In 1973, Downing, at the time a 17-year-old with the reading age of an 11-year-old, was imprisoned for the murder of Wendy Sewell and served 27 years in jail. The conviction was declared unsafe by the Court of Appeal in 2001 and Downing was released.
Hale was voted 2001 Man of the Year by the The Observer newspaper, Journalist of the Year by What the Papers Say and was made an Officer of the British Empire for his efforts and campaigning journalism, though he was also criticised for referring to Sewell as the Bakewell Tart.
After a short spell working for the North Wales Pioneer newspaper, Hale later became editor of the newly-formed North Wales Living magazine in 2005. Despite a period of outstanding success for this magazine, in which it collected seven national and regional awards, Don Hale was later made redundant in December 2007 following a re-organisation of the company, including the closure of the magazine. and started his own publishing business launching a new lifestyle magazine for Chester, Cheshire, Shropshire, Mid & North Wales, called Coast & Country Living. He continues to write best-selling biographies and during the autumn of 2007, his book about the famous frogman spy mystery 'Buster' Crabb was published by Suttons/The History Press to great acclaim. Hale has also published a fascinating new book, Manchester Thieftakers, about his great grandfather, James Wood, who was a notable Manchester detective from 1890-1914, and was indeed the very first Royal Protection Officer acting as a personal bodyguard to the Prince of Wales, following the loss of Queen Victoria, and continued threats against the monarchy. Don Hale's latest book, Mallard - How the Blue Streak broke the World Speed Record, was released in paperback by Aurum Press in May 2008 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of this historic achievement. In August 2008, Don, who was heavily involved in the appeal process for Barry George - the man convicted of the killing of TV presenter Jill Dando - celebrated the release of George following a retrial after an earlier successful appeal against his conviction. Don Hale had spent several years working on the case with members of MOJO (the miscarriages of Justice Organisation) after being invited by Barry George's family and legal team to help investigate the case.