Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Justice served as Liverpool fan Michael Shields is released

Michael Shields has been released from prison following a pardon from Justice Secretary Jack Straw. The Reds fan was sentenced to 15 years by Bulgarian authorities following an attack on a barman after Liverpool FC's European Cup victory in Turkey in 2005. He was later transferred to a prison in the UK.

Shields has always maintained his innocence and his incarceration had always been viewed as a gross miscarriage of justice.

Another Liverpool resident, Graham Sankey admitted to committing the crime and signed a written confession, which he later withdrew.

In his statement, the Justice Secretary said:

"I was told in the course of the visit that the man made an oral confession in front of several other people. This episode, I was told, happened on 22 July 2005, a day after the start of Mr Shields' trial in Bulgaria," reports the Telegraph.

"I will not set out in this statement all the evidence that has come to light over the last two weeks but suffice it to say that there is very good reason to believe I was being told the truth.

"This in my view profoundly changed the credibility of the various accounts of what actually happened in this case. I have concluded, having looked carefully at all the evidence now available, that Michael Shields is telling the truth when he says he is innocent of the attempted murder of which he was convicted in Bulgaria.

"That being so I have recommended to Her Majesty the Queen that he should be granted a free pardon. Mr Shields is being released from prison today and will return home to his family a free man."

In December 2008 two high court judges ruled that it was within the justice secretary's power to pardon Michael Shields – but Straw refused to do so in July.

Following his release, Shields who was wearing a black t-shirt with a small red LFC liverbird embroidered on it, said:

"I would like to say a massive thank-you to all the people out there, including Liverpool and Everton fans, in support of me and my family over the last four years by writing letters, protesting and marching," reports the official site.

The Reds fan added: "Your voices were heard. Thanks to you, I knew I'd never walk alone.

"My family have stood by me every step of the way. I would not have made it without them.

"I also want to extend my sympathy to the victim of the unprovoked attack in Bulgaria."

Shields' solicitor John Wheate said the Liverpool fan was "absolutely ecstatic" when he was given the news. His parents had been told of the decision in a telephone call with Mr Straw on Wednesday morning.

Mr Wheate said: "I can confirm he has been pardoned and will be released today. His parents spoke to Jack Straw earlier this morning and I have spoken to Michael myself.

"At first he couldn't believe it after all these years and knock backs. But now he is absolutely ecstatic and so are his family."

A statement read by the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, on Michael's behalf read:

"The last four years have been a living hell. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. It's a hard thing to be locked away for a crime you did not commit.

"I was just 18 when I was arrested. I'm now 22 and face having to rebuild a life shattered by the failure of two legal systems: one here in the UK and one in Bulgaria.

"Today is a happy day for me but one of mixed emotion too. I am a free man, yes, but it should not have come to this.

"I face a hard battle to adjust to normality, to find a job, resume friendships and to build an ordinary life.

"I would like to extend my sympathy to the family of Martin Georgiev, who was the innocent victim of an unprovoked attack. He and his family, like me and mine, have been denied justice for four long years."

Liverpool football club expressed delight at the decision saying:

"It's great news that Michael has been granted a pardon by the Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

"We know how difficult the last four years have been for Michael and his family and everyone at the club, the staff, the players and the fans have tried to support them during this time.

"We hope now that Michael and his family will be able to move on with their lives and look to the future."

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