BBC Downing drama 'distorted', claims Hale

Former Matlock Mercury editor Don Hale has criticised the BBC for producing a “distorted” account of his campaign to clear Stephen Downing of murder.

The two-part drama In Denial of Murder starts on Sunday with Ballykissangel star Stephen Tompkinson playing the part of Hale.

Although the film is based on his book, A Town Without Pity, Hale said he is not mentioned in the credits. He also claimed the producers used too much artistic licence when dramatising the story.

Hale became famous in 2001 when he succeeded in his six-year campaign to uncover enough evidence to clear Stephen Downing of Wendy Sewell’s murder. Downing was released after serving 27 years. Tony Blair led the tributes to Hale, who was also awarded an OBE.

Hale sold the rights to his story to Hat Trick Productions in November 2000 and was involved with the film’s production for more than three years. He claimed the BBC stopped communicating with him in February 2003 when Derbyshire Police said that, despite the quashing of Downing’s conviction, he remained the only suspect.

Hale said he was removed from the credits as executive producer and was not given the opportunity to review the final script.

He said: “In Denial of Murder is an entertaining, well-produced and brilliantly acted drama.”

But he added: “Although it is based on my personal story and uses my original working title, it contains many errors and inaccuracies that have the potential to confuse viewers and, in my opinion, portrays a slightly distorted version of events.”

Hale said key witnesses in the case were misrepresented and denied that he coined the term “Bakewell Tart” when referring to Sewell.

He also rejected the suggestion in the film that he made mistakes in his inquiry: “The only two mistakes that I admit are trusting the police and not tape recording all my interviews.”

He said: “Trying to edit nine years’ research and information into a two-hour slot was obviously mission impossible for Hat Trick and the BBC. It seems a shame that 50 per cent of the filming was cut from this landmark case.

“I also feel there is a backlash element of the Hutton Report in that the BBC is still reluctant to rock any boats in authority and has edited rather heavily.”

Head of drama at Hat Trick Productions, Mark Redhead, said: “The film is based on detailed independent research and involved interviews with many people not originally met or interviewed by Don Hale. These people offer a different view of the Stephen Downing case and the events surrounding the murder of Wendy Sewell and therefore, it is a more balanced and accurate account than that contained in Hale’s book.”

He added: “As the research into the case and the development of the script progressed it became clear that the story was different from how it first appeared.

“Both Hat Trick and the BBC felt that, in the light of the controversy surrounding the case, it would be inappropriate to credit Don Hale, first because he fulfilled no role in the production of the film and second because it might inaccurately suggest that the film was partisan.”

According to the BBC, the film was finished before the release of the Hutton Report.

In Denial of Murder will be shown at 9pm on BBC One on 29 February and 7 March.

By Dominic Ponsford

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