Published: 08:16, 10 May 2021
| Updated: 16:20, 10 May 2021
A metre-long bootlace which was found next to the bodies of Lin and Megan Russell has been rediscovered after 14 years.
The key clue was used by the murderer to tie up one of Lin's daughters during the brutal 1996 hammer attack in Chillenden.
It was dropped at the scene and through the years sections were cut off for then-rudimentary DNA testing.
But when the defence team of Michael Stone – who was convicted of killing Lin, 45, Megan, six, and attempting to murder nine-year-old Josie in 1998 – requested the lace in 2007 they were told, three years later, first that it could not be found and then that it had been "tested to destruction", reports The Sun.
Now it has been unearthed at a Kent police station.
Stone, who is serving a minimum term of 25 years, continues to protest his innocence and new DNA testing techniques carried out on the lace could prove the identity of the killer beyond doubt.
There have been questions surrounding the case for several years.
First two prisoners – one of whom has since retracted his statement – claimed ex-heroin addict Stone, from Gillingham, confessed, and then serial killer Levi Bellfield claimed he had carried out the crime, which also saw pet Terrier Lucy killed.
He was deemed to be attention seeking but the lack of forensic evidence linking Stone, now 60, to the murders continues to overshadow the case.
His barrister Mark McDonald told The Sun: “For ten years, police have been denying they had the lace, and now at long last they’ve found it.
“Michael Stone is hopeful the DNA tests will lead to the real perpetrator being found.”
Stone's 25-year minimum tariff is up next year but he won't be released while he continues to deny the crime.
He was convicted again following a retrial in 2001 and a further appeal in 2005 was rejected.
His conviction was investigated by the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 2010 but it was only sent sections of the lace with the majority missing.
In 2017 Kent Police insisted it was not missing but rather had been tested to destruction but in October 2020 the lace was found.
The CCRC also asked for a lunchbox – belonging to one of the daughters and with a bloody finger print on it – during the 2010 probe. But it could no be found and only photos were provided.
But the review found no evidence of failures.
The CCRC is now carrying out testing on the lace and is also looking into Stone's alleged confession to the remaining prisoner who did not retract his statement, Damien Daley.
The Ruseells were attacked on a country lane near Chillenden as they walked home from a swimming gala on July 9.
In the past two weeks the case has been referred to as the scene was just three miles from where PCSO Julia James was killed in similar circumstances.
When asked about any link at a press conference assistant chief constable Tom Richards said: "That famous case is quite close to here but for clarity that is a case with an individual convicted and serving a prison sentence.
"That conviction has been tested by the Court of Appeal, but as I've said we're keeping our assessment of the motive open at this stage. We're not going to be blinkered in any way."
Kent Police's Det Chief Supt Paul Fotheringham told The Sun: “We are aware that the Criminal Cases Review Commission is considering an application from Michael Stone appealing his conviction.
“We are engaged with the CCRC and have been providing all the relevant information and evidence."
He would not comment further due to the nature of the inquiry.
The CCRC said it was inappropriate to comment.