SERIAL killer Peter Sutcliffe died earlier this month, 40 years after his reign of terror ended.

The Yorkshire Ripper killed at least 13 women across Yorkshire and the North West between 1975 and 1980, while several others were injured in his depraved attacks.

He is suspected of killing more - and one Bury-born man who helped overturn an infamous murder conviction believed the Ripper may well have been the real culprit.

In 2001, Stephen Downing was released from prison having served 27 years of an indefinite sentence for killing Wendy Sewell in the town of Bakewell in the Peak District.

A year later his murder conviction was quashed, bringing to an end what is thought to be the longest miscarriage of justice in legal history.

And the man who fought for Mr Downing’s name was from Bury.

Don Hale was born in Prestwich and grew up in Whitefield, playing for Bury FC before going into journalism.

Mrs Sewell was found badly beaten but still alive in a graveyard by Mr Downing, a council gardener, in 1973.

He was arrested and questioned without a solicitor for several hours but, aged 17 and with a reading age of 11, officers pressured him into signing a confession to the attack, filled with words he did not understand.

When Mrs Sewell died two days later, the charge was upgraded to murder.

Mr Downing immediately retracted his confession but was found guilty at a trial at Nottingham Crown Court.

After their son had spent two decades in prison, Mr Downing’s parents approached Mr Hale for help.

He faced obstacles at every turn, with police telling him all the evidence had been “burnt, lost and destroyed”.

He also received anonymous death threats and what he claims was police harassment.

But for Mr Hale, all of this simply confirmed he was onto something. “If Downing had done it, why would they have been worried about me finding more out?” he said.

After tireless investigative work by Mr Hale, Mr Downing’s case was one of the first to be looked at by the Criminal Case Review Commission.

Mr Downing was later awarded £900,000 in damages.

Some years later, Mr Hale backed a call by former Norfolk Police intelligence officer Chris Clarke for a full independent inquiry into the conduct of Derbyshire Police during the period of the Sewell murder.

He believes her death could be linked to Sutcliffe, as it bore the hallmarks of “a classic Ripper attack.”

When the allegations were made in 2014, Mr Hale said: “Both Chris and I believe this murder has always been a deliberate cover-up.

“There is a clear pattern that vital evidence was ‘buried’ at the time and since.

“Chris believes the police had an ulterior motive and may be potentially guilty of ‘unlawful detention’ and ‘malicious prosecution’.

“The further revelations and inquiries from an ex-detective enhance that argument and I feel the Sewell case and all the other potential Ripper links warrant a specialist team to study and investigate all the claims,” he added.

Of course, any possibility of any definitive link may well have gone to the grave with Sutcliffe.

However, the hope remains that Wendy Sewell’s murder will one day be solved and bring to an end a murder saga that has had more twists and turns than most.