Bellfield confession gives sister hope

Stone was convicted on scant evidence

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The sister of Michael Stone, convicted of the Chillenden murders in Kent, hopes that serial killer Levi Bellfield’s recent four-page confession statement to the murders of Lin Russell and her daughter Megan, six, in July 1996 will finally lead to her brother’s release from prison.

Bellfield has also stated he killed Judith Gold, a mother of three battered to death in Hampstead, London, in 1990.

Barbara Stone, who has always insisted her brother is a miscarriage of justice victim, began campaigning after he was first convicted in 1998 of the murders, plus the attempted murder of Josie Russell, aged nine.

Stone was arrested following a reconstruction of events on the BBC Crimewatch series. His psychiatrist claimed his profile matched the killer’s. From the start he denied any involvement. His defence was strange – he could not remember what he was doing on the fateful day or on many days during the summer of 1996.

No forensic evidence

The Russells had been tied up with towels and bootlaces and attacked with a hammer. Robbery was cited as the motive by the police who said that, as a heroin addict, Stone kept bootlaces to use as a tourniquet when he injected himself. Yet the police never produced any laces belonging to him or found anyone who had witnessed Stone using such a method.

The scene of the crime was a secluded six-feet wide path next to a cornfield. It was alleged that Stone had sat in his car watching the Russells cross a series of fields before walking down the path. It was said he had intended to rob them to get money to feed his heroin habit.

The jury was taken to the scene at the first trial in October 1998. You could see a good distance. The murders took place though in July when you can’t watch people approach as the trees are too tall and the vegetation is too dense. It is an unlikely place for anyone desperate to commit a robbery to sit, especially if Kent Police’s claim was true that Stone knew the area.

There was also no forensic evidence to link Stone with the crimes, no DNA samples were left behind and there no witnesses. Josie, then nine, had been left for dead and mercifully recovered. Miraculously, she was later able to recount some of her experiences but was unable to give an accurate description of her attacker. At an identity parade she did not pick out Stone. 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.

“Dishonest character”

Key to Stone’s conviction was the claim that in 1998 he had confessed, at separate times, to three prisoners that he’d carried out the murders. Within days of his conviction, the statement of one of them, Barry Thompson, was discredited when he admitted lying after obtaining a fee of £5,000 from The Sun 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.

Stone’s conviction was quashed and a retrial ordered. In 2001 at Nottingham Crown Court, Stone was found guilty after the jury, with a majority verdict of ten to two, decided that Damien Daly, was telling the truth when he gave evidence that Stone had confessed to him in Canterbury Prison that he had attacked the Russells. Daley, who Stone had never previously met, had a string of convictions for robbery and burglary and was on remand. Attempts by Stone’s defence team to get the judge at the trial to give the jury a warning “to be cautious” about “an oral confession” from “a person of dishonest character” were rejected.

Bellfield’s confession

Stone’s later appeals against his convictions were dismissed, leading Barbara Stone to say outside the Court of Appeal in January 2005 that Daley had “lied his way through two trials” and that there was “not a scrap of evidence” to convict her brother.

In Chillenden in 2005 residents gave their opinions on the case. Jerry Copestake, landlord of the Griffin’s Head pub, said: “Most people round here don’t think Michael Stone did it.”

Stone was given a minimum sentence of 25 years. He can now apply for parole but won’t be doing so as that would be “admitting his guilt as he did not commit the crime,” said Barbara Stone. She has also supported other people campaigning to overturn their convictions.

Bellfield is serving a life sentence for the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amélie Delagrange, and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy. In 2011 he was also convicted of killing Milly Dowler, 13. He has converted to Islam and is known as Yusuf Rahim,

His confession is being added to an appeal by Stone’s solicitor, Paul Bacon, to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which turned down a 2010 appeal.

Bacon said in 2011 that he believed Bellfield may have committed the Chillenden murders, stating that Josie described a beige Ford car at the scene. Bellfield was driving a beige Ford Sapphire at that time.

Call for impartial investigation

Barbara Stone said: “It is good news as if what he has written is proved to be true it should lead to Mick being released. Bellfield does look like the photofit of the killer and I believe there is a lot of detail in the letter that means we can track his movements throughout the fateful day. It should all be provable.”

She does not want Kent Police involved in any new investigation. “Some of the officers from the time are still working there and they have never been willing to take an unbiased look at the case,” she said.

“They denied for years that they did have the bootlace, which we know they do. Some other force should investigate and the terms of reference should be more open than an earlier review by Hampshire Police.”

Barbara Stone said that her brother was “now optimistic” but did not want to “get too excited as he has had so many knockbacks over the years and there never was any evidence.” She thinks Bellfield’s statement may be “him trying to make peace with his actions”.

Photo: Barbara Stone maintains her brother Michael is innocent of the Chillenden murders committed in 1996 (Ben Graville/Shutterstock)

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