Straw pardons Michael Shields

By Alex Stevenson

Liverpool fan Michael Shields has been pardoned by Jack Straw and will be released from prison today.

The 22-year-old, who was jailed for ten years for attempted murder after his team’s victory in the Champions League Final in 2005, had an appeal for pardon provisionally refused by Mr Straw in July.

Today the justice secretary suggested an oral confession secured by members of Mr Shields’ family on the second day of his trial in Bulgaria had played a major role in his decision to free Mr Shields.

The Liverpool fan had been arrested with several others in the Golden Sands resort in Varna, Bulgaria, after barman Martin Georgiev was hit on the head with a paving slab, suffering a fractured skull.

He was convicted later that year and transferred to the UK to serve his sentence, which was reduced on appeal to ten years.

“I have concluded, having looked carefully at all the evidence now available, that Michael Shields is telling the truth when he says he is innocent of the attempted murder of which he was convicted in Bulgaria,” Mr Straw said today.

“That being so I have recommended to Her Majesty the Queen that he should be granted a free pardon.”

Mr Shields’ family are preparing to welcome him back. His mother and father, Michael Shields Sr and Maria Shields, will travel to Thorn Cross Young Offenders Institute in Warrington, where he has been serving out part of his sentence, to collect him.

The football fan from Edge Hill, Liverpool, had always maintained his innocence.

“It’s the most serious miscarriage of justice in modern history. We’ve got him out – it’s a fantastic day,” his lawyer said.

Mr Straw, having been told of the oral confession by members of Mr Shields’ family in a meeting on August 28th this year, requested further inquiries.

“I will not set out in this statement all the evidence that has come to light over the last two weeks but suffice it to say that there is very good reason to believe I was being told the truth,” he said.

“This in my view profoundly changed the credibility of the various accounts of what actually happened in this case.”

Local MP Louise Ellman told the BBC the key development was that the claims of the man who confessed to the crime for which Mr Shields was convicted had been verified by a witness or witnesses.

Mr Straw’s statement concluded: “For now I wish Mr Shields and his family well.”