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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 July 2005, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
Liverpool fan jailed in Bulgaria
Michael Shields
Michael Shields' family claim he is a scapegoat
A Liverpool football fan has been jailed for 15 years for the attempted murder of a Bulgarian barman, despite another man admitting responsibility.

Michael Shields, 18, from Wavertree, was accused of attacking the barman by throwing a brick at his head.

Martin Georgiev, 25, suffered a fractured skull and may have brain damage, the Bulgarian court was told.

On Saturday Graham Sankey, 20, an electrician from Anfield, Liverpool, said he carried out the attack.

Graham believed the case against Michael would either be thrown out or adjourned
David Kirwan, solicitor for Graham Sankey

He made his statement in the UK through his solicitor David Kirwan.

Sankey was said to be "in despair" that his confession did not prevent Shields' conviction.

Mr Kirwan said: "Graham believed the case against Michael would either be thrown or adjourned after he came forward to make his confession.

"But, to his total despair, the judge decided to continue trying Michael."

'Quiet as a mouse'

Shields had been holidaying in the Black Sea resort of Varna after watching his team beat AC Milan in the Champions League Final in Istanbul in May.

His uncle, Joey Graney, who was in court when the sentence was passed, said: "Michael was sobbing.

"He's an 18-year-old lad, quiet as a mouse, on his own, going back to a Bulgarian jail. What's he going to do?

"As far as the Bulgarians were concerned, a local lad had been attacked and they wanted their scapegoat.

Martin Georgiev
Martin Georgiev's skull was fractured in the attack

"They did not care that Graham Sankey has confessed to carrying out the attack. They just tossed that aside."

Shields father Michael said: "Shocking news. It's just disbelief.

"We thought with this statement going to Bulgaria admitting this crime, Michael would be on the first plane home today."

He added: "We are going to do everything in our power to clear Michael's name."

'Best hope'

Another Liverpool fan, 19-year-old Anthony Wilson, was cleared of hooliganism but convicted of possession of cannabis.

He was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment with the sentence suspended, allowing him to return home.

Stephen Jakobi, of pressure group Fair Trials Abroad, said Shields' best hope was for the British courts to prosecute Mr Sankey.

He said: "Graham Sankey made a confession and said he was prepared to stand trial only in Britain, not in Bulgaria.

"If he is convicted, perhaps that would persuade the Bulgarian courts that they have the wrong man.

"The evidence of Graham Sankey's confession as it stood had no weight whatsoever. In fairness, it would not have had much weight with a British judge either."

'Verdict travesty'

Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman, who has backed the Shields' family campaign, said it was a travesty of justice.

"Graham Sankey has admitted he was guilty of the crime that Michael Shields is now convicted of, but he did so in a way that was inadmissible to the Bulgarian court," added Mrs Ellman, who said she would be talking to his defence team.

She said she would be talking to the UK Government and Foreign Office.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it could not comment on the verdict but said it would continue offering consular help to Michael Shields.

Graham Sankey's solicitor David Kirwan said his client was appalled by the verdict.

Mr Kirwan said: "I have this morning contacted Michael's solicitors asking them to provide me with the prosecution's evidence and witness statements which I need to review as a matter of urgency."

He added that the case had raised many concerns.

"Given this background, what hope is there that Graham Sankey would receive a fair trial if he were ever to go before a court in Bulgaria?"

Michael Shields' shocked family react to the sentence

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