Stone wins appeal as case collapses

Michael Stone, the man found guilty in 1998 of the murders of Lin Russell and her daughter Megan, and the attempted murder of her other daughter Josie, could walk free from London's court of appeal tomorrow after winning his appeal against conviction.

Michael Stone, the man found guilty in 1998 of the murders of Lin Russell and her daughter Megan, and the attempted murder of her other daughter Josie, could walk free from London's court of appeal tomorrow after winning his appeal against conviction.

After the crown case collapsed yesterday morning, three judges said they were minded to grant Stone's appeal and will meet again tomorrow to consider whether there should be a retrial or if Stone should be freed. They did not quash his conviction but are likely to do so tomorrow.

The crown admitted at the last minute that a crucial witnesses at Stone's original trial in 1998, Barry Thompson, had lied and could no longer be relied upon as a "a witness of truth".

It accepted that the crown would not have called Thompson as a witness if it had known he was lying.

Puzzled but looking pleased with the court's decision, Stone smiled at his family before being taken down from the dock. His sister Barbara, who campaigned against the original verdict, calling it a miscarriage of justice, thrust her arms in the air.

Outside the court she said: "I have always known Mick's innocent. He has always maintained his innocence. I have hoped the courts would recognise that and now he has the opportunity to prove it."

Stone's solicitor, Derek Hayward, said: "I am pleased so far, very pleased."

Thompson was one of three witnesses who claimed to have heard Stone confess in some way to the killings while he was in prison on remand. The day after Stone's convictions he told a newspaper reporter that he had lied in the witness box.

His evidence had provided crucial support for Damien Daley, a key witness in the trial who also claimed Stone confessed to him. During the trial, William Clegg QC, representing Stone, claimed that his client had been "fitted up by a bunch of criminals".

Stone was given three life sentences for the murders of Lin Russell and Megan, six, and the attempted murder of Josie, then nine, near their home at Chillenden, Kent, in 1996. They were tied up and beaten with a hammer in a ferocious 15-minute attack.

As Stone heard the original guilty verdicts he said: "I didn't do it your honour."

Yesterday, Mr Clegg told the judges: "There was no forensic evidence whatsoever linking him to the crime. Throughout extensive interviews with police he had consistently denied the offence. There was no identification evidence linking him to the scene. At best the evidence disclosed a knowledge of the area obtained while he stayed in a children's home not very far away in east Kent, a broad consistency with someone seen driving nearby and a failure to provide an alibi."

He told the court that Thompson had provided crucial support for Daley but that Thompson's account was now "wholly unreliable".

He said that during the trial all had "accepted the frailties of the crown case" and added: "The first ground of appeal is and always has been that Thompson has become completely discredited as a witness as he has now conceded and therefore the jury must have been quite inadvertently misled at trial into relying upon his evidence to provide support for that given by Daley."

Mr Clegg did not give the other grounds for appeal because Lord Justice Kennedy, Mr Justice Maurice Kay and Mrs Justice Heather Hallet decided to cut short proceedings because they concluded that the appeal "must succeed" on the first ground alone.

Nigel Sweeney QC, for the crown, had submitted a three-point admission on Thompson and his evidence, which said the the crown could not "argue against the proposition that the jury's decision as regards Daley's evidence may have been influenced by their assessment of Thompson's".

Last night, a lawyer for Shaun Russell and his daugh ter Josie - who have rebuilt their lives in north Wales - said the family felt it "would be highly inappropriate to make any comment".

The court will reconvene tomorrow morning when Mr Clegg will argue that Stone should be freed and not made to face a retrial. He will claim that because of the enormous media interest in the case, his client will never receive a fair trial. The crown will demand a retrial.


Audrey Gillan

The GuardianTramp

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