'Bakewell Tart killer' may go free under human rights law

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The Independent Online

A man who has spent 27 years in prison for a murder which campaigners claim is the longest-standing miscarriage of justice in Britain could be released within a month.

A man who has spent 27 years in prison for a murder which campaigners claim is the longest-standing miscarriage of justice in Britain could be released within a month.

Lawyers for Stephen Downing - jailed in 1973 for the"Bakewell Tart killing" of Wendy Sewell, 32 - are to use the new human rights powers to demand his immediate release. They are also awaiting a decision by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates miscarriages of justice, on whether to send the case to the Court of Appeal to quash his conviction. An acquittal could result in compensation estimated at £2.4m.

It would also signal a new investigation into one of the most sordid killings of the past 30 years. Ms Sewell, a typist, was found semi-naked in a cemetery in the Derbyshire town of Bakewell after suffering a frenzied attack with a pick-axe handle during a lunch-time walk on 12 September 1973. She died in hospital three days later.

Downing, a 17-year-old graveyard gardener with learning difficulties, was jailed for life after he found the body and then confessed to the attack - including a sexual assault that did not happen - after nine hours of police questioning without a lawyer.

But it is now believed that the victim's love-life holds the key to the killing following claims that she was blackmailing at least three men. Evidence has emerged that Ms Sewell, whose activities allegedly bordered on prostitution, had a child by one boyfriend and wanted money from the likely fathers. Her liaisons are thought to have included affairs with at least one senior police officer, a lawyer and three known local criminals.

The typist told colleagues that she liked to use the cemetery for a lunch-time stroll but actually met men there for sex in the open air.

Don Hale, editor of the local Matlock Mercury newspaper, has led a six-year campaign for Downing's release. He said: "Witnesses have now come forward to say she was seen kissing a man in the cemetery. This man then ran off when another approached shouting and swearing at Sewell. He is one of at least two prime suspects."

Campaigners say the confession was fabricated, using words that Downing would not have understood and making glaring errors, such as over the number of times she was struck. Ms Sewell had also not been sexually attacked; a hand-print not belonging to Downing or Ms Sewell was found on the pick-axe handle; and the attacker was right handed while Downing was left handed.

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