Killer could be 'at large' in Derbyshire, lawyer claims

Wendy Sewell.
Wendy Sewell.
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A lawyer has claimed a killer could be 'at large' in Derbyshire - more than 40 years after a brutal graveyard murder.

The allegation was made during a television documentary which examined the killing of 32-year-old Wendy Sewell in Bakewell.

Mrs Sewell was beaten around the head with a pickaxe handle and sexually assaulted in the town's cemetery in 1973. She later died in Chesterfield Royal Hospital.

Bakewell man Stephen Downing, a 17-year-old with learning difficulties, was found guilty of her murder in 1974. However, Mr Downing's conviction was overturned in 2002 and he was released from jail after almost 30 years.

The Matlock Mercury and its then-editor Don Hale successfully campaigned against Mr Downing's conviction in a case which made headlines across the globe and was hailed as a triumph for investigative journalism.

During the episode of Judge Rinder's Crime Stories, respected barrister Robert Rinder said: "Unless the investigation is reopened and someone is charged with Wendy's murder, we will never know the truth. And maybe the killer is still at large in Bakewell."

A Derbyshire Times' report on the 1973 murder.

A Derbyshire Times' report on the 1973 murder.

A tearful Mr Downing added: "I know I've lost a great deal of time - 27 years - but I'm not going to hold any bitterness towards anybody.

"I've put it all behind me and just try and get on with life the best I can."

Mr Hale was terrorised during his six-year campaign to help free Mr Downing.

The crusading journalist said: "I faced death threats and a great deal of intimidation, including two hit-and-run attempts and a lorry chase.

Stephen Downing. Picture: ITV.

Stephen Downing. Picture: ITV.

"There were bomb threats made to the Matlock Mercury while I was editor there. I had to move house and go ex-directory because I was worried for my family and staff. It was a very depressing time.

"Some people didn't want the truth to come out."

He added: "Stephen's case is one of the longest miscarriages of justice in history.

"The campaign was massive and we received support from many thousands of people.

Journalist Don Hale.

Journalist Don Hale.

"It really put Bakewell on the map."

The ITV show also heard from retired police officer Chris Clark, who believes notorious serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper, may have been responsible for Mrs Sewell's death due to the nature of the attack.

Anyone with information about the murder should call Derbyshire police on 101.