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24 September 2014
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In Denial of Murder

In Denial of Murder, a two-part film drama written by Neil McKay (Wall of Silence) - based on the controversial case of Stephen Downing and the murder of Wendy Sewell in Bakewell cemetery in 1973 - comes to BBC ONE this month.

Stephen Tompkinson (Lucky Jim, Grafters, In Deep) plays campaigning local journalist Don Hale and Caroline Catz (The Vice, The Bill) portrays Wendy Sewell.

Stephen Tompkinson as Don Hale and Jason Watkins as Stephen Downing

In Denial of Murder interweaves the story of Don Hale's fight to free Stephen Downing, played by Jason Watkins (State of Mind), with an account of the murder victim - a young woman who struggled to find happiness in life and lost her reputation in death.

In Denial of Murder is broadcast on BBC ONE on Sunday 29 February and Sunday 7 March 2004 at 9.00pm.

It was lunchtime on a bright September day some 30 years ago when typist Wendy Sewell was brutally attacked in the picturesque graveyard in Bakewell in the heart of the Peak District.

Several days later she died from her injuries in a Sheffield hospital.

A 17-year-old council worker, Stephen Downing, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1974.

However, his refusal to admit his crime meant that he was classified as "IDOM" (In Denial of Murder) and ineligible for parole.

Downing served 27 years in prison until he was released on appeal in 2001 following a tireless campaign led by the then editor of the Matlock Mercury, Don Hale.

In 2002 there were triumphant scenes when the Court of Appeal quashed Downing's conviction, finding it to be unsafe.

The case was thought to be the longest miscarriage of justice in British legal history. As such it attracted worldwide media attention.

Hale's campaign had captured the imagination of press and public alike, and he was showered with awards and accolades including an OBE.

But one year on, in February 2003, Derbyshire police announced that following their exhaustive reinvestigation of the murder, the only remaining suspect in the case was Downing.

Motivated to look behind the headlines to see how one man, an editor of a weekly paper, fought and gained another man's freedom, the acclaimed team of writer Neil McKay and executive producer Mark Redhead began their detailed researches in 2001.

They previously worked together on This Is Personal: The Hunt For The Yorkshire Ripper, which was shown in 2000.

Neil McKay explains their methodology: "We read copious amounts of legal documentation, correspondence, other written material and made many visits to Matlock and Bakewell.

"Countless hours were spent talking to key figures including Don Hale, the Downing family, journalists who covered the story, serving and retired police officers, witnesses from the original murder inquiry, relatives and friends of Wendy Sewell, as well as numerous others."

Mark Redhead emphasises that what emerged from their enquiries was a complex case riddled with contradictions; it was not the story they had initially anticipated.

Summing up, Mark Redhead says: "The objective of the film is not to blame or shame individuals, but to explore the grey areas of human behaviour that lie behind the headlines with sensitivity and compassion."

Neil McKay is no stranger to sensitive subject matter drawn from life.

His dramatisations include Innocents, the Bristol babies' heart scandal, and in January of this year his powerful drama Wall Of Silence, based on the 1997 murder of London teenager, Jamie Robe, was shown on ITV to critical acclaim.

Neil McKay also co-wrote BBC TWO's three-part factual drama Dunkirk.

Likewise, his 2000 collaboration with Mark Redhead, This Is Personal: The Hunt For The Yorkshire Ripper, starring Alun Armstrong, won the 2001 Broadcast Award for Best One Off Drama.

In Denial Of Murder reunites several more key members from the This Is Personal: The Hunt For The Yorkshire Ripper team - director David Richards (Alibi, Reckless) and former BBC executive producer Mike Dormer (New Tricks, Sparkhouse).

The film was produced by Mary McMurray (Judge John Deed, Spender).

BBC Head of Drama Commissioning Gareth Neame and Peter Carlton (EM Media Investments) are also executive producers.

Mark Redhead is Head of Drama at Hat Trick and his recent credits include Bloody Sunday (which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival), The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (BAFTA Award for Best Single Drama) and Jeffrey Archer: The Truth.

In Denial of Murder is a Hat Trick Production for BBC ONE co-financed by East Midlands Media Investments and filmed on location last autumn in the timeless landscape of the Derbyshire Peak District.



Background by Neil McKay

Stephen Tompkinson plays Don Hale

Caroline Catz plays Wendy Sewell

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