Sean Hodgson describes a year of freedom after spending 27 years in jail for a murder he did not comTaken from the Mirror.co.uk 20/03/2010
Sean Hodgson is on to his fourth mobile phone in less than a year.
"They keep falling out of my pocket," he explains in his soft County Durham voice. "I'm not used to having one.
"I've only had this one for a few days, just getting used to it. They're hard to use, anyway. So many buttons."
It's no wonder Sean is stuck in a timewarp. He's spent 27 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit.
And Britain today is a lot different to 1979 when he was first locked up.
Speaking exclusively to the Mirror on the first anniversary of his dramatic release, Sean is clearly finding the 21st century fast, complex and awkward.
"I use a laptop though," he says proudly. "I can pretty much send an email. I don't bother with Facebook though, don't see the point.
"Everything's so fast. Crossing the road is murder, there are so many cars flashing by like bats out of hell."
In the 12 months since he first tasted freedom last March, Sean is slowly returning to the man he was back in the late 70s.
He's on fewer pills and he looks stronger than the withered man who triumphantly stood on the steps of the Royal Court of Justice this time last year (above). But the trauma of not being believed haunts him constantly, nowhere more so than in his sleep which only comes in fitful bursts.
Usually, he'll wake himself up with his own voice, the shouting pleas of his innocence in his nightmares landing on deaf ears just as they had done in real life three decades earlier.
Sean, now 59, was just 27 when he was sentenced to life for the rape and murder of 22-year-old Teresa De Simone. The barmaid was strangled in the car park of the Hampshire pub where she worked.
Sean was charged after he confessed to the killing - but he'd falsely admitted 200 other crimes and soon withdrew his confession.
But police proceeded, mainly based on Sean's blood type matching that found at the murder scene - even though it was a common blood group.
He denied the crime in court but was found guilty in 1982 by a jury.
Of course, he appealed his conviction and spent time inside writing to solicitors and anyone he felt might help.
Advancements in DNA technology meant the case could be investigated further, but a request by Sean's defence team in 1998 for forensics met a dead end when they were told the evidence had been destroyed.
But one solicitor persisted and the evidence was tracked down. It finally cleared Sean and after 27 years inside, he was a free man - of sorts.
In September last year, police named Teresa's real killer - David Lace - whose remains were exhumed after he had committed suicide in 1988. His DNA matched. Lace, 17 at the time of the murder, had admitted to Hampshire police back in 1983 he killed Teresa but his confession was ignored.
Sean says the naming of Lace didn't make much difference to him. Sure, he was angry at him but it made no odds really. "No one's ever called me a killer since I've been released. Not to my face anyway," he muses.
Sean speaks quietly and in short sentences. Prison has made him used to keeping a low profile, and while he's been able to shake off some habits he picked up, this isn't one of them.
Walking out into freedom was a day Sean thought may never happen.
He says quietly: "I have nightmares. Horrific ones that go through the whole process. Getting arrested, the police station, cells, court, Wandsworth Prison. All the time I'm shouting out to people I'm innocent, but no one ever believes me. Then I get sent down forever.
"I wake myself up, shouting and I'll be sweating loads and I'm miles and miles away. I don't know exactly what I'm saying but I know I'm trying to get them to believe me. But they never do and I get sent away for ever."
Even when he's free from the nightmares, Sean only gets a couple of hours' sleep every night.
He's off the sleeping tablets, "I'm only on Prozac now", and so at night his non-medicated brain is filled with thoughts. "Thoughts of what? Of good and bad thoughts. The good thoughts are that I'm free, that I can go anywhere I want. The bad thoughts are me thinking about everything that's happened. I think 'evil b******s' and imagine myself getting revenge on the people that did it to me."
It is understandable Sean still feels angry. Being inside, he says, deprived him of marrying and having children, an idea he'd taken for granted at the time like many twentysomethings.
But he's determined to make the best of his life now, having lost so much.
He's had "about £1million" in compensation so far, and he's bought a modest bungalow and a £20,000 Golf GTI. He's not exactly splashed the cash, but having lived so frugally inside, his purchases are about as extravagant as he can be. "I was on between £3.50 and £4.50 a week inside. I'd buy fags and there wasn't much left over," he adds.
"So now I'm reluctant to spend money. I have to remind myself that it's OK, that I can afford it.
"The prices in shops... I still can't believe it. The price of a pint today - it was 32p when I went inside. And I can't bear supermarkets. I find them confusing."
One of the main legacies of Sean's miscarriage of justice is that he never plans ahead.
He spent three decades having no control over his fate, and now he doesn't bother setting anything in stone as he knows only too well that his plans could easily be shattered. He says: "I feel insecure, that anything could change at any point. I live my life one day at a time. I can't do any more than that."
Sean occupies his days fixing up cars and motorbikes "to keep me out of the pub". He's had "two or three" relationships since he's been out but he says they haven't been serious.
Surely women were the first thing on his mind following his release? "Well," he mutters, "it was always in the blood."
He's got a girlfriend who he's been with since last October but won't name in order to protect her. One of the reasons he's been so reluctant to engage in a serious relationship boils down to trust again.
"It's really hard knowing if they were after me or after my cheque book."
His current girlfriend is different. She's the daughter of family friends who, at 30, was born a year after he was remanded.
Sean spent the first few months after being released living in different places before settling in Crook, just a short distance from where he grew up.
Being back in County Durham has allowed him to reacquaint himself with people he used to know, who recognise him in the street or who he's tracked down. He finds it hard to trust though, and prefers the company of his Jack Russell Archie more than any human.
"He doesn't answer back," he says laughing, "he just nods his head. People are very different today. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one walking around. Everyone else seems like zombies, they're quite self-absorbed, people today."
But at the same time, Sean has his fair share of contact from people very much interested in his affairs.
"I get a lot of people just banging on my door asking for things, for money. I tell them where to go."
But despite his ordeal, Sean says life is getting better and better. He hasn't kept in touch with anyone from prison - he never had any friends there anyway, "just acquaintances". He wouldn't have visited them either - the thought of going near a jail fills him with dread.
For now, Sean's all about "trying to be happy, every day". He adds: "I still wake up automatically at 6.30am, like I did in prison. I'm slowly recovering. It's hard though because in my head, sometimes I'm still 27. But my body won't keep up."
And in May comes a big milestone, one he once thought would be "celebrated" in an eight-by-four cell - his 60th birthday.
"How will I celebrate?" he asks himself. "I don't know. I'll just see if I get there first."
MURDER ..TO THE TRUTH
5 DECEMBER 1979 Teresa de Simone is found raped and strangled to death.
December 1980 Sean Hodgson confesses to a prison priest to Teresa's murder. Later that month, he confesses to two more murders that never took place. Sean is charged with Teresa's murder.
January 1982 The trial begins. Sean withdraws his confession and refuses to take the stand.
February 5, 1982 Sean is convicted of murder following a 15-day trial. He is sentenced to life imprisonment.
1983 Sean's request for an appeal against his conviction is dismissed. Petty criminal David Lace, 17, right, confesses to Teresa's murder to Hampshire Police while being questioned for another crime. His confession is dismissed as fantasy.
1988 David Lace commits suicide.
1998 Solicitors ask the Forensic Science Service for evidence from the murder scene to retest because of advancements in DNA technology. The FSS say it has all been destroyed.
March 2008 After reading an article in Inside Time magazine, solicitors specialising in appeals against conviction take Sean's case on, and track the evidence down to an industrial warehouse in the Midlands.
December 2008 Initial tests suggest DNA taken from Teresa did not match Sean's, results are then confirmed in January 2009.
March 2009 Sean is released from prison.
September 2009 Police name David Lace as Teresa's killer after exhuming his body.