Derbyshire!"  A person barely able to read and write would not know what he is signing.  Miss Sewell died two days later in Chesterfield Royal Infirmary.  He was duly put on trial at Nottingham Crown Court in February 1974 and duly convicted.  The Judge made reference to Stephen admitting indecently assaulting Miss Sewell whilst she lay critically injured, something he says he never said.  There is no transcript available from the court case.  He says the blood on his clothes came from Miss Sewell attempting to speak and spraying spots.  A blood spatter expert said it was "text book on the perpetrator getting blood on his clothes."  He protested his innocence right from the start and continues to, this day.  As a man "In denial" he never received parole hearings, and spent 27 years in prison.

    Years later, through the efforts of his family, they enlisted the help of a newspaper man, Don Hale, from the Matlock Mercury.  He looked into the case, and ran a long campaign on Stephen`s behalf.  He did concentrate on the private life of Wendy Sewell, but this spiralled when the national papers caught hold of it.  Because Miss Sewell had an active sex life, in true tabloid tradition, she was then branded "The Bakewell Tart!"  No doubt her family were appalled by this.  Let`s face it, a female celebrity with an active sex life would never be called by the tabloids, it would be called "adventurous" or something funny or exotic.  Never, "tart, slag, slapper, bike, etc".  A witness came forward, claiming to have seen Miss Sewell alive and well, at the time Stephen was allegedly attacking her.  The claim was found to be false as the woman was short sighted, and no reason was found for the claim.  Stephen received leave to appeal in 2001 and his conviction was quashed in 2002.  They cited the much improved forensics on blood spatter, the denial of his rights and to a solicitor, the tactics used during questioning, keeping awake and hair pulling, and so ruled it was unsafe.

    A cold case review was undertaken and after a long investigation, Police concluded that "They are not looking for anybody else" meaning that every other person in Britain has been eliminated!!!!    Then came the bombshell in January 2014 with an allegedly suppressed pathology report that would have exonerated Stephen Downing, and a subsequent report demanding answers from the Police.  This is one of those very ugly cases, with others such as Derek Bentley, James Hanratty(never mind the DNA claim) John Stalker, Stefan Kisko, Tommy Bourke and others.