Thursday, 2 July 2009

Michael Shields denied pardon by Justice Secretary Jack Straw

Michael Shields will not be freed from jail early after he was refused a Royal Pardon today reports the Echo. Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced the Liverpool fan will not be pardoned after studying the results of a Merseyside police inquiry into his case.

Michael was believed to be devastated when he was informed of the news in his cell at Thorn cross prison in Warrington. The news means that the 22-year -old will not be released until his sentence is completed in May 2010, unless further evidence is submitted which proves the Engineering student’s innocence.

He was arrested with several others by local police on 30 May 2005 after barman Martin Georgiev was hit on the head with a paving slab, suffering a fractured skull. Shields was staying in Bulgaria after watching Liverpool win the Champions League final in Istanbul. He was sentenced to 15 years for attempted murder. The student was later transferred to the UK in 2006 to complete his sentence, which was reduced on appeal to 10 years.

The justice minister insisted the evidence presented by campaigners a Merseyside police inquiry is not enough to prove Michael is “morally and technically innocent”, which, he adds, “is a very high test”.

City Labour leader Joe Anderson, who has led the campaign to free Michael, said:

“This is outrageous. How Jack Straw can even use the word justice in his cabinet title is scandalous. He is not fit to be called the justice minister. The decision is an insult to everyone who believes in justice and the rights of the individual. The Government are officially keeping an innocent man in orison. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

The statement says:
“Following a detailed and careful consideration of all the relevant evidence the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, has made a provisional decision that the application for a free pardon from Mr Michael Shields should be refused. The Ministry of Justice has written to Mr Shields today to convey this decision. The letter to Mr Shields provides a full explanation of the reasons for the Justice Secretary’s provisional decision. Mr Straw has made his decision in accordance with the High Court judgement of 17 December 2008 which indicated that, in order to grant a free pardon, he would have to be satisfied that Mr Shields was morally and technically innocent. The judgement stated: In principle… the grant of a free pardon would appear to require a conclusion that, taking the Bulgarian courts’ judgement for what it is and without calling in question its correctness on the material which those courts considered, fresh evidence which the Bulgarian courts did not consider, taken with the material which they did consider and their judgement upon it justifies a conclusion that Michael Shields is morally and technically innocent. This is a very high test and the Justice Secretary has provisionally concluded that on the evidence he currently has that test is not met. The Justice Secretary recognises, of course, that many will be disappointed by his decision. But in exercising this quasi-judicial function he has adopted the approach that the Court expected him to adopt. Mr Shields can now submit any further representations he may want to make, after which the Justice Secretary will make a final decision on the evidence before him.”

Shields' solicitor Jon Wheate speaking to the BBC said: "We believe the evidence is overwhelming and any right-minded person will look at it and see that. It is Michael Shields we should all be feeling for."

Mr Wheate said he was only made aware that the pardon had been refused in a call from his client.

Shields' father, also Michael said: "We are absolutely devastated. I have spoken to Michael and he is absolutely distraught. I don't know how much more we can take as a family. One minute we are expecting him to be pardoned and released then the next minute all our hopes are dashed. All I can say is that Michael, his family and all the campaigners are absolutely heartbroken."

Michael snr also spoke to the Telegraph saying"After four years of tireless campaigning, we had every hope and belief that Michael was about to be pardoned for a crime he did not commit. We have been led a merry dance by the government. We have been kept completely in the dark and still have no idea what is happening."

Mr Shields's mother, Marie, said the news was "like a knife in the back".

Family solicitor, John Wheate, vowed to fight on.

He said: "There is no way in the British judicial system this would have even got into court. If we've got a further 28 days to make representations then we will definitely do that. I have been in this line of work for 37 years and this lad is as innocent as you and me."

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