Page last updated at 19:31 GMT, Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Jailed fan 'can get free pardon'

Michael Shields

Jailed Liverpool fan Michael Shields has won an important battle at the High Court in his bid for a free pardon.

The 22-year-old is serving a 10-year sentence for the attempted murder of a barman in Bulgaria in 2005, but has always maintained his innocence.

High Court judges have ruled Justice Secretary Jack Straw has the power to issue a pardon to Shields. Mr Straw is now considering a decision.

Shields' family said they hoped he would be home for Christmas.

Mr Straw had previously insisted he did not have the power to free him and the case went to the High Court in London.

The two senior judges ruled that it was for Mr Straw alone - and not the courts - to decide how to exercise that power.

The judges said the pardon relied on fresh evidence which had not been considered by the Bulgarian courts.

A confession by another Liverpool fan, Graham Sankey, who was in Istanbul at the time of the attack, but who later retracted it, would not form part of the new evidence, the judges said.

I hope and pray Mr Straw can do the right thing
Michael Shields, father

In court the judges said: "It is, in our judgment, open to the Secretary of State to entertain a request to exercise the royal prerogative. It is not for this court to say whether or how it might be exercised."

Mr Straw said he would appoint senior counsel to advise him on whether to pardon Shields or not, in light of the High Court decision.

The Justice Secretary said the case had to be looked at very closely, along with any implications it could have for the cases of other British prisoners abroad.

He added: "I will ensure this process is undertaken as quickly as possible, and can assure Michael Shields and his family that I will reach a decision on whether to recommend granting a pardon as swiftly as is possible.

"While recognising the frustration of Michael Shields' family and his campaign team, I am also duty bound to work within the law."

Shields is currently serving the remainder of his sentence at Thorn Cross Young Offenders' Institute in Appleton Thorn in Warrington, Cheshire.

'Heart-breaking'

Liverpool Labour Euro MP Arlene McCarthy, commenting on today's High Court ruling, said: "The High Court ruling frees the way for Michael's release.

"It's a brilliant result for Michael and his family and we are now finally seeing the end to a three-year battle to get justice for Michael."

Ms McCarthy added that said she would be asking if he could be released on temporary licence to spend Christmas with his family.

Following the decision, his father, Michael Shields senior, said: "It's just heart-breaking for us.

Michael and Maria Shields
Mr and Mrs Shields say their campaign will continue

"We just want to get him home and put everything behind us and get on with our lives. It's been so hard for us.

"I hope and pray Mr Straw can do the right thing."

Jago Russell, chief executive of Fair Trials International, which defends the rights of those facing charges in a country other than their own, welcomed the ruling.

He said: "After a grossly unfair trial in Bulgaria, Michael Shields has already spent more than three years in prison.

"It is now up to the British government to pardon Michael and to bring his ordeal to an end."

Shields family solicitor John Weate has now called for a swift pardon.

"We are today sending Mr Straw further representations about the pardon," he said

"In view of his close attention to the case we hope that he can make a decision to allow Michael to be free by Christmas."

High profile supporters include Louise Ellman MP; Arlene McCarthy MEP; Councillor Joe Anderson, leader of the Liverpool City Council Labour group; Sir Robert Atkin MEP, and a wide variety of celebrities.

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SEE ALSO
Shields 'asleep at time of attack'
17 Dec 08 |  Merseyside
Shields waits on pardon judgement
17 Dec 08 |  Merseyside
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
Bulgaria refuses Shields pardon
10 Jan 08 |  Merseyside
Shields passes lie detector test
20 Dec 07 |  Merseyside

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