The Daily Mail, Saturday, March 13, 1999, pages 18-19

It’s a question almost too awful to contemplate, but it must be asked...

Is Michael Stone Innocent of the
Two Russell Murders?

by Jo Ann Goodwin

ALMOST three years have now passed since the savage attack in the Garden of England which killed Lin Russell and her six-year-old daughter Megan. Megan’s sister Josie, then aged nine, was left for dead. All three were bludgeoned by a man wielding a hammer. The family dog, Lucy, was killed in the same brutal manner.

Josie’s injuries were so terrible that her survival and subsequent recovery is little short of miraculous – a testament to the bravery and determination of a little girl who has endured more than most of us can bear to imagine.

When the jury at Maidstone Crown Court delivered their guilty verdict and 38-year-old Michael Stone was locked away for life, Josie’s father, Shaun Russell, was understandably relieved. He had dreaded Stone being found not guilty, and the prospect of returning to ‘living life in limbo’.

When he telephoned his daughter to tell her of the result she said just one word: ‘Good’. Josie Russell spoke for us all.

Michael Stone engenders little sympathy – an habitual and hardened criminal with convictions for violence, including, in 1981, a hammer attack. Mentally unstable, he had exacerbated his condition with prolonged heroin abuse.

Psychiatrists confirmed Stone was prey to violent fantasies and frequently talked of killing people. Many felt he should have been taken off the streets long before the murders of July 9, 1996, in Chillenden, Kent.

When, on October 23 last year, he received three life sentences for perpetrating one of the most brutally sickening crimes in British history the nation joined Shaun Russell in rejoicing that justice had, at last, been done.

BUT the story doesn’t end here. Despite Shaun Russell’s prayers, the agony is not yet over. Michael Stone’s lawyer, Derek Hayward, hopes to hear ‘in the very near future’ whether leave to appeal against the murder conviction has been granted.

When, as expected, the case finally comes before the appeal judges, Shaun and Josie’s precious ‘normal life’ will once more be torn apart.

Such a disturbance is horrifying to contemplate – but not as horrifying as the consequences of a quashed conviction. For if Stone didn’t commit these. murders, someone else did. And that someone is still at large.

ON THE day which marked the first anniversary of the murders, Kent police officers were sitting by a bank of telephones. The Crimewatch UK television reconstruction was an unlikely gambit after so much time had elapsed, but the police were becoming desperate.

They had interviewed 9,000 people and taken more than 1,000 statements. A number of suspects were taken in, only to be released, and one man was arrested, but also later released without charge.

The murder team, led by DCI Dave Stevens, was under intense pressure to produce a result. So when psychiatrist Dr Philip Sugarman telephoned to tell them about his sometime patient Michael Stone, it was a godsend.

Dr Sugarman said that Stone had detailed nightmarish fantasies which seemed to fit with the attack. At last the police had their breakthrough. A week after the Crimewatch screening Stone was arrested.

Remanded in custody and repeatedly interviewed, Stone remained steadfast. Over and over again he said the same thing: yes he was a junkie, a thief, a robber – but he did not commit the Chillenden murders.

On October 6, 1998, Stone went on trial charged with the murders of Lin and Megan Russell and with the attempted murder of Josie Russell. He pleaded not guilty.

The case against him was slight. In private, senior police sources admit to some unease.

Stone fitted the psychological profile perfectly: he is mentally unbalanced, violent and antisocial. But there was the problem of the evidence. The police didn’t have any.

Aside from Stone’s character, the prosecution case was built on three main planks: a number of sightings by local witnesses; attempts to link Stone with the scene via forensics and his local knowledge; and, most importantly, the three ‘prison confessions’ Stone allegedly made while held on remand.

FIVE months after Stone was sentenced, an examination of the case against him raises a worrying number of discrepancies. In particular, the three prison witnesses now appear to be severely tainted.

The jury had heard from a number of local people. Isobel Cole saw a clean-shaven man of medium build wearing a dark blue baseball cap and carrying a hammer. This was around 4.30 pm on the day of the murder

Half an hour later, gardener Anthony Rayfield saw a beige car, parked with the boot open. The man standing by it was small, light-haired and wiry, aged 35-40, and appeared agitated.

Nicola Burchill saw a beige Ford Escort at 4.45 pm. She said the driver was round-faced with chubby cheeks.

Pauline Wilkinson saw two men near the murder scene. One had short blond hair ‘like Robert Redford’, and the other had darker hair and was carrying a clipboard.

The same witness also saw a rust-coloured Ford Escort with three young men sitting in it. One had a Gazza haircut and wore a red T-shirt; another wore a baseball cap. The third fitted the description of the E-fit released by police.

Josie herself says the car was brown or red, clean and driven by a single man. He was blond, clean-shaven, about 25 and the same height as her father, around 6 ft.

It is hard to know what to make of this mish-mash of contradictory statements. Two men, three men, or a single man? The man is small and wiry, or tall, or chubby-faced or medium build. His hair is light, dark or blond, or he wears a baseball cap. The car is beige or red or brown or rust.

Michael Stone is 5 ft 7 in and podgy. His nephew called him the ‘egg on legs’. His hair is mid-brown and noticeably receding. A photograph taken at a party five days after the murders shows him with a light beard. Despite having no driving licence, Stone drove a white Toyota.

THE forensic evidence in the case is even more problematic. Despite the extreme savagery of the killings, experts were able to glean very little.

William Clegg QC, for the defence, suggested to Home Office forensic pathologist Roger Mann that this lack of forensic evidence was extremely unusual. Clegg quoted Lockhart’s Theory – the accepted foundation of forensic science – which states that ‘every contact leaves a trace’. Roger Mann agreed.

‘That being so,’ said Clegg, ‘the murderer would have left a trace of himself at the scene?’ ‘Oh yes,’ Mann replied.

SOME forensic evidence was recovered: four hairs were taken from beach shoes belonging to Josie; red fibres were found on or around Lin’s body, and more red fibres were found on a pair of blue tights used to tie one of the girls; a shoelace also used to tie the girls was found and there was a single blood-stained fingerprint on a lunchbox belonging to the girls.

Tests proved the bloody fingerprint could not belong to Stone. Because the print was smeared, it was, however, impossible to rule out that it may have been made by Lin Russell – although it is hard to imagine the circumstances in which she could have made it.

Further extensive testing proved the red fibres did not come from Stone, nor anyone in his family or immediate circle. Nor did they belong to the Russells.

Likewise the four hairs, which matched none of the Russell family. They did not match Stone either.

Finally, there is the bootlace used to tie one of the girls. The police believe the killer dropped the lace by accident. It carries bloodstains, which prove it was used in the attack, and there are also saliva residues.

The prosecution emphasised that bootlaces were commonly used as tourniquets by drug addicts and Stone was known to utilise this method. In this way Stone was skilfully connected to a key piece of forensic evidence.

The full story is somewhat more complicated.

Drug addicts often use laces as tourniquets. Assuming the addict is right-handed, he will loop the lace around his left arm and pull it tight. The bootlace will then be held in his teeth while he uses his free right hand to administer the fix. A total of 64 areas of the lace were tested for DNA, but there is no link to Stone.

NOW WE move onto the most important plank of the prosecution case – the three alleged prison confessions and the testimony of Lawrence Calder and his girlfriend Sheree Blatt.

In prison for deception, Lawrence Calder was a drug addict and habitual criminal and had been a regular associate of Stone.

Giving evidence on October 12, Calder alleged that Stone had turned up at his house the day after the Russell murders at around 10.30 am. Stone was driving his white Toyota and Calder went out to meet him.

He told the court that Stone was covered in blood: ‘Spots of blood down the front (of his T-shirt) and a large area of blood on the groin.’

Unfortunately, Calder’s testimony disintegrated under cross-examination.

He admitted he had previously lied to the police, telling them originally that he had been with Stone until about 5 pm – 6 pm on the day of the murders.

‘Was that a lie?’ asked Mr Clegg. ‘Yes,’ replied Calder.

He then became extremely confused about dates. Before the cross-examination he had told the court that the day in question was in August, whereas the murders took place on July 9.

UNDER questioning his story became hopelessly contradictory, and in the end he appealed for sympathy: ‘I’m no good on dates,’ he said.

As the entire worth of his testimony hangs on his remembering a precise date two years after the event, the remark is worth noting.

Sheree Blatt then took the stand and proceeded to completely contradict her boyfriend. Stone had arrived ‘two or three weeks’ before July 24. Calder said he had met Stone by the car. Sheree Blatt said Stone came to the house.

Calder said Stone’s trousers were covered in blood, his top heavily stained: Blatt remembered a few spots of blood on the neck of his T-shirt.

It is hard to know how much weight to attach to either witness.

Finally and absolutely crucial to the prosecution case, there were the three prison ‘confessions’.

MARK Jennings, 36, was a friend of Stone. He had been jailed for life for the murder of a part-time barman. Jennings maintained he had been merely defending his girlfriend and hadn’t realised the knife was in his hand. His story was not believed.

A local journalist who covered Jennings’ original murder trial remembers an arrogant young man. When he appeared to give evidence against Stone, she says Jennings’ demeanour was so changed as to be unrecognisable. Now he was humble and contrite and full of remorse.

Unfortunately, this impressive change of heart was undermined when it transpired Jennings had only come forward when he learnt that a tabloid newspaper was offering a large sum or money for information leading to Stone’s conviction.

Jennings told the court that Stone had asked him what he thought of the Russell murders and gone on to suggest that Jennings should have killed the witnesses in the pub murder. He (Stone) would kill anyone, including women and children, if it would keep him out of jail.

The conversation is totally denied by Stone.

Defending counsel asked Jennings why he had decided to come forward at last with this information – was it the money? ‘No,’ said Jennings, ‘my conscience.’

Mr Clegg then asked Jennings if ‘your family has been given thousands of pounds by The Sun?’ Jennings said ‘Yes’. ‘And the promise of a lot more to come?’ Mr Clegg inquired. ‘I believe so,’ Jennings agreed.

In fact Jennings’ sister had been paid 5,000 by the newspaper with a promise of a further 10,000 after the trial if Stone was found guilty.

Jennings denied that this had any influence on his evidence.

Another prisoner, Barry Thompson, serving two years for dishonesty and intimidating a witness, recalled Stone threatening him when both were in Elmely Jail.

‘I made a mistake with her, I won’t make the same mistake with you,’ is what Thompson alleged Stone said to him. The ‘mistake’ was alleged to have been a reference to leaving Josie Russell alive.

Stone’s lawyer suggested Thompson was jumping on the bandwagon and that he was lying. ‘I’m certainly not,’ replied Thompson. ’It wouldn’t be advisable for me to do so and I don’t want to be here.’

A few days later Thompson told The Mirror a different story: ‘None of what I said was true. Stone never said the words I attributed to him. I told the jury a pack of lies.’

Thompson said he hadn’t wanted to appear as a witness but ‘I thought the case against him was so thin that he would be acquitted anyway’.

Today he is believed to have sworn a statement recanting his evidence to Stone’s solicitors.

THE third confession, from 23-year-old prisoner Damien Daley, is agreed to be the most damning.

Stone was being held in Canterbury Prison and, according to his sister Barbara, asked the governor to move him to solitary confinement became everyone he spoke to was ‘making up confessions’.

I checked with the Home Office to see if Stone had made such a request and was told: ‘We’re not disputing it.’

Despite Stone’s wish to be away from other prisoners, Daley claims they spoke through a cracked drainpipe which joined the two cells. He gave vivid and detailed testimony alleging Stone had made a full confession.

As with Jennings and Thompson, Daley insisted his motives were purely altruistic.

Daley admitted to a string of previous offences. He also admitted that he’d been arrested for arson in February 1998 and that the case against him was dropped in June.

He agreed that two or three days after the arson charges were dropped, he was arrested on suspicion of robbery and GBH.

In September once again, all charges were dropped. Daley said it never occurred to him that the police were doing him a favour as an important witness in the Stone trial. Less than a week after the trial ended, Daley was in the news once more. The Folkestone Herald’s front page carried an astonishing headline: ‘You Turned Stone Over’, and continued, ‘Family accuse witness in “sell out” row’.

The story went on to detail the furore outside Daley’s home, where members of his family were reported to be shouting abuse and accusing him of telling lies about Stone and stitching him up.

Witnesses were too frightened to give their names but said that police had attended.

When questioned about the incident, Kent police said the matter had never been reported.

They suggested the entire story was ‘spurious’ and intimated that the journalist who wrote it had been sacked for making it up. They went on to insinuate that were the story to be repeated Daley would sue.

The editor of the Folkestone Herald has a different view. ’We are happy with our front page as it stands,’ he said.

SO WHAT other evidence is there against Stone? Well, he took part in two Identity Parades but Josie failed to pick him out. As did all other witnesses except Nicola Burchell, who’d seen the beige Ford Escort and who said he ‘looked familiar’.

In court, she agreed this could be because he reminded her of an old acquaintance.

The forensic case against Stone is non-existent. Indeed the little there is tends to point to someone else.

LOCAL witnesses are confused and contradictory. The alleged prison ‘confessions’ are highly debatable. Kent police’s E-fit of the killer does in some parts resemble Stone – except that it has a full fringe, while he is severely balding.

The best evidence against him – much of which couldn’t be presented to the jury for fear of prejudicing his case – is circumstantial.

He is a violent and mentally disturbed man with a long criminal history and apparently knew the local area well.

When he was arrested, a year after the murders, he could not remember what he was doing on July 9, 1996.

His old clothes had been thrown away, he said, because he had put on so much weight.

In 1981, aged 20, he’d attacked a man with a hammer. His sister Barbara says the man was an acknowledged paedophile and was assaulting a young man.

When the Russell jury returned and announced their verdict, Stone turned to the judge, then to the Press box: ‘I didn’t do it,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t me.’

That he was maybe telling the truth is a thought that is almost too terrible to contemplate.

But however unsympathetic a character Stone may be, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the case against him is NOT proven beyond all reasonable doubt. As his lawyers press for appeal, one fact is inescapable. If Stone did not commit the Russell murders, someone else did.

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