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The Case of Stephen Downing (Paperback)

The Worst Miscarriage of Justice in British History

P&S History > British History P&S History > By Century > 20th Century P&S History > Social History P&S History > True Crime

By Stephen Downing
Imprint: Pen & Sword True Crime
Pages: 167
Illustrations: 32
ISBN: 9781526742025
Published: 25th November 2019


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On 12 September 1973 a seventeen-year-old naïve 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.

This is not the typical true crime book, but the memoir of a man failed by the criminal justice system and police force of the time. Described as the longest miscarriage of justice in British legal history, it was certainly well worth reading and absorbing.

The Law Society Gazette, 20th April 2020 - reviewed by Estelle Parkhouse

As featured in

Police History Society

If you want to know more about Downing’s case, though, or about the English prison system, then this is a worthwhile read.

GoodReads, Robert Neil Smith

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!!

Read the full review here

Donna's Book Blog

A most interesting and thought provoking book.

Read the full review here

Internet Journal of Criminology

Downing's own account of how he was wrongly tried and imprisoned for the murder of Wendy Sewell in 1973.

Bookseller 16/8/19

About Stephen Downing

Stephen Downing grew up in the small Derbyshire town of Bakewell. His life was uneventful until the age of 17 when he was arrested and subsequently convicted of murder. Stephen didn't know it at the time but ended up serving 27 years in various prisons before being released by the Courts of Appeal. On release from prison Stephen moved back to the town he grew up in only to find that the police were very unforgiving and would continue to hold blame over him together with the authorities would take the unprecedented action to withold all evidence from him and his supporters for 95 years preventing any investigation to completely prove his innocence.

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