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 young 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 been the killer of Miss De Simone (22), who was strangled and raped in Southampton.
It emerged 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, physically supported by his brother Peter, told waiting 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 had maintained for 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 added.
The quashing of Mr Hodgson’s conviction was announced by Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who called it a “dismal story”.
He said: “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 the DNA evidence and we will utilise the advances in forensic science.”
Mr Hodgson, who has suffered mental and physical health problems for many years, is now being helped by a miscarriage of justice team and will be visiting healthcare professionals.
Mr Young added: “He is very pleased that the nightmare is at long last over.”