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 Miscarriage of justice that is all too easy to identify

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PostSubject: Miscarriage of justice that is all too easy to identify   Tue Sep 30, 2008 12:17 pm

Brian Reade 25/09/2008

Britain loves nothing better than proving its legal system is the best in the world, especially when a foreign national is involved.

It's why a £2million inquest has just opened into the death of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes who was killed by London police in July 2005.

Which is fine by me.

But why can't we devote the same resources to finding justice for our own? Four days after de Menezes was killed, Michael Shields was the victim of an equally tragic case of mistaken identity, and was sentenced to 15 years jail for attacking a Bulgarian waiter.

Despite legal experts, MPs, clergymen, journalists and ex-detectives saying the conviction is appallingly flawed, new witnesses coming forward to swear he was in bed at the time and Bulgaria repatriating him and saying we're free to pardon him, Shields remains behind bars.

These are the facts. A few nights after Liverpool's Champions League win in Istanbul a waiter was attacked in Varna and police went to a nearby hotel to arrest the culprit. He wasn't there, so they tried the adjacent room where 18-year-old Shields was sleeping.

They made him put on a white T-shirt (same colour as the attacker's) and drove him to the crime scene where witnesses viewed him.

At the police station he was handcuffed to a radiator for 16 hours, while witnesses walked past to an ID parade.

A parade made up of Shields and three swarthy Bulgarians.

There was no DNA or forensic proof, four witnesses swore he was asleep, the hotel concierge said he saw Shields go to his room, and another man, Graham Sankey, signed a confession (which his solicitors made him retract).

ITV's Tonight show employed a retired senior UK detective to reexamine the case who said he was "appalled" at the conviction. Fair Trials Abroad called it a blatant miscarriage of justice.

Shields has sailed through a liedetector test, Bulgaria has told the Foreign Office his release is a matter for the British and its president has hinted he would be happy if he was pardoned. Because his trial was an embarrassment to a legal system which was already labelled one of the worst on earth.

Yet 40 months after Shields was dragged from his bed and locked up for simply being, like de Menezes in the wrong place at the wrong time, British justice hesitates.

Justice Minister Jack Straw (despite telling the family there is powerful evidence to support Michael's innocence) says he can't do anything until Bulgaria puts it in writing that he is innocent.

He worries what the rest of the world will think if our justice system doesn't play by the book.

Which is why, as the de Menezes family get yet another inquiry, the Shields have to seek a Judicial Review to grant a pardon on the grounds that both countries "have the power to pardon a repatriated prisoner under their laws".

Would Shields still be in jail in France or Italy? Or would they have released him and awaited any consequences? The latter, of course.

But this is Britain, where it's more important to show the world that we do everything by the book.

Especially for others.

By all means let's give the de Menezes family justice.

But isn't it equally important to ensure we get justice for a British citizen like Shields who has been criminally abused by foreign courts?
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