After 27 years behind bars for a murder he denies, a Briton was refused bail Friday pending an appeal expected to clear him because the state prosecution had not had time to study his file.
Stephen Downing, 44, was 17 when he was accused of the 1973 murder of Wendy Sewell, a typist in his home town of Bakewell, central England. She was killed with a pickaxe handle.
Downing, who had the mental age of an 11-year-old, found her bloody body in the graveyard where he worked.
He was accused of her murder and questioned without a lawyer during 16 hours before signing a confession written for him, which he retracted at his trial.
Because he always denied responsibility, he was ineligible for parole.
Finally, campaigners secured an appeal court hearing which, in the views of most observers, is expected to clear him in approximately six-month time.
The Court of Appeal in London was told Friday that Downing's confession was inadmissible and that forensic evidence had been "greatly undermined," making his conviction unsafe.
However, despite expectations, Justice Crane refused bail because the state prosecution service said it had only heard of the application late Thursday.
"The Crown are not in a position today to indicate to the court what their definitive position is," Crane said.
He gave the prosecution until January 20 to study the case and decide what stance it will take on Downing's appeal.
Julian Bevan, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said it was opposing bail application at this stage but recognized the "powerful arguments" put forward by Downing's lawyers.
The decision was greeted with dismay by Downing's supporters, including his local MP.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the MP, Patrick McLoughlin, described the circumstances surrounding the decision as "really outrageous" and urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to make a statement -- LONDON (AFP)
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