DNA hope for man jailed 27 years ago

Evidence held in police files could overturn murder conviction of Sean Hodgson

By Jack Doyle
Thursday 12 March 2009 01:00

A man jailed for murder 27 years ago could be released within days after doubts emerged over his conviction.

Sean Hodgson, 57, was said to be "excited" last night at the prospect of being freed after serving time for killing a barmaid in 1979.

He was given a life sentence for the murder of 22-year-old Teresa De Simone, who was found strangled in Southampton. It is understood DNA evidence found at the scene and held in police files did not match a sample given by Mr Hodgson.

After a review by Hampshire Police, the case was passed to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which sent it to the Court of Appeal. The case will be examined next week.

If released, Hodgson would be one of the longest-serving victims of a miscarriage of justice. The only comparable case is that of Stephen Downing, who was jailed for 27 years for beating a typist, Wendy Sewell, to death in Bakewell but was released in 2002.

Prosecutors are not expected to oppose Hodgson's legal challenge, at which point the court is likely to quash the conviction and order his release.

Police will then have to reopen the case to find the real murderer.

Hodgson's lawyer, Julian Young, said: "He is obviously pleased the matter is going forward. He is excited because he is going to be seeing the outside world for the first time in a number of years. We hope he will be released on Wednesday and he will have to make a new life for himself."

The CCRC is to ask the Crown Prosecution Service to consider a review of all similar murder cases where DNA evidence is available and defendants are still alive.

Cases are referred to the court if the commission feels there is a "real possibility" it will be ruled unsafe and quashed. Hodgson's case was considered "particularly urgent" and the decision to pass it to the court was made within two days.

Miss De Simone's partially clothed body was found in the back seat of her Ford Escort just after 10am on 5 December 1979, in the car park beneath the pub where she worked.

Hodgson, who is also known as Robert Graham Hodgson, made various confessions to police before pleading not guilty at his trial at Winchester Crown court.

Prosecutors relied on the confessions and a match of blood type with samples found at the scene. His defence team argued he was a pathological liar and that his confessions were false. He was found guilty on 5 February 1982.

A CCRC spokesman said: "In light of new evidence available, the Commission has decided to refer Mr Hodgson's conviction to the Court of Appeal because it believes there is a real possibility that the court will consider the conviction unsafe and quash it.

"The Commission also decided to contact the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the desirability of a project to identify and review similar murder cases arising from the time before DNA testing and where testable forensic evidence still survives which could confirm or cast doubt on the safety of a conviction, and where the defendant is still alive. A guilty plea or the existence of admissions should not exclude cases from such a review."