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Donald Hale OBE

Posted Saturday, June 23, 2007

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Don Hale OBE. (Reflections Magazine 2002)

Don Hale is living proof that it is not only toothless budgie’s who succeed!

`Into the International Media Spotlight'

In his own words – and indiscriminately utilising the kind of analogous terminology that you would perhaps expect from an ex-professional footballer - high profile media coverage has catapulted the former Matlock Mercury editor “from the quiet backwater of non-league Matlock into the international media spotlight of the Champions League”.

Any suggestion that this analogy may seem somewhat grandiloquent can be quashed as firmly as Stephen Downing’s conviction for murder simply by examining the facts:

In the past few years Don has won fourteen national and international awards for his campaigning journalism including both National and Regional `Journalist of the Year’ titles, the British Press Award for ‘Outstanding Journalism’ – and the Observer `Man of The Year’ award for 2001, a title he lost in 2002 – to Prime Minister Tony Blair, (but I guess if they give it to HIM they’ll give it to anybody!)

Don has become a familiar figure on our television screens with appearances on almost seventy news and current affairs programmes, and has featured in live T.V. interviews in America, France, Holland, Belgium and Germany.

So unless you were pronounced clinically dead - or have spent all your time since the turn of the millenium holidaying on some distant planet – it is more than likely that you will have heard, read about, or seen on television the compelling and dramatic story of Stephen Downing’s successful campaign for freedom after the longest-running miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

Downing, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Wendy Sewell at Bakewell churchyard in 1973, served 27 years in prison before finally walking away a free man after his conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal following Don Hale’s seven-year campaign for justice - during which the journalist was threatened with prosecution unless he `minded his own business’, received death threat warnings, and was twice the intended victim of hit-and-run attempts on his life.

Since the story hit the headlines Don’s life has been turned upside down.

When I called recently at his home which he shares with Kathryn, his wife of 30 years, a Swiss television crew were just leaving and the telephone rang incessantly. Government ministers, the Chief of Police, television producers, publishers, press – and numerous well wishers - all seemed to want a piece of the man who has been justifiably called a `Champion of the People’.

“Everything’s just gone crazy” said Don, who in-between handling all the media hype is putting the finishing touches to his forthcoming book about the Downing case, and co-writing a BBC Drama production with Neil McKay which is scheduled to start filming on location in Derbyshire in May this year.

His book “Town Without Pity” reveals startling new evidence which may point to the real killer, and is published by Random House.

“What has been revealed so far is only the tip of the iceberg, he told me, and it is in the public interest that the whole truth be known”.

Don is also in contact with the Home Secretary and Prime Minister Tony Blair in a bid to review the re-opening of the now un-solved mystery of the Wendy Sewell murder case.

His fame is global; following the Breakfast with Frost Show, as he was having breakfast in the boardroom at the top of the BBC Tower and chatting about world events with Sir David Frost, Andrew Neil and ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, the son of the former Shah of Iran told him,-

“You are a hero in my country - for taking on the British authorities and winning” (Something perhaps, that the Iranians find impossible!)

Don was not particularly impressed. His only comment about the event was “I thought it a long way from the darts and dominoes, and Winster W.I. reports..”

A leading biographical author is being pencilled-in to write Don’s biography sometime soon, and his book is a best-seller.

But this fearless campaigner is no stranger to public gaze. His star was rising from the moment of his birth in Prestwich, Manchester on July 31st 1952. Within months he was chosen as the winner of a regional ‘Bonniest Baby’ competition and was contracted to advertise orange juice with his image appearing on cinema screens and large advertising hoardings up and down the country!

As a schoolboy his athletic prowess and determination to succeed won him County Championship medals on the track and brought his burgeoning talent to the attention of soccer scouts.

In 1966 Don signed schoolboy forms with Bury, his local second division football club, and played for several years in the youth and junior teams. Injuries affected his form and despite loan spells with Blackburn Rovers, York City and Shrewsbury Town, Don ended his playing days in the Lancashire Combination.

He never lost his enthusiasm and love of football, and after working for the Manchester Ship Canal Company whilst taking Law & Business Studies at St. John’s College, Manchester, he became a radio journalist with BBC local radio in Manchester and Blackburn and occasionally worked for Radio Two as a football commentator. He later progressed from sport to news, features, and current affairs programmes with BBC Radio Lancashire.

In the early 1980’s Don was recruited to the growing Eddie Shah newspaper empire, initially as Sports Editor, and later as Editor of the Bury Messenger. Within fifteen months of the Messenger series of newspapers being taken over by the Johnston Group, Don was on his way to Derbyshire for what proved to be a sixteen year stint as editor of the Matlock Mercury.

In between he has written three books on subjects as diverse as athletics, rock music and football, and has continued his love of sport by competing in seven London Marathons and has completed seventeen marathons in all.

He is extremely modest about his accomplishments and attributes his success almost entirely to the strength and support of his wife and family.

He and Kathryn have two sons, Andrew 28, a graduate of Derby University in Computer Studies, and Robert 24, a graduate in Economics from the L.S.E. They recently became proud grandparents to Nicholas Harvey, born on December 29th. and excitedly await the birth of their second grandchild which is due in the spring.

A brief examination of the Hale lineage gives some clue to Don’s innate qualities of tenacity and his determination to succeed, allied to an analytical fair-mindedness and strong desire for justice.

His father was a chartered accountant who during the Second World War was an Intelligence Officer attached to the Eighth Army and later became a company director; and his Great Grandfather was the Detective Chief Superintendent of Manchester Police Force – and the personal bodyguard to the Prince of Wales during the late 1890’s – early 1900’s.

So much for the past, but what of the future for this mild mannered, softly spoken and erudite professional ‘Champion of the People”?

“Well, first and foremost I’m still a journalist with a job to do and a living to earn” said Don, who revealed that the Downing campaign had left him “a couple of thousand pounds out of pocket” – and that the pressure and stress had recently taken it’s toll of his health.

Concerned, I suggested that he needed – and thoroughly deserved - a break. “I’ll take a break when I’ve seen it all through to a successful conclusion” he said, and knowing Don Hale, I expected nothing less!

*These days Don is managing editor of a large and successful North Wales Lifestyle Magazine, and is currently campaigning on behalf of Barry George, who has always professed his innocence for the murder of TV Presenter, Jill Dando. Guilty or innocent, you can bet that Don Hale will persevere to the very end in pursuit of the cause of justice.

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Donald Hale OBE
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