In 2005, Michael Shields was convicted by a Bulgarian court for the attempted murder of a barman after Liverpool’s Champions League victory in Istanbul. Between a jail in Bulgaria and Thorn Cross prison in Chesire, England, Shields, now 22, has spent the last four years behind bars. But, today, his 15 year sentance has been lifted. Shields has been pardoned and released.
He was eligible for pardon as early as December 2008, but Justice Secretary Jack Straw was waiting for more information.
The information that Mr Straw was apparently waiting for involved an oral confession of one Graham Sankey, also from Liverpool. This was brought to Mr Straw’s attention by Michael Shields’ parents although the confession had allegedly been made in 2005, a day after Shields’ trial in Bulgaria began. According to The Daily Mail, the confession had been ruled inadmissible at the trial.
The Daily Mirror’s David Maddock asks in his weekly column: why did it take so long to pardon Michael Shields?
In a press conference today, Mr Straw described his decision. He claimed the recent revelation by Shields’ parents of Sankey’s confession was the first he had heard of it.
But Sankey’s confession has been part of the public discussion from almost the start. In an article from 26 July 2005, the BBC quoted Mr Sankey as being “in despair” that his confession, which he also made to his soliciter, had not prevented Shields’ conviction.
According to the Mirror, Sankey was not willing to stand trial in Bulgaria. This may be the reason his confession was ruled inadmissible to the Bulgarian court.
While Michael Shields must be beyond overjoyed to finally have his freedom, it must be painful to know the last four years could have been avoided had the legals systems of both countries worked harder to establish the truth and carry out justice, rather than rush to make an example out of an innocent young man.
Upon his release, Mr Shields thanked his family, friends and the many Liverpool supporters who have supported him and protested his imprisonment these past four years.