Life with Josie

With the trial of Josie Russell's attacker and the trauma of her surgery, it's been a tough year for her father. His Radio 4 diary records a struggle for a normal life
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For Shaun Russell, his daughter Josie is his life. When his wife, Lin, and other daughter Megan were savagely killed in July 1996, only the discovery that Josie had survived - against all odds - gave him the strength to carry on. Josie has endured surgery, a battle to relearn how to speak and the ordeal of reliving the attack for police officers determined to track down her attacker.

All the time, her father has struggled to return their lives to a kind of normality. But this summer, they faced the trauma of further surgery and renewed turmoil as the date approached for Michael Stone, an unemployed drug addict, to stand trial, accused of murdering Lin and Megan and attempting to kill Josie.

For the last four months, Dr Russell has been keeping an audio diary for Radio 4. In it, he speaks of the challenges of everyday life and his fears and hopes for the future. He speaks of life with Josie...

Monday 20 July 1998

My daily routine usually revolves around getting Josie off to school with her lunchbox, then doing the washing up and other chores such as the fires, clearing up - so that hopefully by 10 each morning, an hour after I've taken Josie to school, I'm able to start work in the office. This morning, because it's school holiday, Josie's round next door helping feed the horses and donkeys - it's a filthy, rainy, windy day. But the animals have to be fed, watered and checked out, so Josie's with her friend from next door, doing all that, no matter what the weather.

I've just had an end-of-term school report and assessment of Josie's progress during the year with a specialist report from her speech therapist, who goes to see Josie every week at school. I've been very impressed by Josie's improvement in her speech over the last year. The speech therapist has said I should be careful in what I expect. In fact, over this last year, Josie's actual test scores for language comprehension have not improved. She has a reading age of around five or six years old, although she's 11, and an overall kind of score, if you take into account all her abilities, of about eight years. They've said she hasn't made any progress at all on comprehension, how her brain is accepting language and words and trying to recommunicate them, which is a bit of a blow. There are dire consequences if Josie doesn't continue to improve - the suggestions are that if she went into secondary school with an effective learning age of eight she might find it very difficult handling the kind of input they expect at secondary school. This could also influence her relationships with other girls who all very much interact on the basis of verbal communication.

If Josie is slow or left behind that could influence her relationships. I hope very much that this doesn't occur, of course, and that improvements take place over the coming year. So I'll keep my fingers crossed and keep the effort going on her reading and writing this year to make sure that happens - meanwhile old dad gets on with the washing up.

Thursday 23 July 1998

I had a meeting with the education authority and they're happy to provide additional teacher support for the coming year so I'm going to keep Josie back for another year at her primary school.

Other things happening of late - I finally gave in and said she could have a pet. We agreed on a hamster and Josie's really enjoying her new pet Harry - Harry the Hamster. We had a short visit from our friends from the Kent police the other day - they had a bit of money left in a fund that they'd got for Josie, money they'd collected among themselves - and I went out with Josie to buy a few bits and pieces more for her hamster housings. She's showing off Harry to everyone that comes, very pleased that she's now got a pet of her own to, in a small way, take the place of Lucy, her dog that died when Josie was attacked. We're still hoping that she'll get another dog one day - I'm not quite ready for that yet, there are too many practicalities involved at the moment with so much to do at home but we'll keep that as an option in the future.

Sunday 16 August 1998

It's late, late at night. I've got a bit of time to gather my thoughts and think about Josie's up-and-coming operation. We've been given a date and it's tomorrow. We have to go into hospital tomorrow in Manchester.

Josie has been getting a bit worried as the time for the hospital operation approaches. I'm not sure what to expect other than I'm sure Josie will give us a lot of trouble - she doesn't want to talk about it. It'll mean putting a titanium plate over the hole in the bone of her skull - there's about a nine-square-inch area that's missing as a result of the original injuries. The area's covered by skin and hair but there is a bit of a depression on the side of her head, and the worry is that Josie, being a very active girl, might fall in such a way that she could damage her brain again because there's no skull protecting that particular part of her head.

Friday 21 August 1998

We're home after a somewhat gruelling and harrowing week but everything's fine following Josie's operation. It's Friday now, my birthday actually. The day started nicely with Josie bringing me breakfast in bed, tea and toast - she's looking great.

It's quite amazing to think that only three days previously she'd had a two-hour operation leaving a nine-inch stitched cut right from her forehead, temple, over the top of her head and round to the top of her neck. They made a massive cut in order to insert the titanium plate but the plastic surgeon was very careful not to shave any of Josie's hair off.

When she had her first operation, two years ago, they shaved her head and Josie was so upset about it that she wore a hat for more than a year afterwards. So we discussed it and found that the doctors can avoid cutting the hair. It meant some special techniques, pinning all the hair back and washing the hair during the operation very carefully so that no infection could take place.

The amazing thing was how little this massive cut and big operation seems to have affected her appearance. There's no bruising really, there was a little bit of swelling which has gone down very quickly but with her hair back in place covering the wound you wouldn't even know it was there. The most obvious difference is Josie's happiness. She seems to be almost a different child at the moment.

She was so worried and upset preceding the operation, she wouldn't talk at all on the two-hour journey to Manchester. She wouldn't talk to the doctors or nurses, she wouldn't co-operate at all. As the time approached for the operation she was in tears most of the time and hunched up on the bed, constantly saying she wanted to go home.

The doctors spent ages cajoling and trying to win her confidence but still there were plenty of tears, even from me I'm afraid. As the time for the operation arrived Josie was still not showing any signs of giving in. We were getting worried that we'd lose our place and have to go through it all again. But about half an hour after the scheduled time Josie suddenly gave in. She refused to have a pre-medication, she just said: "Right, let's go." She walked off along the corridor towards the operating theatre, went straight in, lay on the table and said: "Stick the mask on."

She took the gas straight away without pre-medication - of course, she went down immediately. Again a few tears from me, partly not only seeing her go under like that but also the relief of actually getting there and getting it on the way.

Two hours later she arrived back and was already starting to wake up and smile at seeing me. By the next day she was already up and about and wandering around and asking to get home. It was only 36 hours following the operation and we were on our way home - quite amazing for what doctors call a relatively major operation, it was a two-hour session, and a very large plate compared to what most people have.

Friday 2 October 1998

The court case is starting in Maidstone this morning; it's on both Ceefax and Teletext. There was mention of the "mother and daughter killings trial". It's certainly a bit weird seeing my wife and daughter on the national news once again after so long - it almost brings me back into that dream- like state of thinking

I'm just watching a movie or something from a distance. Seeing their names on the TV once again will plunge us right back into going through it all again, stirring up the memories once more.

Thursday 22 October 1998

It's half past eleven in the morning and I'm at a friend's house in Kent. The jury has been out since yesterday afternoon and I'm awaiting the call from police headquarters where I'll join the detective chief inspector in charge of the case for a press conference that will go ahead after the verdict is known. I'm trembling all the time in anticipation, not knowing what to expect.

I just called home and was told that Josie had watched the news last night and had picked up that there was the possibility that the man who's been accused may be found not guilty and she seemed quite worried about it. I know I've got to let her know the verdict as soon as it comes through. Whether she will show much emotion about it, I doubt somehow. She's tried to put it as far into the background as she can and just get on with her normal life. I can't do that, I've become sort of consumed by the whole thing.

Friday 23 October 1998

The jury has now been out for all of yesterday and the end of the day before. It's terrible waiting. It's just a continuous stream of adrenalin going into your system keeping you on tenterhooks the whole time waiting for the verdict - never mind the added worry of having to face the press after the verdict comes out.

I've been trying to relax in the evenings with the friends who are kindly putting me up in Kent. We've been out for a restaurant meal one night and out to see a film - The Truman Show with Jim Carrey - which is all about one's life being watched by the media all the time.

There were quite a few parallels I could read into my current situation. I had a swim in the local pool this morning before running back to stand by the phone again. So I'll continue to fidget and pace up and down through the day.

As the audio diary ended, Dr Russell was preparing for the verdict. Guilty, the jury decided, on all counts. The news was relayed from court to his friend's house where Dr Russell was waiting with WPC Pauline Smith, the police officer who coaxed details of the attack from Josie over months of interviews. He hugged her and then cried and cried. At a news conference two hours later, he spoke of the elation and then the sadness he felt, "sadness at what we've all lost and the fact that you can't regain what you've lost. I feel relief that it is all over at last". Yesterday, Dr Russell refused to comment after one of the witnesses who gave evidence against Stone, former prisoner Barry Thompson, claimed he had lied to the jury. Michael Stone hopes to appeal.

`Life with Josie' is broadcast today on Radio 4 at 11am