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Monday, February 8, 1999 Published at 13:02 GMT


Prosecution prepares war crimes trial

Murder trial: Anthony Sawoniuk pleads not guilty

Prosecutors are preparing to open the first war crimes trial in the UK of a 77-year-old man charged with murdering four Jews in 1942.

John Nutting QC will tell the historic hearing at the Old Bailey that Anthony Sawoniuk of east London killed the two men and two women in the Domachevo region of present day Belarus during the Nazi occupation of the formerly Polish area in World War II. Mr Sawoniuk denies the charges.

The BBC's Jon Silverman: "Only the second person to be charged under the War Crimes Act"
British legal history was made on Monday when the jury was sworn in. A previous attempt to bring a suspect to trial under the War Crimes Act of 1991 collapsed before prosecutors could bring it to court.

Prosecutors say that the former British Rail worker committed the murders while serving as a policeman under the Nazi forces.

In another unprecedented move, the jury will be taken to Domachevo, the town where the crimes allegedly occurred, to view "relevant scenes". No English jury has even been to Scotland to visit an alleged crime scene before.

The prosecution will also use video footage and testimony from at least two elderly villagers still living in Domachevo.

Legal Affairs Correspondent Jon Silverman: Mr Sawoniuk denies crimes
One of the 39 potential jurors reportedly dropped out on Monday after receiving a questionnaire from the judge, Mr Justice Potts, that said: "If either you or your family suffered as a result of German actions against Jewish or other races or religions, then it would be better if you did not serve on this jury."

The only other man to be prosecuted under the British War Crimes Act, Szymon Serafinowicz, 86, died in August 1997, six months after a court ruled that he was unfit to stand trial.

He had been charged with murdering three Jews while working as a senior policeman in Belarus between 1941 and 1942.

The UK passed the controversial 1991 War Crimes Act because of a lack of extradition provisions to cover war crimes.

It permits prosecution of suspects who were not British residents at the time for crimes not committed on British soil.

The bill provoked a tense battle between the Houses of Commons and Lords, ending in the Government turning to the last-resort Parliament Act of 1949 to force the legislation onto the Statute Book.

During the framing of the legislation, lawyers estimated that up to 300 suspected war criminals were resident in the UK.

But few cases have been pursued because there is so little surviving evidence on which to base convictions.

The trial is expected to last up to two months.

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