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Wednesday, 26 January, 2000, 22:25 GMT
Nazi war trial 'justified'

belarus The trial jury visited war crimes sites in Belarus

The trial of the UK's first convicted Nazi war criminal was justified despite the passage of 57 years, government lawyers have argued.

Crown barristers insisted that Anthony Sawoniuk received a fair trial before being given two life sentences in April for murdering Jews.

Sawoniuk, 78, is appealing in the High Court against his convictions, arguing that his Old Bailey trial was an "abuse of the process of the court".

sawoniuk Sawoniuk is appealing against two murder convictions

His lawyers had said that a fair hearing on the charges - of murdering two Jewish women in Belarus during World War II - was impossible after so much time.

Sawoniuk's counsel, William Clegg QC, argued that the trial judge, Mr Justice Potts, erred in law.

But on the second day of the appeal hearing, Sir John Nutting QC, on behalf of the Crown, denied there had been any error.

Sir John said the judge had approached both murder counts "in accordance with the correct legal principles".

He said: "It is the trial process itself which is designed to regulate and evaluate the weight of the evidence, its strengths and weaknesses."

Decision delay

On the issue of the lapse of time, he said: "It is clear that the trial judge was well aware and kept in the forefront of his directions to the jury the potential problems caused by the passage of time."

Sawoniuk, who used to work for British Rail and lived in south east London, served in the local police in German-occupied Belarus during World War II.

He was convicted of killing a woman who was among at least 15 people mowed down with a submachine gun in Domachevo, Belarus.

The jury also found him guilty of shooting an unidentified woman - one of three Jews who were shot in the backs of their heads and pushed into an open grave in December 1942.

Sawoniuk had denied murdering Jews.

The hearing continues on Thursday and the judges are expected to reserve their decision.

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See also:
25 Jan 00 |  UK
Sawoniuk appeals against war crimes conviction
24 Jun 99 |  UK
Sawoniuk jail term dispute
24 Jun 99 |  UK
Sawoniuk sentencing explained
01 Apr 99 |  UK
Life for war criminal
05 Apr 99 |  UK
Sawoniuk - a hidden life exposed
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