Stone gets life for `complete horror' of Russell murders

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MICHAEL STONE today starts three life sentences for the murders of Lin and Megan Russell and the attempted murder of Megan's sister, Josie.

At an emotional press conference last night Josie's father, Shaun Russell, said: "I went into to the bedroom and broke down and cried." He said he spoke to Josie: "She just said `good'. That was her opinion about the verdict. She is more interested in having fun, as a little girl of her age does."

Mr Justice Ian Kennedy told Stone: "There cannot be anyone in this country who does not understand the complete horror of the offences of which you have been convicted."

Standing to be sentenced, Stone told the judge: "I didn't do it Your Honour. It wasn't me."

Inquiries were under way last night as to why Stone, a drug addict with a history of violence including a previous vicious hammer attack, had been refused in-patient psychiatric help just days before the murders.

It was also revealed that he was a well-known police informer, who had met his "handler' the day after the attacks.

The jury of eight women and four men took 14 hours 59 minutes to reach their majority verdicts of 10 to two on each of the three counts. Unemployed Stone, 38, of Gillingham, Kent, denied the murders of Dr Russell and six- year-old Megan, and the attempted murder of Josie, who was aged nine at the time of the killings.

They were attacked by a man with a hammer as they walked along a country lane to their home in Chillenden near Canterbury, Kent, on 9 July 1996.

Stone cast his eyes downwards after the jury foreman delivered the first verdict, that he had murdered Dr Russell. He looked up again to hear the second verdict, that he had murdered Megan and continued to stare ahead as the final verdict was given that he attempted to murder Josie.

There were gasps in the packed courtroom as the first verdict was given. The judge told Stone: "There is nothing to say about these offences, but what I believe should not be lost sight of is this - that you chose to rob a mother and her two little girls walking home from school, a scene which has taken place all over the country every day.

"Although it is not a mitigation that one commits robbery, one is expecting to have rich pickings. It seems to me a dreadful thing that you could contemplate subjecting these three to a robbery when there is no sensible prospect of any pickings at all.

"And that when they were dead or dying, you had no more concern for what had happened than if you had looked inside the lunchboxes the children had taken and which could not have contained more than a penny or two. So far as your sentences are concerned, they are fixed by law in the first two counts. I sentence you to life imprisonment on the third count."

The judge continued: "I stipulate a period of 14 years before an approach can be made before the parole board."

Stone's mother remained impassive as her son was led away from the dock. Stone whimpered and held out his arms to his weeping sister, Barbara, as he was led away.

Heroin addict Stone attacked Dr Russell, 45, and her daughters with a hammer as they walked home along a country lane from a school swimming gala. He confronted them and demanded money from Dr Russell.

When she shouted at Josie to run away, Stone chased after her before hitting her and dragging her back to a small copse. He then tied the family up, using the children's wet swimming towels and a knotted shoelace.

Josie, lashed to a tree, was blindfolded. The last thing she heard was her mother's screams as Stone began hitting her. He bludgeoned Dr Russell, Megan, Josie and the family pet dog, Lucy. Only Josie survived.

A police surgeon called to the scene initially thought she was dead. It was only a slight movement that alerted police and she was rushed to hospital.

Despite temporarily losing the ability to speak and still suffering from learning difficulties, Josie gave police vital details about the 15-minute ordeal.

During the 13-day trial the jury heard Stone had confessed the murders to a fellow prisoner, Damien Daley, when the two were being held in Canterbury jail last year.

He also told his friend, Mark Jennings, that he would be prepared to kill women and children to eliminate them as witnesses. It was these two accounts that convicted Stone.

The court was told that Stone had convictions dating back to 1972. In 1981, he was sentenced to two years' jail for attacking a homosexual man with a hammer and robbing him. In 1983, he was sentenced to four and a half years for two counts of actual bodily harm. He stabbed a friend in the chest while the victim slept after an argument. In 1987, he was sentenced to 10 years for two armed robberies.

William Clegg QC, for the defence, told the judge: "We have nothing to say."