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Innocent man freed after 27 years in jail for murder; Britain's longest-serving victim of miscarriage of justice 'ecstatic'.

Byline: Cathy Gordon, Jan Colley and Sam Marsden

AN "ECSTATIC" Sean Hodgson enjoyed his first taste of freedom in 27 years yesterday after the murder conviction which landed him behind bars was declared unsafe by the Court of Appeal.

Mr Hodgson, now 57, was freed by three judges in London who ruled fresh DNA evidence had "demolished" the case against him over the "terrible death" in 1979 of gas board clerk and part-time barmaid Teresa De Simone.

DNA tests, not available at the time of his trial in 1982, have revealed he could not have killed Miss De Simone, 22, who was strangled and raped in Southampton.

It emerged yesterday that tests could have been carried out a decade ago but his then lawyers were wrongly told that case exhibits had not been retained.

A frail-looking Mr Hodgson, who was physically supported by his brother Peter, told reporters as he made his way out of the Royal Courts of Justice into the spring sunshine that he felt "ecstatic".

His solicitor, Julian Young, said his client was obviously relieved his denials had been accepted and his innocence, which he maintained for so many years, confirmed.

"Sadly, the mother of the victim now has to face the possibility and distress of the circumstances of the case being reopened," he said.

The quashing of Mr Hodgson's conviction was announced by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who described it as a "dismal story", adding: "This decision leaves some important unanswered questions.

"Perhaps the most important is that we do not know who raped and killed the dead girl. We can but hope that, for the sake of the appellant and the family of the murdered girl, that her killer may yet be identified and brought to justice."

Police have launched a new investigation into the 30-year-old murder aimed at identifying the owner of the DNA profile.

Detective Chief Inspector Philip McTavish, of Hampshire Police, said outside court: "The fact that we have this DNA also means that we are able to eliminate people from our inquiry.

"The original investigation and evidence is now being revisited with the benefit of DNA evidence and we will utilise the advances in forensic science. A major incident room has been set up and a dedicated team of investigators has been appointed.

"This may well be a protracted inquiry but we are fully committed to pursuing this investigation."

Lord Judge said the court was told yesterday that in 1998 an inquiry was made to the Forensic Science Service by lawyers then acting for Mr Hodgson relating to the existence of exhibits associated with the murder but were told that none had been retained.

That was "plainly wrong", he said.

On that aspect, Mr Young said: "Ten years ago someone in the Forensic Science Service, perhaps by accident, made an error, and as a result he stayed in custody 10 years longer."

Mr Hodgson, who has suffered mental and physical health problems for many years, was now being helped by a miscarriage of justice team and would be visiting healthcare professionals.

Mr Young said: "He is very pleased that the nightmare is at long last over."

It is expected that moves will be made to seek compensation for Mr Hodgson, one of the longest serving victims of a miscarriage of justice.

Mr Hodgson, also known as Robert Graham Hodgson and originally from County Durham, made various confessions before pleading not guilty at his trial at Winchester Crown Court.

Prosecutors relied on those confessions and match of blood type with samples found at the scene.

Mr Hodgson's defence team argued he wasapathological liar and that the confessions were false.

In his ruling, Lord Judge noted: "The conviction will be quashed for the simple reason that advances in the science of DNA, long after the end of the trial, have proved a fact which, if it had been known at the time would, notwithstanding the remaining evidence in the case, have resulted in quite a different investigation and a completely different trial."

"Whoever raped her - on these findings, it can't be the appellant."

CAPTION(S):

EXONERATED: Sean Hodgson is supported by his brother Peter outside the High Court in London yesterday PICTURE: PA
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 19, 2009
Words:702
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