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20 Nov 2007 : Column 1158

My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) —who is a doughty promoter of high-speed lines on the basis that all of them will stop at Carlisle—gave an eloquent and enthusiastic account of his reasons for supporting high-speed links. He spoke of the evidence that Sir Rod Eddington gave to the Transport Committee. He was, of course, right to clarify what Sir Rod said about high-speed lines. He did not rule them out; although I think he did rule out maglev as a technology. Maglev is slightly different from high-speed lines. I do not demur from Sir Rod’s view that high-speed lines may well have a role to play, but I believe that its role would involve meeting increased capacity demands rather than the environment or connectivity.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) understandably raised, again, the unfairness with which he feels his constituency has been treated by Eurostar. I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). Whether he admits it or not, the hon. Gentleman is completely at odds with his colleagues on the Front Bench, who constantly tell the Government every month during Transport questions that Ministers should not be micro-managing the railway. We should not be writing timetables. I agree with that, and we do not do it: that is why we do not specify the timetable for Eurostar.

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that even with the revised service at Ashford, 33 per cent. more Eurostar services stop in Kent as a result of the opening of Ebbsfleet. He also asked about the role of the Office of Rail Regulation, which I hope I have now clarified.

Damian Green: The Minister did kindly deal with the ORR’s role, but may I ask him a more general question? Would the Government welcome the introduction of competitive services on the high-speed line?

Mr. Harris: That is an excellent question, which has not been asked today until now. The answer is yes, I would welcome competition with Eurostar. A great deal of capacity is available on High Speed 1, and I foresee competition at some time in the future. I believe that it would offer a good deal to passengers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) expressed enthusiasm for the opening of St. Pancras. He predicted, or at least requested, a change in policy on high-speed lines from me before I sit down this evening. I am sure he will not be surprised if I disappoint him by telling him that my position is the same as it was three hours ago.

The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway) supported the link, and gave an excellent description of the way in which high-speed lines can benefit local communities. He also mentioned some of the possible disbenefits of their construction, but he spoke enthusiastically about the benefits to his consumers from the domestic services that will start in December 2009.

I like listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) when he talks of railways in general, but particularly when he talks of freight. He has an in-depth knowledge that far surpasses mine, and his insights are always interesting. He spoke of his wish to see vast quantities of freight travel through the tunnel. The Government want that
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as well, but, more important, we want it to happen on a commercial, profitable basis, because that is the only way in which it can be sustainable in the long term.

I also commend my hon. Friend for being the only person on the planet who still uses the word “railroad”.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) produced an incisive analysis of what is happening to high-speed rail. He spoke of the regeneration aspects, and the importance of modal shift. The fleetingly present hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) spoke of the importance of not forgetting the traditional non-high-speed network, asking me not to forget Londoners. Given that we are spending £5.5 billion on Thameslink and another £5.1 billion on Crossrail, and that about 900 of the 1,300 new carriages to be purchased under high-level output specification will come to London and the south-east, I hardly think that that allegation holds much water.

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) began by asking about the harbours Bill. I have a very large remit, and I hope he will forgive me if I do not extend it unilaterally to harbours.

This has been an excellent debate, and I am extremely proud to be the railways Minister who happened to be in position when St. Pancras and the high-speed rail link opened. I put it in those terms because I cannot claim to be the driving force behind the creation or the building of the link. Nevertheless, it is a privilege to have been a member of the Government at such a time.

The channel tunnel rail link is one of the largest construction projects ever completed. Completing a project of this size within time and budget is an achievement in itself, and we should celebrate its success. At last we have a high-speed rail link to shout about, a train service that links the country to Europe at up to 186 mph. St. Pancras has been transformed, and its position on the transport network means that people living in the north of England—and, I hope, Scotland—can buy a single ticket at their local station and go all the way to Paris without the trouble of crossing London. We have a regeneration investment estimated at £10 billion, which is being spent on bricks and mortar in some of the most deprived areas in the south-east.

Apart from all those benefits, we have the opportunity to gain a tangible financial return on taxpayers’ investment. The Bill kicks off a programme of work that will last at least three years. Through restructuring, we will secure the long-term future of the channel tunnel rail link project—a project that has delivered, and will continue to deliver, real benefits for the country, and a project of which we should all be proud.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(7) (Programme motions),

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Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with Bills),

Question agreed to.


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With permission, I shall put motions 4 to 6 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Road Traffic

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism


Question agreed to.

20 Nov 2007 : Column 1161

Michael Shields

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Alison Seabeck.]

7.8 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful for the opportunity to press once again the case for justice for Michael Shields. Michael was 18 years old when, in July 2005, the Varna court in Bulgaria found him guilty of the attempted murder of barman Martin Georgiev at the Big Ben cafe, Golden Sands at around 5 am on 30 May 2005. A sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine with compensation equivalent to £80,000 was imposed.

It was alleged that Michael dropped a large rock-like stone on the head of Martin Georgiev after Mr. Georgiev had been knocked to the ground, causing a life-threatening injury. Michael has always claimed he was asleep at the Crystal hotel when the attack was carried out. Although the sentence was reduced to 10 years on appeal, the conviction stands, and after paying the fine and compensation with interest, Michael is now serving his sentence in prison in the UK.

I am convinced that there has been a miscarriage of justice. That is why I repeatedly raise Michael’s case in Parliament and work with Michael’s excellent legal team—Pete Weatherby, John Weate, and Fair Trials International—together with Liverpool councillor Joe Anderson and Arlene McCarthy, MEP for the north-west region, to seek a retrial or pardon.

Michael continues to receive strong support from the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones, who has visited him in prison in Bulgaria and in the United Kingdom. He believes Michael is innocent and has spoken to him at great length; he strongly supports the calls for his release and has raised the issue in the other place. I also thank the Bulgarian ambassador, Dr. Matev, for his courtesy and helpfulness in assisting me in pursuing this matter.

My previous representations to this House have explained the reasons for my concerns about Michael Shields’ conviction. These include the absence of forensic evidence and reliance on uncorroborated, selective witness identification. Some of the identification evidence was secured by witnesses being asked to look at the dock and indicate whether the defendant was the offender. That is known as “dock ID”. The practice has not been allowed in the UK for about 40 years. Flawed procedures include Michael being exposed to public view prior to his identification—indeed, the police took him to the scene of the crime, where he was seen by members of the public, before any trial or identification parade took place—witnesses not being separated before giving evidence and being asked to identify Michael, and the absence of other people bearing any physical resemblance to Michael in the identification parades. There was no legal representation when some of these procedures were conducted.

Today, I shall concentrate on new evidence strengthening the concern that Michael’s conviction is unsafe. I will name those identified by new witnesses as the two guilty men. I will also register two new pieces of evidence supporting Michael that are currently being prepared by his legal team.

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In my speech in this House on 24 November 2005, I referred to the powerful notarised eye-witness statement from Mr. A, received after the trial had concluded. It details the events of that fateful night, and it backs Michael Shields. To date, no court has considered that evidence. Mr. A has not been questioned. He is willing to give evidence and to speak about what he has testified he saw on that night.

Four new witnesses support Michael’s case. One backs Michael’s claim to have been in bed in his hotel room at the time of the attack on Martin Georgiev. Another new witness, a hotel porter, also supports Michael’s account that he was in the hotel at the crucial time. Michael’s lawyers are currently preparing the appropriate statements and video evidence. The most dramatic new evidence, however, from two eye-witnesses present at the scene of the crime, relates to the strange case of Graham Sankey.

Graham Sankey came to the attention of the Bulgarian authorities on the night Martin Georgiev was attacked. He, together with three others, was questioned by the Bulgarian police before being released. Two of them, Bradley Thomson and Anthony Wilson, were subsequently found guilty of lesser—public order—offences and returned to the UK. The Bulgarian authorities renewed their interest in Graham Sankey as preparations were being made for Michael Shields’ trial. A letter I received from the Home Office on 16 August 2005 confirmed that the Bulgarians had issued summonses for Graham Sankey and others to appear at the trial on 21 and 22 July. The letter confirmed that the usual six weeks’ notice required had not been given and the summonses were not served. Graham Sankey remained at home in Liverpool while Michael Shields went on trial for attempted murder in Bulgaria.

After Michael was found guilty of the attempted murder of Martin Georgiev, Graham Sankey, speaking from the safety of Liverpool, issued a statement through his solicitor. In the statement, which he entitled his “Confession” and which was dated 28 July 2005, he admitted:

Graham Sankey has never been questioned about his confession, and it was later reported that it had been withdrawn.

There is now, however, a dramatic new development. On 12 October 2007 a respected citizen of Liverpool signed a witness statement. It reports that Bradley Thomson and Anthony Wilson, both present at the scene of the crime and found guilty of lesser offences, claim that two men were responsible for the attack on Martin Georgiev. According to the statement, they allege that Steven Clare had punched Martin Georgiev and:

The statement continues:

The statement also says that Mr. Sankey was an associate of theirs at the time and that they had been out drinking with him. Those dramatic allegations reinforce the case
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to revisit the conviction of Michael Shields. They point the finger firmly at Graham Sankey. These allegations must be subject to judicial investigation.

I and others have appealed to the President of Bulgaria to grant Michael Shields a pardon. I understand that a pardon is the only available mechanism to free Michael. A recent amnesty has been issued in Bulgaria. In addition, the President has the power to grant pardons in certain circumstances.

On 31 October 2007, Mr. Sasha Penov, chairman of the legal council for the President of Bulgaria replied to me—I understand that similar letters were received by others who had made requests for a pardon for Michael. Mr. Penov did not give a definitive decision on the request for a pardon but suggested that it could be considered by the UK Government under the provisions of the convention on the transfer of sentenced persons, including article 12 of the Council of Europe convention. Yet when I raised this issue in business questions in the House on 16 November, the Leader of the House replied that such decisions must be made by the convicting authority—in this case, Bulgaria. This situation is extremely confusing and distressing for Michael and for all those campaigning for him. Who has the authority to issue a pardon?

I received today a reply to a written question that I tabled in this House seeking information on whether such a pardon has ever been exercised by the United Kingdom. It states that no prisoner transferred to the United Kingdom under international prisoner transfer agreements has subsequently been pardoned by the UK authorities. That, however, does not mean that such a pardon could not be given, provided that the statement given by the representative of the President of Bulgaria is in fact correct.

Both United Kingdom domestic and European conventions uphold the principle of the presumption of liberty. This means that those holding prisoners must justify their detention. If the UK Government doubt the strength of the case against Michael Shields, I ask them to consider acting in two ways: to consider supporting the existing application to the Bulgarian authorities for a pardon for Michael Shields—it has been submitted by many people and has very strong support—but also to consider whether they can act in their own right, as suggested in the letter to me from Bulgaria. I understand that a royal pardon can be requested on the advice of the Secretary of State for Justice, and that the Criminal Cases Review Commission could be asked for a view as part of that consideration.

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