Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Wednesday, 17 December 2008

A campaign of justice for Shields

By Becky Kelly
BBC News, Liverpool

Michael Shields
The 22-year-old was moved to a British prison in 2006

First it was MPs, then Premiership footballers and clergymen added their voices to the campaign to see jailed Liverpool fan Michael Shields freed and pardoned.

Three-and a-half-years have passed since the then 18-year-old was convicted for the attempted murder of a Bulgarian waiter as Liverpool Football Club won the Champions League title in Istanbul.

For Shields, now 22, a lot has changed during that time.

In 2006 he was transferred from a Bulgarian prison to HMP Haverigg in Cumbria to serve out the rest of his 15-year sentence.

But what has not changed is the unwavering campaign by his supporters to see Shields walk free for a crime they have said he did not commit.

Shields himself has always protested he did not drop a rock on the head of Martin Georgiev, nearly killing him.

At one point another Liverpool fan Graham Sankey, who was staying in the same hotel as Shields, signed a confession admitting that he carried out the attack, but later retracted it.

The Bishop of Liverpool the Right Reverend James Jones has also described the case as "a travesty of justice".

He said: "I have talked and listened to Michael on a number of occasions and I too believe that he is innocent."

Judicial Review

Even members of Liverpool FC have backed the campaign with players wearing T-shirts saying "Free Michael now" during warm-up before a game earlier this month.

Shields's parents Michael and Maria have always been at the forefront gathering impetus to see their son freed, culminating with the judicial review.

A banner still hangs from their home reading "Justice for Michael Shields".

"Three-and-a-half years for an 18-year-old to be locked up for a crime he did not commit," said Mrs Shields at a meeting with the Prime Minister's wife Sarah Brown.

Steven Gerrard wearing a "Free Michael now" t-shirt
The players wore the T-shirts during the match warm-up

His supporters have said there was a wealth of evidence to prove Shields did not carry out the attack on waiter Martin Georgiev but much of it was not used during his trial.

A lie detector test he took last year in prison gave the outcome that Shields was innocent.

However, the Bulgarian authorities refused to reopen the case. Instead, they said, the decision lay with the UK government.

His case has been backed by local politicians, including Riverside MP Louise Ellman and MEP Arlene McCarthy.

Ms McCarthy told BBC News she believed the Bulgarian authorities just "wanted to get someone for the case".

She added: "Now the question I have always raised is that they did that, of course entirely legitimately. but have they got the right person?"

Despite the latest ruling by the High Court, all those who have been involved in the campaign so far will not stop until they get what they want - justice for Michael Shields.

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SEE ALSO
No FA action over Shields shirts
03 Dec 08 |  Merseyside
No decision over Shields pardon
04 Dec 08 |  Merseyside
New legal bid for Shields release
21 Aug 08 |  Merseyside
Petition for jailed fan's release
27 May 08 |  Merseyside
Bulgaria refuses Shields pardon
10 Jan 08 |  Merseyside
Shields passes lie detector test
20 Dec 07 |  Merseyside

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