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R. v. Stephen Downing  EWCA Crim 263
In September 1973, Ms Wendy Sewell was attacked in Bakewell Cemetery, Derbyshire. She was beaten with the handle of a pickaxe around the head and was sexually assaulted. She died from her injuries in Chesterfield Royal hospital two days later without being able to reveal who had assaulted her.
Ms Sewell was found by the cemetery groundskeeper, Stephen Downing who was aged 17 year old at the time. Stephen had a reading age of an 11 year old and was also of low average intelligence. Stephen informed the police, who considered him to be the primary suspect, that he had found Ms Sewell lying on the ground, covered in blood and that her blood got on his clothes because she shook her head.
He was taken to the police station and questioned for 9 hours without a solicitor present. He was not cautioned. He signed a confession admitting to the allegations against him. Stephen said he admitted to the offence even though he was not guilty because he was tired, hungry and his back hurt. He was only just able to keep awake and the police officer interviewing shook him twice by placing his hand on his shoulder. He said he made the statement because he believe the police would question him all night if necessary.
During his trial, he was found guilty by all members of the jury and was convicted of murder. He was sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure (indefinitely) with a stipulation to serve a minimum of 10 years. However, as he did not admit to the crime, he was classified as in denial of murder and therefore ineligible for parole.
Following several attempts, the Court of Appeal in 2002 exonerated Stephen of the offence. During the appeal hearing, Stephen’s lawyer, Mr Fitzgerald QC argued that
“in the absence of a caution at the appropriate time and having regard to the extreme youth of the appellant and the fact that he is only of low average intelligence, together with the fact that he was not told of his right to obtain legal advice, together with the fact that he was in effect kept in custody for approaching eight hours before the confession was made, it should not have been admitted at the trial. Moreover whether it was admitted or not there is a serious question as to the reliability of the confessions made.”
The Court of Appeal concluded that they could not be sure that the confessions were reliable and thus they considered the conviction to be unsafe. Stephen Downing served 27 years in prison before being exonerated.