Hale hangs up investigating hat to become sleuth writer

Michael Parkinson and Hale celebrate his 2001 British Press Award

After 10 years of campaigning, former Matlock Mercury editor Don Hale has decided not to take on any more miscarriage of justice investigations.

But he still believes he can win arguably the most controversial case of his career – the release of Barry George, the man convicted in 2001 of killing television presenter Jill Dando.

Hale has had more than 300 requests for help in overturning convictions since he first became involved in the case of Stephen Downing – convicted of murdering Wendy Sewell.

Downing’s release after 27 years in January 2001 made Hale a celebrity and his book about the case, A Town Without Pity, is due to be screened as a BBC drama next March.

But despite a 100 per cent success rate in the cases he has been involved in, Hale now wants to concentrate on other projects.

He said: “I am still getting inundated with requests to take up miscarriage of justice cases – but it is time consuming and expensive to do and there is also the element of danger.

“I’ve moved house from Derbyshire to Wales and I am working on a new series of detective books. “I also plan to write up several of the cases I’ve worked on, but in fictional format. I’ve got lots of other things I want to do and after 10 years I’ve decided to move on to other things.

“The satisfaction I have got hasn’t come from selling these stories, it has come from correcting an injustice, but I have a mortgage to pay.”

Hale is the only journalist to have visited Barry George in prison and he said that dealing with people like George has been a wearing experience.

He said: “He has very serious mental health problems – it was difficult to have a lucid conversation with him.

Barry George is not the sort of person you want to invite home for tea – he’s not a nice guy to meet or deal with.”

In addition to the Downing case, Hale helped Ian Hay Gordon overturn his conviction in 2000 for murdering a judge’s daughter 48 years previously.

He also played a role in the release of Sara Thornton last year, convicted of shooting her husband, and advised Sally Clarke, who was cleared this year of murdering her two baby sons.

Hale’s dossier on George was presented to the Criminal Cases Review Commission a year ago and a decision on whether to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal is expected in June.

He believes George has a good chance of being released pointing to the “flimsiness” of the evidence.

The appeal of Graham Huckerby is also due to be heard this summer. He was convicted in 2002 of being the inside man for a £6.6m security van robbery. Earlier this month a dossier compiled by Hale after a six-month investigation helped persuade a judge to refer his case to the Appeal Court.

Among Hale’s other projects is a book about the Mallard, which set a speed train record of 126mph in 1938, which he plans to turn into a film script.

He said: “I think it’s fair to say that I have developed many skills used for the investigation of alleged miscarriage cases and been able to turn these into commercial success.

“It allows me to revisit interesting moments from the past and find out how and why they occurred and hopefully to try to reveal some missing facts. This has worked well on the Mallard and with several other ventures that I am employed.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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