Monday, November 06, 2006

Wales: Last chance to overturn the very dubious conviction of Michael Stone

Convicted on the evidence of a lying jailhouse snitch

Michael Stone has launched a final bid to clear his name after being convicted of battering Lin Russell and her daughter Megan to death in a country lane. The 45-year-old - who bludgeoned the pair with a hammer in Kent in 1996 - has made one last attempt for freedom following a failed re-trial and appeal into the murders.

His last plea comes just days after his case was sent for review following a miscarriage of justice investigation after the resignation of Home Office pathologist Michael Heath. Mr Heath resigned in September after he was criticised by a Home Office disciplinary panel. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has now started to re-examine nine cases, including Stone's.

However, the CCRC says Stone's appeal bid is separate to the investigation. The CCRC will now decide if Stone's case should go back to the Court of Appeal. A spokesman said: "We cannot comment on the detail of cases but can confirm that an application was received in May. Initial preparatory work has begun but it's likely to be some time before the case is allocated for active review. "As an independent public body, our job is to consider whether or not there is any new evidence or legal argument which might cast doubt on the safety of the conviction."

Stone's lawyer Franklin Sinclair said his client would fight to the bitter end to secure "justice" for himself and the Russell family. Stone disputes the grounds for his conviction including a cell confession he is said to have made to an inmate while at Canterbury Prison.

Mr Sinclair said: "This is Mr Stone's final bid for freedom. He has exhausted all of the appeal avenues open to him.
"It is now up to the CCRC to decide whether they refer his case for appeal."

Report here


Lin, Megan and Josie Russell were attacked as they walked along a secluded path next to a cornfield on their way home on July 9th 1996. It was a bright summer evening and the fields and vegetation were in full bloom. Although the path could and was used by cars it is not wide enough to allow overtaking, if two cars were to meet then one car must reverse into a small clearing to allow the other to pass.

At Stone's first trial in 1998 at Maidstone crown court the Prosecuting Barrister for the Crown suggested that he had sat in his car watching the Russell''s cross a series of fields before walking down the path. He had intended to rob them in order to get money to feed his heroin habit.
The Jury was taken to the scene of the crime. The trial took place in October 1998, when the scenery and the environment are entirely different from the month when the crimes occurred. In October you can see a good distance. A visitor in July wanting to see if it is possible to sit and watch people coming from some distance away would soon see that it is not possible. The trees are too tall, and the vegetation is too dense. It is an unlikely place for anyone out on the rob' to sit, and that is putting it mildly.

No person desperate for money to feed a serious drug habit, and Michael Stone had one, would be sitting in a car on a path alongside a field in Chillenden waiting for someone to come along. It simply defies commonsense.

Stone was arrested following a reconstruction of events on July 9th 1997 on the popular BBC Crimewatch series. His psychiatrist rang up to say his profile matched that of the killer or killers. From the start he protested his innocence, he still does. His defence was a strange one, he couldn't remember what he was doing on that day, or in fact what he was doing on many days during the summer of 1996.

He had lived in a children's home as a young boy in nearby Canterbury. As such it was alleged that he knew the area around Chillenden well. Michael Stone denied this. If he had known the area well I think that makes it even more unlikely he would have gone there. He would have known that unless he was incredibly lucky few, if any people, would be wandering down a deserted lane. He could have waited hours for anyone to walk down the lane. This would not have helped him to secure some cash to feed his heroin addiction.

The Russell's had been tied up with towels and bootlaces and attacked with a hammer, the motive cited by the police as being robbery. Stone, said the three Appeal judges, was a heroin addict who kept bootlaces. Half of Britain must keep a spare set of bootlaces. It was said that Stone used bootlaces as a tourniquet when he injected himself. The police didn't bring any to the first two trials; well none shown to belong to Michael Stone, and neither were they able to provide any witnesses to show that Stone did use such a method to inject himself.

Stone it was said had the habit of carrying tools in his car. Many people do, it doesn't make them murderers.

There was no forensic evidence to link Stone with the crimes, no D.N.A samples left behind and no witnesses to what had taken place. Josie, then nine, had been left for dead and mercifully recovered. In time she was able to recount some of her experiences to the police but has never been able to give an accurate description of her attacker. At an identity parade she did not pick out Michael Stone. Her grief must be intense; she appears to be a remarkable young woman who now aged 17 is rightfully trying to get on with her life. After Stone's appeal failed in January 2005 her father Shaun said, "Josie and I have made an effort to put our memories of this terrible affair behind us." No one can blame them for doing so.

The Appeal Court Judges also cited statements from a number of witnesses that Stone often changed his car and that in the summer of 1996 he had beige coloured car. Stone disputes this. A witness had said she had seen a beige coloured car emerge from the path at Chillenden on the evening of the murders; she had followed it. She claimed that a man with a blond French cropped hair was driving. Stone is bald so even if had had a beige car it wasn't his she saw.

Meanwhile it is known that Kent Police had stopped Michael Stone just two days before the murders and asked him to produce his driving documents to show that he was the owner of a white Toyota Tercil he was driving. He did this within 24 hours.

Sherry Bhatt, a friend of Michael Stone had given a statement that she had spoken with him the afternoon of July 10th 1996 the day after the attack on the Russell's. She said that she had asked him about blood on his t-shirt. She claimed that he'd said he'd had a fight and yet there were no indications of any injuries. She clearly didn't think this as being too important at the time, as it was only Michael Stone had been arrested a year later that she approached the police. Michael Stone denies that he had blood on his t-shirt. The t-shirt, naturally, has never been found so it will never be possible to say if there was blood on it and if so whose blood it was.

So at this point the case against Stone amounts to unproven claims that he changed his car a few times, keeping tools in the boot, possessing some boot laces, having lived as a child in a home ten miles from Chillenden and an unproven tale from someone about him having some blood on an old t-shirt.

However Maidstone Crown Court in 1998 heard evidence from three prisoners that Michael Stone had confessed, at separate times, to them that he'd carried out the murders. This was damming proof that Stone had done it; he'd killed Lin and Megan Russell and left Josie fighting for life.

Within days of his conviction however the statement of one of the prisoners Barry Thompson was discredited, when he admitted lying after obtaining a fee of 5,000 pounds from 'The Sun'' newspaper for his story with promises of another 10,000 if Stone was convicted. A second witness, Mark Jennings, was known to be unreliable and was not used by the Prosecution at the second trial in Nottingham.

Stone's conviction was quashed and retrial was ordered. In 2001 at Nottingham crown court he was found guilty after the Jury, with a majority verdict of 10 to 2, decided to accept that the remaining witness of the three, Damien Daly, was telling the truth when he gave evidence that Stone had confessed to him that he had attacked the Russell's.

Daley, who has a long string of convictions for robbery and burglary, was on remand in Canterbury Prison whilst awaiting trial. He was being housed in the segregation wing. According to his statement this was because of an allegation of violence towards another inmate. ' On Tuesday September 23rd 1997 he claims to have verbally defended Michael Stone when the latter was placed in the next-door cell after other prisoners abused him for the murders of Lin and Megan Russell and the attempted murder of Josie Russell.

According to Daley, his defence led to Stone then lying down in his cell and using the water pipes to state, ""You're my friend." Stone apparently also knew Daley's surname as according to Daley's statement I heard Stone call me by my surname' although they clearly didn't know each other beforehand as Daley claims he wasn't certain on September 23rd whether his neighbour was Michael Stow or Stone. Daley then claims that Stone told him all about the murders, that what he heard upset him so much that he was forced to move away from the wall, but that when he saw the Daily Mirror front page article of that day, with its details of events in the case, he went back to the pipes to listen.

At the second trial in Nottingham Daley had said that because the pipes were hot he had been forced to wrap a towel round them. The prison records showed that the heating was not turned on till October.

Daley claims that he told Stone [or Stow] he'd tell the prison officers but Stone said that they wouldn't believe him. Detective Constable P Phippin of Kent Police took Daley's statement on September 26th 1997. Daley claimed he needed to speak to his uncle, as he didn't want to be seen as a grass' by speaking to the police. His uncle apparently said that for such a serious offence he should speak to the police. Daley's statement, at just over 3 pages long takes approximately 10 minutes to read. According to the records it took nearly two hours to compile as it commenced at 17.15 and concluded at 19.12 hours. There must have an awful lot of silences during this time.

At Maidstone crown court Daley had told the jury that he had never taken heroin; in the second trial he said he had used it only occasionally.
Edward Fitzgerald QC for Michael Stone revealed during the appeal in January 2005 that Daley was now admitting to have used heroin heavily since 1996. As such he had perjured himself to two juries. Fitzgerald argued that this made all of his evidence "inherently unreliable."

Fitzgerald further argued that the Judge at the trial in Nottingham had an obligation to give the jury a warning "to be cautious" about "an oral confession" from "a person of dishonest character." If they had done so it is difficult to believe that the numbers being willing to convict Stone would not have fallen. Fitzgerald claimed that the need to give the jury a warning was a point of law "which has arisen in this case.' After the appeal was refused Fitzgerald chose to argue that the appeal judges should allow the House of Lords to decide whether what he was arguing was correct. They declined to allow him to do so, thus probably cutting off the possibility of Michael Stone's appeal case against his convictions being taken to the House of Lords.

As such probably the only legal avenue currently available, unless new evidence can be unearthed, is for Michael Stone to take his case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Meanwhile as Barbara Stone said on Friday January 21st "my brother is innocent" and "no matter how long it takes we shall prove that."

Meanwhile Stone languishes in prison for having killed Lin and Megan Russell and attempting to murder Josie Russell.

In Stone's case there is: -
* No evidence linking him to the awful crimes
* No D.N.A linking him to the scene of the crime.
* No witnesses to the crime.
* No body has picked him out of an I.D parade
* No-one has been found who saw him in the Canterbury area on the day of the crime

Alongside which stands: -
* Unproven claims that he swapped his car a few times
* An unproven claim that he had blood on an old t-shirt the day after the murders took place

Meanwhile he has always protested his innocence.

And whilst
* Yes, he did live at one time at a children's home nearby.
* He did keep tools in the boot of his car.
* He may even have owned some bootlaces.

These don't prove someone murdered two people and left another for dead. And neither does the say-so of a convicted criminal who Barbara Stone correctly said outside the Court of Appeal on Wednesday January 19th has "lied his way through two trials." Michael Stone's convictions for the murder of Lin and Megan Russell, as well as the attempted murder on Josie Russell literally takes the piss out of common sense'

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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