Essay: The Scenario Faced By Stephen Downing, Concerns Murder And Unsafe Conviction

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  • Published on: 11th June 2012
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The Scenario Faced By Stephen Downing, Concerns Murder And Unsafe Conviction

In Bekwell community of Derbyshire, the September 12 1973. A woman was viciously attacked and died 2 days later. Stephen Downing, a 17 year old cemetery worker was convicted for the murder. Stephen was regarded by many as a quiet and slow lad.
Stephen was denied access to a solicitor and was also made to confess under duress. In Stephen's first statement he confessed that he assaulted Wendy sexually. The court had to have material before it enable to determine if the conclusion was unsafe. The crucial issue of the fact was that Wendy's blood was found on Stephen Downing's cloths whether from the attack or from trying to help her.

Stephen as at the time of the attack, was away from the graveyard and when he came back, he found Wendy laying brutally injured on the ground. He put his hand on her chest to know if she was breathing and then said his fingers in her vagina. Stephen was arrested after reporting to the police and interrogated from 2pm to 11pm, but refused to accept he attacked Wendy. He was threatened by the police to be questioned throughout the night, but Stephen was tired, hungry and sleepy so he accepted that he assaulted Wendy sexually. Thereafter, Stephen admitted that he said that just to get some sleep and that he never knew Wendy was badly hurt, he rewrote his statement saying he didn't do what he wrote in the first statement. Which wasn't really traced by forensics, he said what he said to the police just to let him sleep and was tired and hungry. The court is also aware of the confession made to several doctors in circumstances which is different from those in the police station. Stephen's presence near the crime scene and the nature of the weapon must be borne in mind. It is not, however, in the place of the court to speculate that is what might have happened if the fundamental defect, which existed in the conduct of the trial, not been present.
Linking to the case Stated by the court, the safety of the conviction depends on the reliability of confession made to the police on the 12 September 1973. The court cannot be sure that the confession were liable. So it follows that the conviction was unsafe. (Regina v Stephen 2002)
Physical & mental problems
First of all to analyse the above criminal liabilities the traditional way of analysing or proving a criminal offence is to d act and conduct of the accused and his mental state, thus R.v Dixon who got a sentence of life imprisonment alongside his two co-defendant. Following the conviction of murder with age difference. The judge considered the aggravation mitigating factor, which was the fact that the attack was in group with the consumption of alcohol and the use of a shod foot as a weapon.
The defendant age 18 year old with an attention hyperactivity disorder, hearing difficulties, a low IQ and a limited language abilities, was tried on indictment on a charge of murder. He acted in self-defence in his case during trial, without an evidence. On behalf of the defendant, it was submitted that the judge should direct the jury not to draw an adverse inference from his failure to give evidence on the grounds that his physical and mental health alleged him to give evidence within section 35 (1) (b) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Appeal was dismissed on the fact that he has a low IQ and a learning difficulties. And that section 35 (1) (b) should not be applied more generously in cases of those who are young or had mental difficulties. Also said the judge was right in his approach of the situation to rule that the jury might be permitted to draw an adverse inference from the defendant's inability to give evidence. (R.v Dixon 2013)

The R.v Dixon's case is common to that of Stephen, which was the reason why he couldn't give evidence as to what he saw at the graveyard when he found Wendy laying helplessly on the ground. Couple with the fact that he was kept for so long in the police station before he was interviewed.

Stephen being 17 as at then when he was convicted, had no adult present with him during the interview with the police, which however, can be said is wrong for a juvenile to be interrogated alone without his the present of his parent or a solicitor. Thus in Dudso v Secretary of state appealed against a decision ([2004] EWCA Civ 99, [2004] Q.B. 1341) the sentencing of detention during Her Majesty's pleasure under the children and young person's Act 1933 s.55 (1) imposed the 30 November 2000 on conviction of a young person for murder request that the minimum term one should serve be subjected to periodic review, despite the length of term had already been fixed by the Lord Chief Justice.
The respondent was convicted of murder and detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. He was 17 when the murder occurred, after considering the recommendation from the Lord Chief Justice, a tariff was set of 15years by the secretary of state following the decision in R. v Secretary of state for the Home department Exp. Venables [1998] A.C. 407 also reviewed his tariff and reduce it to 13 years. (Dudso v Secretary of state).
Furthermore, in R. v Hussain. The appellant appealed on a reference by the Criminal Case Review Commission, against his conviction for the murder of his brother which occurred in 1978. He was taken to the police station following the report of a life threatening non accidental injuries to his brother. And claimed that he was force to make the admissions in his interview and statement by verbal, racial and physical abuse on the police officer's part. The appellant argued that the manner in which he was detained and interviewed resulted in a serious and significant breaches of the rules of judges along with other protections which the appellant should have enjoyed. It was held that, where there had been significant changes in the common law or in standard of fairness between conviction and appeal, the Court of Appeal was asked to apply modern legal rules together with procedural criteria even though they were not and could not be applied at the time of trial. The consequence of lack of the support ought to have been given to him, even in 1978, he made the admission which constituted the main part of the prosecution's case. However, there were at least prima facie grounds for doubting the safety of conviction. The evidence presented at trial was the appellant's own omissions, which were obtained in breach of the Judges' Rules as in force at the time of the trial. The admissions which was admitted into evidence, wouldn't have been regarded, they could not be considered reliable. The conviction was unsafe. (R.v Hussain 2005)
Stephen denied the offence and described the interview he underwent, and said that he was treated with consideration and provided tea just to keep him awake for questioning but was never given the opportunity to speak to a solicitor as it was required of them. Thus in the case of R. v King (Ashley) where K was convicted of murder in 1986. The case against him rested on the ability of his confession which was made by him to the police. The leave to appeal was sought over 12 years six months later. The court was called upon to consider what its approach should be in situation where a crime is investigated, and the suspect interrogated, detained at a period when the statutory framework governing the investigation. Interrogation and detention was different from that in force at the time of the appeal.

In the consideration, the safety of the conviction, it is important to consider whether a suspect may have been denied his rights, which he should have enjoyed under the rules in force and the protections he lacked that was later thought he should enjoy. If in a situation whereby the only evidence against the defendant was his confession which was later retraced, then it appears that the confession was obtained in breach of the rules prevailing at the time which he was denied the important safeguards thought after to avoid the risk of a miscarriage of justice, therefore, there would be prima facie grounds for doubting the safety of the conviction. (R. v King (Ashley))

3The case of R.v Pendleton who was convicted in 1986 for murder, later appealed against the decision of the Court of Appeal upholding his conviction. The Appellant got rearrested 14 years after commission, he was intervened without the presence of a solicitor after 3 days he admitted that he had been in the vicinity of the crime but denied being part of the violence. He informed his advisors that the admissions were untrue, due to the fact that they were made under pressure. Due to the criminal case review, counsel was concerned that the jury would be unlikely to accept the appellant's retraction and with his consent, decision was made that he would not be called to give evidence. The Appeal was dismissed, after reading the appellant's statement. But having considered this evidence, the court had no doubt that the appellant's conviction was safe and dismissed his appeal. (R. V PENDLETON 2001)
When considering an appeal, whether or not the conviction was unsafe or unsatisfactory in the light of fresh evidence, it is unestablished as a rule of law that the court of appeal has no reasonable doubt of the appellant's guilt, 'it cannot be argued that the conviction should be quashed if the court thinks a jury might reasonably take a different view. (STAFFORD V DPP 1973).
As of the time Stephen was taken to the police station, before the interrogation, the police never mentioned to him his right to a legal advice and was kept for 8 hours before the interrogation began. 'Where a confession was sole evidence relied upon by the Crown, a Court would need to be especially vigilant to ensure that it was reliable and/or fair. Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 s.76'. All the court requires is for the reliability of a confection to be challenged that the confession met the condition in s.76 (2) (a). (POLICE AND CRIMINAL EVIDENCE ACT).
Evidence sufficiency
Research from the forensic scientist shows that the blood found on the appellant's trouser and shoe, could be as the result of the attack or by trying to help Wendy. It didn't state that Stephen murdered Wendy rather it was clear that there was no trace of Stephen's bloody finger prints on the pickaxe helve which was used on Wendy during the attack. The application for leave to appeal against conviction and for leave to call a witness, which was made. The 16 year old girl stated that she saw the victim alive at the time Stephen was accused of murdering Wendy. After hearing the evidence giving by the girl, the court concluded that the statement was not credible enough and refused the application for leave to appeal against conviction. However, if the evidence is insufficient, it is wrong to prosecute one i.e. the wrongness lies in the prosecution of the innocent. (Prosecution page 199).

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