An interview with retired armchair detective John Aidiniantz who runs a website dedicated to Britain's longest serving miscarriage of justice prisoner, Michael Stone.
Next month, Michael Stone will have been behind bars for fourteen years. In October 1998, he was convicted of murdering Dr Lin Russell and her 6 year old daughter Megan in one of the most controversial murder cases of the 1990s on what is arguably the most tenuous evidence ever used to convict any man of murder in a British courtroom, a confession he is alleged to have shouted through a prison wall to a drug addict and habitual criminal. To add insult to injury, Stone is supposed to have made this confession while in voluntary isolation from other prisoners because they were making up confessions about the case left, right and centre – a claim that has been verified by this correspondent, who was given access to Stone’s legal papers.
The surviving victim, Josie Russell, was left for dead, and indeed was believed to be dead when she was found. She remembered very little about the attack, and although sufffering serious brain damage, made a miraculous recovery, relocating to Wales with her father, and completing her education with a BA in Graphic Design. She is now both a successful commercial artist and an ambassador for the Born Free Foundation.
Michael Stone has been tried and convicted twice for the crime that became known as the Chillenden Murders. His first conviction was quashed when immediately after the trial one of the key prosecution witnesses – another prisoner who'd said Stone had confessed to him – went to the media and claimed he’d told a pack of lies under oath.
Although the crime was committed in Kent and the proceedings were moved to Nottingham, the deluge of post-trial publicity from Stone’s 1998 conviction made it difficult for him to receive a fair trial. At both trials he was convicted by majority verdicts. Last year, the Criminal Cases Review Commission declined to refer his conviction back to the Court of Appeal for a third time.
Since February 2009, there have been two websites devoted solely to his case. The second is run by John Aidiniantz and began as a page on his Court of Appeal site.
In an exclusive interview he spoke to Digital Journal about this bizarre case.
AB: You have an interest in the law; have you ever worked as a lawyer?
JA: I used to have an academic interest in both the criminal and civil law, but never trained as a lawyer.
AB: Up until recently you worked at the Sherlock Holmes Museum. What do you think Conan Doyle would have made of Michael Stone’s conviction?
JA: As a former assistant in charge of exhibits, I was able to learn of Conan Doyle's attempts to highlight perceived miscarriages of justice which occurred in his time. I think the trial and conviction of Michael Stone would have caused the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories to choke on his pipe.
AB: Have you ever met Michael Stone?
JA: No - and I have no wish to meet him. He seems a thoroughly dislikeable character, although one should not believe everything one reads in the newspapers.
AB: Why did you decide to set up your Michael Stone website?
JA: The Michael Stone page is just one of several cases I covered and analysed on the Justice site I set up some years ago. I suppose what attracted me to the case was the utter absurdity of his conviction and the desire to see justice done for the sake of the victims - Lin, Josie and Megan Russell.
AB: Recently you met Stone’s lawyer Paul Bacon, in London. What was the result of that meeting?
JA: I think Mr Stone's solicitor had found the information on the site helpful and he wanted to explore the evidence - or rather lack of evidence - relating to the forensic aspects of the case and how best to proceed to ensure that the main items found at the crime scene were examined properly by an independent forensics expert. This is something that has so far not been done satisfactorily in the light of advances in DNA investigations, while many items have not even been examined.
AB: There have been cuts in Legal Aid over the past few years; how does that affect Michael Stone?
JA: I think Mr Stone's solicitor Paul Bacon deserves a medal at the very least because Legal Aid for the defendant dried up many years ago and his legal team is working pro bono.
AB: Stone is a most unappealing character; he has serious convictions for violence, and is the sort of man many people think would be capable of committing the Chillenden Murders. Why do you believe he is innocent?
JA: It is not so much a question of believing him to be innocent, but rather the question of believing whether any man - even the proverbial man sitting on the Clapham Omnibus - can safely be tried and convicted of murder solely on the strength of a prison confession which merely repeats facts that are in the public domain.
Michael Stone is alleged to have confessed to the crime on 23rd September 1997, on the very day when all the details of the confession were published in the morning newspapers! This vital evidence was withheld from the juries in both his trials. Even if he had presented his confession on a plate to the police, it would only have proved that he had read the morning newspapers like everyone else and would not have proved he was the murderer. If he had stood on the rooftops overlooking the Old Bailey on 23rd September 1997 and shouted out his 'confession' for the whole world to hear, it might have supported a charge of wasting police time, but certainly not of murder.
This is because there is no value in merely quoting the same details of a crime which have already been published in the national press.
As to whether he is innocent, the fact that his so-called confession included all six details of the crime which had ever been published - and no others - must surely raise a doubt about it even on the basis of statistics, because we all know how hard it is to win the lottery.
Like most prisoners, Michael Stone and Damien Daley would have had access to the newspapers published on 23rd September 1997. It would not have been difficult for either of them to have concocted a confession, yet the whole criminal justice system from police to prosecutors lined up behind the words of one self-confessed liar and drug addict to prove that the person in the next cell was guilty. They could have saved themselves a lot of time and public money by simply reading the newspapers for themselves without asking Michael Stone to step into the dock.
AB: I gather there is another, far better suspect whom you cannot name for legal reasons. What steps have been taken or are being taken to bring him to the attention of the authorities?
JA: I don't know if the authorities are willing to consider any other suspect - they certainly weren't during the time of Stone's two trials, when such was the desire to convict him that the vital newspaper evidence was simply covered up with a vague admission that the details of the crime had at some time appeared in the public domain.
If the prosecution had revealed to the jury that the details found in the confession had actually been published in the newspapers on 23rd September 1997 – the day of the supposed confession - there would have been no trial, because any jury would have been able to consider that the confession was merely a rehash of those articles.
The police issued an e-fit of the Chillenden Murderer shortly after the crime and said “Make no mistake, this could be the murderer”. Well, anyone is free to view the e-fit on the Michael Stone page and draw his or her own conclusions as to whom it might represent in the light of recent court cases.
AB: Can you tell us a bit about the identification evidence?
JA: Josie Russell was in direct physical contact with the murderer and described him as “blonde, clean-shaven, about 25 years old and tall, like my father”. She used her thumb and finger to pull her hair up from her head when describing the killer's hair as “kind of spikey”.
As a nine year old girl in close physical contact with the murderer (he ran after her and dragged her back when she tried to escape) she would have known whether the attacker was as tall as her father (6’), or shorter. Michael Stone is much shorter than her father at 5' 7" tall and also older than the attacker she described, so it is hardly surprising that she did not pick him out at an ID parade - she was looking for a much bigger man, “like my father”.
[A point to note here; one person who may be alluded to as an air-head conspiracy theorist (like some of those debating the recent Bilderberg Group article) has suggested that Dr Shaun Russell was responsible for this crime. The basis for this claim appears to be the above statement “like my father”. It goes without saying that Dr Russell – and everyone else known to the victims – would have been screened very carefully by Kent Police at the time, and eliminated from the inquiry. Shaun Russell had a rock solid alibi, and is also distressed that some people won’t let go of this case. While Mr Aidiniantz and all Michael Stone’s supporters have no wish to cause either him or his surviving daughter Josie distress, they regret that this is something of which they cannot let go until Michael Stone’s conviction for the Chillenden Murders has been quashed, and hopefully the real perpetrator has been brought to book. Returning to Mr Aidiniantz...]
JA: Evidence from other witnesses in the vicinity indicates that the main suspect was “balding with fair hair” or had “short gingery-blond hair with a fringe” but most significantly he had “a red face with round chubby cheeks”. One witness at the ID parade thought that Stone “looked familiar” but when cross-examined in court she admitted it was because he resembled her uncle.
AB: Then there is the forensic evidence. Some of this has been “lost” I gather.
JA: The forensic evidence in this case ought to have been the key to solving the crime, but we are dealing with a careful attacker who tried his best to avoid leaving DNA evidence. The main exhibit which might have been useful to Michael Stone in his recent appeal was the 99cm bootlace that was dropped near the scene of the crime by the murderer. That lace however has since been mislaid either by Kent Police or the Forensic Science Service, so it could not be re-examined using more modern DNA testing procedures. Many other items which were painstakingly recovered by the police at the scene of the crime have not been “lost” - they've simply not yet been examined, so perhaps the time has come to bring them out of the cupboard.
At the present time it is not a question of ruling out Michael Stone because no DNA found at the scene of the crime has been attributed to him. It has become a question of ruling in somebody else.
AB: What about the telephone evidence?
JA: The problem for Michael Stone - if one can call it a problem because most people cannot remember the events of last week never mind the previous year - is that he was not able to call any alibi in his defence. He simply couldn't remember where he was on 9th July 1996 - like most of us. So other evidence such as telephone calls he might have made at the time to prove that he was somewhere else other than Chillenden might have been of some assistance to him, but telephone records are difficult to retrieve at the best of times never mind after gaps of some years.
Interestingly, the journalist Jo-Anne Goodwin writing in the Daily Mail said that she had received a call on her mobile phone following Stone's conviction from a man with a “South coast accent” who purported to be Damien Daley. He claimed he was forced to lie in return for favours. Jo-Anne Goodwin stated that she could not be sure if the caller was indeed Damien Daley, but if any telephone records should be checked then it should be her mobile phone record for that call.
[Something that should be added here is Stone believes he may now have an alibi for the time of the murders. In July 1996, junkie Stone was regularly dealing in small quantities of drugs, for which he used both his mobile phone and a number of telephones boxes in the Maidstone area. What is not widely known is that the time, duration and destination of calls from the majority of telephone boxes (operated by British Telecom) is recorded and held on computer. This was definitely the case with boxes in the London area in 1998, and almost certainly two years earlier. When this information was relayed to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, they investigated and were informed that for the boxes in question, there was no information available before 2001. That is if either the police or British Telecom are to be believed].
JA: The irony of course with Stone's conviction is that even if Daley were to retract his evidence and claim he told a pack of lies (like other prisoners before him) nobody would be any the wiser as to whether Stone was really the murderer, and it is likely his conviction would still be considered “safe” according to the standards of the Court of Appeal. It would definitely confuse the judicial minds of our learned friends to have two confessions relating to the same conviction.
AB: Some people have been convicted of and then cleared of murder even though the evidence against them appears far more compelling than the evidence against Michael Stone, and I am thinking in particular of Siôn Jenkins. How do you think the two cases compare?
DJ: I believe Michael Stone's case must be unique and beyond comparison with any other. In the case of Siôn Jenkins he at least was fortunate to know the details of the case against him and could therefore mount a spirited defence within the context of a fair trial on the issues, whereas in Stone's case he literally had no defence as the relevant newspapers were never revealed to the jury and hence he did not have a fair trial. Therein lies the difference.
AB: Are you au fait with the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal? Why do you think his case has received so much attention while Stone’s has not?
JA: I think Stone's conviction hasn't received any attention because people - especially the prosecuting authorities - have always from day one wanted to believe he was guilty. The alternative view doesn't bear thinking about and indeed, we would all prefer not to think about it, let alone give it some public airing as in the case you quote. In that case there was no harm in re-considering all the facts behind the conviction, but to do so in the case of Michael Stone would mean facing the prospect that the real perpetrator was never caught and has probably continued to commit other similar hammer attacks on young women over the years. Who wants to stir up that can of worms?
AB: What have you done and what are you planning to do with regard to Stone in the near future?
JA: As a retired 'armchair detective' I have not updated his web page or any other cases for some time and do not know what the future holds - perhaps he will languish in prison like others who have not had the benefit of a fair trial. We must remember however that he is not the only victim of this miscarriage of justice, and indeed there may be many more victims other than the Russell family.
The paradox of the Chillenden Murder trials is that Michael Stone and even Damien Daley have never been relevant to the solution of the case, so asking the jury in two trials to decide 'which drug addict was telling the truth' was simply a red herring. They are not in fact the real villains of the piece.
It is the prosecuting authorities who need to ask themselves questions about the merit of obtaining convictions when vital evidence is knowingly withheld from a jury, as the resulting miscarriages of justice can have wide repercussions on society.
AB: You are also designing scrolls. Have you considered doing a double act with Josie Russell?
JA: No - but as a father myself I wish her every success in life.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com