Michael Stone’s lawyer: Levi Bellfield admitted to Russell murders

IT WAS one of the most brutal murders of the past few decades. In July 1996, when Lin Russell and her six-year-old daughter Megan were beaten to death with a hammer, in a country lane in east Kent, the nation was shocked to its core. Lin’s other daughter Josie, nine, was also attacked, but miraculously survived. Now, the barrister of the man convicted of killing Lin and Megan is taking the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to court for failing to green-light an appeal that could acquit his client of murder.

The CCRC, which is responsible for investigating alleged miscarriages of justice, insisted in July there was “no real possibility” the Court of Appeal would quash Michael Stone’s convictions – despite imprisoned serial killer Levi Bellfield admitting he bludgeoned the mother and daughter to death in Chillenden, Kent.

But Stone’s barrister Mark McDonald has told the Daily Express he will go to “the High Court to immediately transfer the case to the Court of Appeal”.

He claims that the CCRC had refused to act, despite it being given detailed information about a new witness and forensic test that could provide sufficient grounds for a new appeal.

The statutory body said in July: “We have identified no credible new evidence or information that raises a real possibility that Mr Stone’s conviction would not be upheld upon a reference to the Court of Appeal.” 

Shaun Russell, wife Lin, Megan and Josie smile

Shaun Russell, with wife Lin and daughters Megan (second left) and Josie at an Italian restaurant (Image: Family handout)

But Mr McDonald plans to write to the CCRC this week informing it of his actions. He will then lodge a formal application with the High Court by the end of September.

“There’s now a significant amount of evidence that another person has committed this crime and, of course, it’s up to the Court of Appeal to decide whether or not the conviction of Michael Stone is safe or not,” he told the Express.

Stone, 62, is serving three life sentences for the murders of Lin, 45, and Megan, and the attempted murder of Josie, who suffered severe head injuries in the appalling hammer attack.

The savagery and randomness of the violence inflicted upon the defenceless mother and her two girls after they crossed a meadow and walked down a bucolic country lane seemed incomprehensible at the time.

Locals were terrified to leave their homes in the days and weeks afterwards.

Stone was apprehended a year after the murders but has always stated his innocence, although he has a history of violent offences and served jail terms for a separate stabbing and hammer attack. His original conviction hinged on three cell confessions from other inmates while he was awaiting trial.

Two of these have since been disproved, and no DNA evidence has ever linked him to the crime scene, where the family was brutally tied up before being battered.

Mr McDonald obtained a lengthy signed confession from Levi Bellfield in April, one of several, after he confessed to the killings in a conversation with a prison psychologist.

He said: “From Bellfield, we have pages of detailed evidence as to what he did, how he did it, who he hit first, whom he killed first, where he put the bodies, how he put [sic] the bodies, what was said, what was done, what he used to tie them up. It’s literally the complete detail of a murder that he did.”

Serial Killer Levi Bellfield

Serial Killer Levi Bellfield has admitted to killing Lin and Megan Russell (Image: Police handout)

Sadistic Bellfield is a convicted serial killer. He is serving two life sentences for murdering Milly Dowler, 13, in 2002, Marsha McDonnell, 19, in 2003, and Amelie Delagrange, 22, in 2004, plus the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy, 18, in 2004.

He is said to have confessed to further brutal murders and attacks on women but he has been accused of wasting police time in some instances.

Last year, Bellfied signed a four-page agreement to Stone’s solicitor, Paul Bacon, admitting to the murders of Lin and Megan with details only the killer would know.

He spoke on the condition details would be shared only with the CCRC and later retracted his confession after the information found its way to the media.

His ex-wife Johanna Collings claimed there was “no way” Bellfield could have committed the murders as he was with her at a birthday party that same day in Twickenham.

But Mr McDonald says: “Bellfield has said she’s mistaken, she’s simply wrong.

They wouldn’t go out and celebrate a birthday on a Tuesday night. They went out on a Saturday night. In fact, he was working that night as a bouncer.”

He added that Bellfield has “made us sign an agreement with him that we will not go to the newspapers at all about anything he has said until this matter has come before the CCRC, so he’s not after publicity for this. He’s got nothing to gain from this at all. There are things that I can’t go into detail about, which the CCRC knows about”.

The barrister has previously called the statutory body “not fit for purpose” and said it had “effectively put the burden upon Michael Stone to prove that Bellfield has committed the crime”.

He is speaking today ahead of the release of a three-part Sky documentary The Russell Murders: Who Killed Lin & Megan? which re-examines the case.

It focuses in painstaking detail on the minimal police evidence Stone was convicted on at his original trial in 1998, in the lead-up to Bellfield’s newest confession.

“The documentary shows the collapsing of the evidence against Stone and the dynamics moving towards Bellfield in relation to his confession and evidence relating to the murder,” says Mr McDonald.

Lin and Megan Russell

Lin and Megan Russell (Image: Family handout)

Stone and his legal team want to forensically re-examine items from the crime scene – including a shoelace, plus a bloodstained towel, string bag and opened lunch box – using a new form of testing called Y-STR, which specifically targets the male Y chromosome.

Only minute strands of DNA were collected and, at the time, they were considered too small to be tested as potential matches with known criminals.

Mr McDonald believes Y-STR testing should give investigators the ability either to incriminate Stone or exonerate him.

Jim Fraser, who was head of forensic investigations for Kent Police during the initial investigation, said hairs, fibres, blood, shoe marks and “just about every kind of forensic evidence imaginable was looked for in the crime scene”.

The only exception to this, he added, was contact DNA, which is transferred by skin cells of objects directly touched. But even that, he says, is a complicated process. “The likelihood of finding a yes or no answer here is slim,” he maintains.

Stone’s lawyers have argued that a bootlace, which is believed to have been used to strangle one of the victims, should be retested.

Mr Fraser insists the potential murder weapon contains “a single DNA component, which is found commonly in the population and nothing else.”

He added: “The bottom line is there’s effectively no evidence to connect anybody to that crime scene, whether it’s Bellfield or Stone or anybody else.”

But Mr McDonald believes Kent Police “missed” important DNA tests. He also claims to know of a new eyewitness who “recognised Bellfield near the scene in a car” and who has never been interviewed by Kent Police.

Michael Stone's lawyer Mark McDonald

Michael Stone’s lawyer Mark McDonald is fighting to clear his client’s name (Image: PA)

The other question, of course, is why Josie Russell, now 36, has never been called upon to identify Bellfield as her attacker.

The one ray of light from the terrible events is the remarkable recovery of this brave young woman. Her head injuries were initially considered so severe, and her trauma so deep, doctors didn’t know if she would ever speak again.

Defying the odds, she made a full recovery thanks to the love and care of her father, Shaun Russell. Today, she works as a textile artist and is engaged to be married. She lives in the Welsh home she once shared with her mother and sister.

She did not pick Michael Stone as the killer in an identity parade following his arrest. Yet to Mr McDonald’s knowledge, the CCRC has not asked to interview Josie about Levi Bellfield.

When asked if he is confident that Stone would be acquitted, he said: “I wouldn’t be taking them to court if I wasn’t confident I would succeed.”

The Russell Murders: Who Killed Lin And Megan? airs on Sky Documentaries and NOW from September 16

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