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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
Josie's long journey
Josie and Shaun Russell
Josie Russell, pictured at home with her father, is now a teenager
Behind the tragedy of the Russell murders there is also a story of hope.

Josie Russell, the nine-year-old child who was bludgeoned and left for dead on 9 July, 1996 has made a startling recovery from terrible head injuries - though she will carry the legacy of the attack with her for the rest of her life.

When police first found Josie, her younger sister Megan and their mother, Dr Lin Russell, they presumed all three were dead.

They had been subjected to a horrific attack while walking down a country lane near Chillenden in Kent.

No signs of life

When police discovered the bodies there appeared to be no signs of life. Devastated husband and father Shaun Russell was taken to a police station and told that his wife and both his children had been murdered.

Josie and Megan
Josie with her sister Megan before the attack
It was not until a policeman at the scene of the crime noticed Josie move that the battle began to save her life.

PC Richard Leivers reached down and was surprised to feel that Josie was still warm.

He alerted police surgeon Dr Michael Parkes, who realised she was conscious, responding to voice and touch, but unable to speak.

Her cardigan and school dress were heavily bloodstained and she was not wearing any shoes or socks.

Dr Parkes noticed a large puncture mark behind her left ear and several lacerations to her skull.

Back from the dead

She was taken to King's College Hospital in South London. There she was seen by Professor Charles Polkey, a renowned neuro-surgeon.

Josie's injuries had been inflicted by five hammer blows to her head.

Prof Polkey discovered that she had fractures to both sides of her skull - but most seriously an injury above her left ear which had damaged a portion of the brain equivalent to the size of a tennis ball.

Josie Russell
Josie and her father now live in north Wales
The most badly affected area was the part of the brain governing speech.

It was at King's College Hospital, under police guard because the murderer was still at a large and considered a threat, that Josie began her long and miraculous recovery.

In a two-hour operation surgeons used skin from Josie's thigh to cover the exposed brain. She spent the next few days under heavy sedation in intensive care but within a week was out of bed. Six weeks later she made it clear using sign language that she wanted to go home.

Remembering the attack

Josie soon went back to school, and gradually, with the help of a special therapist and other teachers she partially regained the power of speech.

Just a few months after the attack she began to help police with details of the murder.

Eventually she recovered enough to make a series of videotaped interviews.

Josie used specially constructed models of her mother, six-year-old sister and herself to explain how they were attacked.

She even returned to the scene of the murder with her father in the hope it would jog her memory.

Josie was spared the ordeal of having to testify at either of the trials and the taped interviews were used in court on both occasions.

In April 1998 Josie Russell was awarded minimum damages of 18,500 by the independent Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

The amount was condemned as derisory. Mr Russell was urged by the Home Secretary Jack Straw to appeal against the decision and a national tabloid newspaper also took up the campaign.

A few months later the award was increased by 60,500 to 79,000.

The future

Despite her amazing recovery, life will always be more of a struggle for Josie, who now lives with her father in north Wales.

The attack has left her permanently brain damaged with difficulty both speaking and understanding speech.

Doctors are unsure whether she will be permanently intellectually impaired but her reading age is several years behind her biological age.

The nine-inch hole made by the hammer blows cannot heal naturally, consequently the slightest blow to her head could be dangerous.

Two years ago Josie had an operation to insert a titanium plate in her head to help protect her brain.

Last year Josie went to South Africa - where she was born - on holiday with her father.

Animal lover

She went pony trekking, met dolphins at a game reserve and handled a snake.

At the time she said her ambition was to be an RSPCA inspector because she does not like to see animals killed.

The family's pet dog, Lucy, was killed along with her sister and mother on 9 July 1996.

Her father Shaun watches her constantly, not only to reassure himself she is safe but also to prevent further injury.

But she is now 13 and will soon want to go out more, go to school discos, maybe even have a boyfriend.

Dr Russell will probably remain over-protective, how could he not be when she is all that is left of the family he loved.



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