Stone 'tried to defend' the Russell murders

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MICHAEL STONE tried to defend the murder of Lin and Megan Russell to a friend who was a convicted killer, a court was told yesterday. Mr Stone also suggested it would be better to kill witnesses to a crime - even if they were women and children - rather than spend a long time in prison.

Mark Jennings, who is in his sixth year in prison, told Maidstone Crown Court that he wrestled with his conscience for nearly two years before telling police of the conversations that raised his suspicions. "I came to the conclusion that if he got off this terrible crime, I would have this on my mind for the rest of my life,"Jennings said.

Mr Stone, 38, of Gillingham, Kent, is accused of murdering Dr Russell, 45, and her daughter Megan, six, in Chillenden, near Canterbury, in July 1996. He is also accused of the attempted murder of the elder daughter, Josie Russell, now 11. He denies the charges.

The court also heard allegations for the first time yesterday that Mr Stone was a heroin addict.

Jennings told how Mr Stone first visited him in prison in the winter of 1996. He said Mr Stone raised the question of sex offenders and of men who killed their spouses. Jennings saidkillers of women were "half nonces", extending "nonce", the prison term for sex offenders, to a more general attack of women or children. Jennings said Mr Stone then asked what he thought about the Chillenden murders. "I replied that I thought that it was a terrible nonce crime. And he said to me, 'Why? There was no sex involved, no rape'."

Jennings said Mr Stone did not seem to like this reply. He then raised the question of Jennings' own crime, when hekilled a teenager in a pub. Mr Stone allegedly pointed out that without witnesses he would never have been convicted.Jennings said he was "aghast" and "shocked" at this.

"He [Mr Stone] then said, 'If it was a choice between killing two or three people, even women or children, or doing a long time in prison, what would you do?'" Jennings said he would serve time in prison.

Under cross-examination by William Clegg QC, for the defence, Jennings admitted he did not tell the police this information during the murder inquiry. He said that he had "a terrible feeling" that Mr Stone had committed the murders but he wanted to be sure.

Jennings also admitted his family had been paid pounds 5,000 by The Sun for photographs of Mr Stone and that he finally gave a statement to police after the newspaper promised him up to pounds 10,000 more for his story.

The trial continues.