Controversy over Liverpool fan jailed in Bulgaria

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Michael Shields, an 18-year old Liverpool Football Club supporter, has been jailed for the attempted murder of a Bulgarian barman, despite another man from Liverpool admitting full responsibility.

Shields, 18 from Wavertree was charged with the attempted murder of Martin Georgiev, 25, after being accused of throwing a brick at the barman's head in the city of Varna, where he was celebrating Liverpool football club's win over AC Milan in the final of the Champions League in Istanbul in May.

Before being charged, a 20 year old man from Anfield came forward and claimed responsibility for the attack - Graham Sankey, made a statement through his lawyer David Kirwan.

Mr Kirwan said: "Graham believed the case against Michael would either be thrown or adjourned after he came forward to make his confession." Despite the confession, Shields was convicted of attempted murder.

Shields' uncle, Joey Graney, was in court when the sentence was passed and 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. They did not care that Graham Sankey has confessed to carrying out the attack. They just tossed that aside."

The family have said they will do everything in their power to clear Michael's name. Meanwhile, Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman, has backed the family's campaign calling the incident 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 is planning to speak to his defence team.

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

Bulgarian government officials have since agreed to begin the process of releasing Michael Shields, in exchange for the arrest of Graham Sankey.

The development came after long-time justice campaigner Stephen Jakobi held closed talks with Bulgarian ambassador Lachezar Matev at the Bulgarian Embassy in London.

Mr. Jakobi announced that Michael could be free in the next "few months".

"It's been a good day and we have achieved an important breakthrough.

"We have got an agreement with the Bulgarian government that they are going to take up our proposed course of action - that is issuing an arrest warrant for Graham Sankey.

"The government is independent of the judiciary in that country but they can hold talks with them to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.

"The arrest warrant will means the extradition process will begin."

Home Secretary Jack Straw has also agreed to meet with Shield's family to discuss the situation with them.