Published: 06:00, 27 September 2021
| Updated: 15:56, 27 September 2021
Despite two trials and a failed appeal, the sister of convicted killer Michael Stone continues to protest his innocence 24 years after he was arrested for the Chillenden murders.
Now, as new evidence is looked at and her brother's parole date nears, she spoke with senior reporter Nicola Jordan about her crusade and how her life was also changed forever by the horrific crime.
Barbara Stone was finishing a cup of coffee before setting off to her course at MidKent College when she got the call that turned her world upside down.
Her older brother Mick has been charged with one of the most heinous murders in the history of modern British criminal history – the savage hammer attack of a mum and her daughter as they walked home from school.
Dr Lin Russell, her daughter Megan, six, and the family's pet dog Lucy were brutally attacked.
Dr Russell's other daughter, nine-year-old Josie, was left for dead – suffering horrendous injuries and brain damage.
Mum-of-two Barbara – then a 35-year-old mature student – could not believe what she hearing.
She said: "I nearly fainted. I felt numb, dead."
One of five children, Stone had a fractured childhood. His parents separated and he was placed in a home where he was abused.
His criminal career started at the age of 12 when he was caught shoplifting. This progressed to violent crime into adulthood.
After coming out of the care system, he started using heroin and served several prison sentences.
He would steal from garden sheds, mug people and take anything he could sell for his next fix. But despite his troubled past, Mick and Barbara remained close.
She said: "We were alike, apart from the criminal element. We had the same thought processes and sense of humour.
"He was a bit bossy and a bit of over-protective."
Barbara was aware of his darker side but said: "I was too much into my sport."
Growing up in Maidstone town centre, she attended the former Vinters Park School, now Valley Park School, played netball and korfball.
From day one, Barbara was adamant her brother was a victim of injustice and has fought tirelessly to prove his innocence.
She said: "It soon became clear the police were clutching at straws. There was not a scrap of evidence."
An overwhelming factor for her was that Mick adored children and it was unthinkable he would ever harm a child, let alone brutally attack one.
Despite Stone being handed three life sentences in 1998, convicted again at a second trial in 2001 and losing an appeal in 2005, Barbara has continued campaigning.
Not only did she support him as the case went through the courts, she often turned detective researching and following up leads.
Stone has not been out of the headlines much over the past 25 years as any possible grain of new evidence is scrutinised.
Registered mental health nurse Barbara said: "I wake up every morning and think of him in his cell. I feel a bit of me is missing."
Chillenden is worlds apart from her brother's seedy drugs scene in Medway, but what happened there has totally impacted on Barbara's life.
The 59-year-old added: "In 24 years, my children have grown up and it has affected my parenting and I have had to deal with the emotional trauma of losing both my parents."
Their four-times married mother Jane died just before Christmas and father Peter died several years ago.
She said: "It has also impacted on my career choices. I can't work in prisons or have anything to do with forensics.
"People look at me and say 'that's the murderer's sister, she must be as mad as a hatter, a bit deluded'."
The 300-mile distance between her home in Chatham and HMP Frankland in County Durham where Stone is being held has meant she is unable to visit him as much as she would like. But they talk every day.
She said: "Mick rings me once or twice a day. He's alright, focused on his artwork and exercise, but at the moment he's very anxious about Levi Bellfield's revelations and him admitting his connections with Chillenden."
The Bellfield statement is considered a major breakthrough in potentially linking the murders with him and is being considered by Stone's legal team which still await the outcome of a criminal review of his case.
Barbara added: "Mick wants Bellfield's DNA tested, but that is proving difficult and Mick has always said he is prepared to do a lie detector."
After that harrowing call 24 years ago, Barbara has tried to carry on with being a daughter, mum and successful career woman.
"Even after being told, I went to college that day, followed by the press," she said.
But she pledged from that moment to fight for her brother's freedom.
"I don't want to die with Mick still in there. Twenty-four years later and I'm still fighting for him.
"If he does come out, I dream of making all those people who said such nasty things apologise on Facebook."
Stone, who is now 61, is due to be considered for parole next year, but is unlikely to be released without confessing to the crimes.
Notorious serial killer
Levi Bellfield is reported to have torn apart his own alibi for the brutal Chillenden murders, while trying to show how he wasn't involved.
The triple murderer, who is serving two whole-life terms also at HMP Frankland, has admitted being in the area on the day in 1996.
According to reports, in a 15-page statement passed to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the 53-year-old reveals he drove a car similar to the one seen near the scene and flew back from holiday to have it destroyed in the days after the crime.
The statement goes on to detail how he twice visited Cherry Garden Lane where Lin, six-year-old Megan and dog Lucy were beaten to death and how he was going out with a woman whose dad ran a pub in the village.
He writes: “I wish to set the record straight. It is my hope that by making this statement a line can be drawn under my suspicion of committing the 1996 Chillenden crimes.”
In 2008, he was convicted of murdering Amélie Delagrange, 22, and Marsha McDonnell, 19, and the attempted murder of 18-year-old Kate Sheedy.
Three years later he was found guilty of the 2002 murder of 13-year-old Milly Dowler.
He has suffered from mental health issues in prison and has previously said he had no links to Kent before 2002.
He addresses the coincidences in the statement and says he is speaking out as they would eventually resurface.
Former detective Colin Sutton, who headed up the team which caught Bellfield, said the statement was "surprising".
"But knowing Bellfield as I do, this could be him playing mind games.”
New evidence examined
Stone's solicitor Paul Bacon is encouraged by the new evidence.
He has always maintained there were striking similarities between the Russell murders and the method Bellfield used to kill two of his three victims with a hammer.
Mr Bacon made an application to the CCRC in 2017 on the basis of information received from one of Bellfield's fellow inmates and fresh evidence regarding a "missing" shoe lace which was used to link his client to the scene.
DNA tests did not match with Stone and his legal team want new forensic examination to determine whether it's Bellfield's.
The review, which has been delayed because of the pandemic, will determine whether an appeal is valid.
He said: "I think we may have the preliminary view some time in October. We will be given a set period to respond and perhaps the final review may come through in December or January.
"It will be then decided whether the case goes to a second appeal against conviction."
A revelation Kent Police had tracked down a previously-lost shoelace found at the scene, and possibly deemed as a murder weapon, is significant, said Mr Bacon.
He said: "We get no feedback from the CCRC. It came as a complete shock about the shoelace."
Mr Bacon has highlighted a police e-fit of the Russells' killer looked more like Bellfield than Stone and that Josie described him as being a little taller than her father Dr Shaun Russell, who is 6ft. Bellfield is 6ft 1in and Stone is 5ft 7ins.
Josie also said the murderer had spiky hair similar to the style Bellfield had at the time.
She also described seeing a beige car near the scene and Bellfield has admitted having similar Ford Sapphire which he destroyed.
Stone was driving a white vehicle at the time of his arrest.