The miscarriage of justice watchdog has rejected an application by Michael Stone convicted of the murder of Lin and Megan Russell, despite another man confessing to the killings. In April Levi Bellfield’s solicitor said her client was ‘adamant’ he was responsible for bludgeoning mother and daughter to death leaving another daughter, Josie, to survive with serious head injuries. Michael Stone was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001 at Nottingham Crown Court for the murders.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission explained that their job was ‘not to retry a case, but to consider whether there is new evidence or argument which may lead to a real possibility that the Court of Appeal would quash the conviction’. ‘We have identified no new evidence or information that raises a real possibility that Mr Stone’s conviction would not be upheld upon a reference to the Court of Appeal,’ a spokesperson added.
Stone’s barrister Mark McDonald described the CCRC’s decision ‘utterly astonishing’. ‘What more can a person do to prove their innocence than another man confessing to the crime,’ he said. ‘There is no identification evidence against Stone, no forensic evidence. His conviction rests on the testimony of one man, Damien Daley, a proven liar.’
The application to the watchdog was made in 2017 following the broadcast of a BBC documentary (The Chillenden Murders) in which experts raised serious concerns about the safety of the conviction flagging up the lack of any forensic evidence against Michael Stone. The program also raised serious questions about a cell confession to fellow prisoner, Damien Dailey. The ‘confession’ was apparently made after Stone successfully applied to the governor to be put into segregation over his concerns that prisoners were repeatedly invented confessions. Dailey claimed that Stone made his confession whilst in segregation by speaking to him via heating pipes at the back of the cell.
Mark McDonald pointed out that the prosecution dropped two serious offences against Dailey before he gave his evidence against Stone. ‘He later went on to be convicted of murder and is now serving life,’ he added.
The barrister argued that high profile case has been a test for the CCRC which it had failed. ‘It’s harder now to be referred back to the Court of Appeal than it was before the commission was set up and it was down to ministers to refer a case back,’ he said. He pointed out that the CCRC can only refer case back to the Court of Appeal if there was a real possibility that the conviction would be overturned. ‘The test is wrong,’ he said. ‘It needs to be changed. It is too high a hurdle to overcome.’
‘If it’s a black and white situation where, for example, someone is convicted of rape and you find someone else’s DNA, that’s fine. But many cases are in a grey area. The CCRC don’t like that and the reason why is they are scared of the Court of Appeal.’