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Mark Pritchard rose—

Mr. Touhig: The hon. Gentleman must forgive me, but I will not give way. I assume that he stood on the basis of that manifesto, so perhaps he could explain it to his constituents. We are doing something about the situation.

I have a lot of affection for the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), but he peddled the same old Tory myth about attempts to cause grief among our services through a swathe of prosecutions. He referred to possible Northern Ireland legislation. We touched on that during questions this week, but he should know that the decision to review the 2,000 cases was taken not by the Government but by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. It was their decision, not ours. He also expressed concern about terrorism. I do not doubt that his concern is genuine; it is only a pity that he was not in the right Lobby when we were voting on the 90-day provision last week.

The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) made a number of points about recruitment that I think I have answered. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) made an important contribution. He talked about recruitment and I have already touched on that. He also talked about the Bowman project, which we had to sort out because the previous Government had left it in a terrible mess.

I do not think that there is much more that I can say to the hon. Member for Blaby, as I have already said most of it. Time is running out, but I would certainly come back to him if there were more time.

The Ministry of Defence is determined to provide modern support for our forces. We value our people and we will do whatever is in our power to demonstrate that. The men and women of the armed forces of the British Isles are the finest in the world, and I am sure that the whole House can at least agree on that and join me in congratulating and supporting them.

It being Six o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
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Michael Shields

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

6 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/ Co-op): I thank Mr. Speaker for selecting the case of my constituent, Michael Shields, for debate today. I bring Michael Shields's situation to the attention of the House because I am convinced that there is a grave danger that a gross injustice has taken place and that an innocent 19-year-old young man is languishing in a Bulgarian jail, serving a 15-year sentence for a crime that he did not commit and to which another man has confessed.

The solution lies in the Bulgarian judicial system, but there is a vital role for our Government to play. Michael Shields, with others, travelled to the Crystal hotel in the Golden Sands resort of Varna, Bulgaria on 23 May 2005. From there, he moved to Istanbul to watch Liverpool beat AC Milan in the European championship final on 25 May. He then returned to Varna. On 30 May, at approximately 5.30 am, in the vicinity of the Big Ben fast food café, barman Martin Georgiev was seriously assaulted. He was punched to the ground and then kicked. His assailant proceeded to drop a large rock-like stone on to his head. Only immediate surgery saved Martin Georgiev's life.

Michael Shields was taken from his hotel room, where he was sleeping. After an investigation, he was later arrested and charged with attempted murder. He received a 15-year sentence in the Varna court on 26 July 2005, and was ordered to pay compensation of 200,000 Bulgarian leva in addition. Two others received non-custodial sentences. Michael has always been adamant that he was asleep in his hotel room at the time the attack took place, and produced witnesses to testify to that fact.

On 28 July, Graham Sankey, who had been questioned but then released by the Bulgarian police before he returned to Liverpool, confessed to the crime. In a statement issued through his solicitor he stated:

To this day, Graham Sankey has not been questioned about his confession. The case is under Bulgarian jurisdiction and only the Bulgarians can initiate such a process.

I have discussed the matter with Merseyside police, who are willing to investigate. They can do so, however, only at the request of the Bulgarian authorities. No such request has been made. Michael's appeal, which was heard on 14 October, confirmed both the guilty verdict and the 15-year sentence. Michael's legal team is now considering an appeal to the Sofia court. If that does not succeed, Michael's case may be taken to the European Court of Human Rights, which could order a retrial.

Today, I ask our Ministers to urge the Bulgarian authorities to order an inquiry or a retrial into this highly disturbing case, and I do so for three major reasons: first because of serious concerns about the initial trial, including the pre-trial phase; secondly, because of the failure to question Graham Sankey following his confession to the crime; and, thirdly, because of the significant evidence submitted by a new
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witness. I should like to indicate the major areas of concern in those three spheres, although I stress that this is not an exhaustive list.

First, I refer to the trial and pre-trial phase. Stephen Jacobi, the eminent international human rights lawyer who is director of Fair Trials Abroad, witnessed part of the initial trial. He reports serious shortcomings, stating that the way in which identification was authenticated was "quite appalling". In the absence of forensic evidence—a major deficiency in itself—this is greatly disturbing. Guilt was determined solely on the basis of witness identification. Witnesses were able to resile from their police statements that they could not remember details of the defendants' faces. Dock identification was permitted, as though it was of real evidential worth, a practice that Stephen Jacobi reports was abandoned in the United Kingdom 50 years ago.

Evidence on how the blow to Martin Georgiev was struck was divided. All those in the bar—close colleagues of the victim—admitted that they did not see the beginning of the action, but stated that the stone was clutched to the assailant's chest and dropped from there. Those who saw the whole of the attack from outside could identify Michael Shields only from seeing him in the dock, and they said that the stone was brought down from above the assailant's head.

The court considered a highly judgmental document from the prison governor, who gave a prejudicial interpretation of Michael's motives in wishing to have his hair cut. The defence could not cross-examine the governor on that. Even before the trial began, prejudiced pre-trial publicity and the flawed identity parade gave cause for concern.

The second reason I seek an inquiry or a retrial is the bizarre situation of Graham Sankey. The Bulgarians have not questioned Graham Sankey since his confession to the crime, and neither have they asked the British police to do so, although it is within their remit to make that request. This raises major questions. The Bulgarian Ministry of Justice issued a summons for Graham Sankey and four others to attend court before the confession was made. So before the confession was made the Bulgarians did want Graham Sankey to come to court for questioning. After the confession was made, they did not want to talk to him, nor did they want anyone else to do so.

The request that the Bulgarian authorities made for Graham Sankey to attend court before he made any confession was received by the Home Office on 11 July, but was not served by the UK central authority because insufficient time was given before the court hearing on 21 and 22 July. The normal period of notice required is six weeks. Yet, inconsistently, the Bulgarian courts rejected Michael Shield's defence request for an adjournment of the appeal hearing in October so that Graham Sankey could be questioned after he had made his confession. I understand that that refusal, and indeed inconsistency, could be material to a successful hearing in the European Court of Human Rights.

The third reason for an inquiry or retrial is because a new witness, Mr. A, has recently come forward and submitted a notarised and legalised statement. He was an eye witness to the incident. He does not know either Michael Shields or Graham Sankey. He reports that the
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man who dropped the stone on Martin Georgiev's head was short and dark. He is certain that it was not the fair-haired Michael Shields.

When Mr. A returned to the Big Ben bar the morning after the incident, he spoke to a bar worker who had witnessed the attack. The bar worker referred to the assailant as

and stated that this could be corroborated by around 10 people. Mr. A assumed that those witnesses would point out that Michael Shields, who is fair, was the wrong man. That is why he did not come forward as a witness at that time.

However, those in the bar who witnessed who carried out this offence did not speak out. At the time of the attack, they saw a dark-haired man commit the offence. In court, they identified the fair-haired Michael Shields. Was this indeed a change of testimony, or was it about selecting witnesses to bolster the prosecution's case? When Mr. A later read about Graham Sankey's confession, he assumed that it would be accepted. That did not happen, which is why he has now come forward. Mr. A is ready to travel to Bulgaria to testify.

At this stage, neither Graham Sankey nor the new witness has been questioned about their statements. That means that no Bulgarian court has considered all the available evidence.

This is a critical time for Bulgaria. On 25 October, the European Commission published its enhanced monitoring assessment on whether Bulgaria should be permitted to join the European Union as planned in January 2007. I note that two of the five areas of concern identified by the Commission are "justice" and "home affairs", with specific reference to the pre-trial phase. That is highly relevant to Michael Shields's situation for the reasons that I have set out.

I ask the Government to object to Bulgaria's accession to the European Union. There are good grounds for doing so. The deep disquiet over the way Michael Shields's trial has been conducted relates to the very areas of concern identified by the Commission.

This case concerns the life of a young man and that of his devastated family. It is about a potential gross injustice. The Shields family are strong and united. They have firm support in Liverpool, in the country and in Europe, where Arlene McCarthy, the Member of the European Parliament for the North West, is campaigning on Michael's behalf. The Shields family's campaign will continue until justice is done and I shall stand with them. I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Foreign Secretary for meeting the Shields family when I brought them to the Foreign Office in September.

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