Page last updated at 12:50 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 13:50 UK

Shields release angers Bulgarians

Michael Shields courtesy of Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Shields has always maintained his innocence

A senior Bulgarian politician has condemned the royal pardon given to Michael Shields, the Liverpool fan convicted of attacking a barman.

Former deputy prime minister Ivailo Kalfin said he was very shocked by the decision and said it "gave a very bad signal to football hooliganism".

Martin Georgiev, who was left with a fractured skull after the 2005 attack in Bulgaria, also queried the decision.

Mr Shields, of Liverpool, was pardoned by Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

Mr Kalfin, who is now an MEP, said: "I feel that, over the past few days, political considerations took over the need for justice and I am really disturbed with it.

'Still in pain'

"Jack Straw has to find some explanation for his decision, but this is not convincing - several people saw the attack.

"Mr Shields has been convicted and we have received no written confession from anyone suggesting otherwise."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman, however, disputed the MEP's claims, saying that it was "completely wrong to say the Justice Secretary's decision was a political one."

"The Justice Secretary looked carefully at all the evidence and ultimately reached his decision on his own.

"Mr Straw took this decision alone based on advice from his legal team. He excluded his political advisers from the process."

Mr Georgiev was hit with a paving stone in Varna, shortly after the Champions League final in 2005.

"I would be curious to know on what grounds they freed him - I still suffer from my injuries," Mr Georgiev said.

The victim, who had been working in one of the bars in the city when he was attacked, said: "It is not for me to say, it was the court's decision.

"I am not the person who decides on the fate of Michael Shields.

"But I know that I am still in pain, my health is not good - a change in the seasons and I hurt more."

'Telling the truth'

Shortly after the attack, which Mr Shields has always maintained he did not carry out, Mr Georgiev said doctors had told his parents that he "nearly died".

"Doctors were not sure that I would ever wake up, and if I did, they said, there was an 80 to 90% of not being normal and totally recovered."

Martin Georgiev
Martin Georgiev still feels pain four years after the attack

Another man, Graham Sankey, made a written statement during the first days of Mr Shields' trial in Bulgaria in July 2005, confessing to the attack, but later withdrew it and has denied any involvement.

After four years of campaigning by the Shields family, religious leaders, politicians and football fans, Mr Shields was finally given a royal pardon - the first given to a UK citizen convicted overseas.

He was released after serving four years in jail, but his conviction still stands in Bulgaria.

The Justice Secretary Jack Straw described him as "morally and technically innocent".

He said: "I have now concluded, having looked at all the evidence... that Michael Shields is telling the truth when he says he is innocent."

'Foreign investigation'

He referred to an oral confession that the Shields' family had managed to extract from a man shortly after the attack in 2005, saying "fresh evidence had come to light".

Michael Shields spoke of his gratitude for the "tireless campaigning" to secure his release.

"Most of all I want to thank my mum and dad, my sisters, my family and my friends, who never for one minute doubted my innocence and who stood by me every step of the way," he said.

"I couldn't have made it without their love."

Merseyside Police have confirmed that Graham Sankey will not be interviewed, stating it was a "foreign investigation".

Mr Shields' legal team said it remained their intention to clear his name in a Bulgarian court.

Barrister Peter Weatherby said: "We would hope the Bulgarian authorities would have regard to what Jack Straw has said and reopen the investigation."



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