December 17, 2008 / 3:03 PM / in 10 years

Straw to consider pardon for Liverpool fan

LONDON (Reuters) - Justice Secretary Jack Straw will decide whether to grant a pardon to a Liverpool football fan jailed by a Bulgarian court for an attempted murder he denies, after a court ruled on Wednesday he had the power to do so.

Michael Shields, 19, speaks to journalists in a jail in the city of Varna, some 450 kilometres north-east of the capital Sofia July 29, 2005. REUTERS/Impact Press Group SN/JOH

Michael Shields was convicted in July 2005 of smashing a rock over the head of bartender Martin Georgiev during a street brawl in the Golden Sands resort.

The 22-year-old was convicted in Bulgaria but transferred to a British prison to finish his 10-year sentence.

On Wednesday, two judges at London’s High Court ruled that Straw did have the “power and jurisdiction” to exercise the ancient “royal prerogative of mercy” to pardon Shields.

The judge ruled that it was for the Justice Secretary alone — and not the courts — to decide if he should be pardoned.

In a statement, Straw said he would not appeal against the court’s decision but would appoint a senior lawyer to advise him on what action he should take.

“I will ensure this process is undertaken as quickly as possible, and can assure Michael Shields and his family that I will reach a decision on whether to recommend granting a pardon as swiftly as is possible,” he said.

“I am also considering the wider consequences of this judgement on other cases including its implications for British prisoners abroad.”

At the High Court, Straw’s legal team had argued that there was no jurisdiction to grant Shields a free pardon and to do so could be seen as criticism of a foreign court.

However, Shields’s lawyer John Weate said the case was “perhaps the most shocking miscarriage of justice in recent times.”

The barman was attacked a few nights after Liverpool’s European Cup final victory in Istanbul, Turkey.

Shields has always vehemently maintained his innocence, and Fair Trials Abroad has also condemned his conviction — based solely on identification evidence with no supporting testimony.

Another fan, not an associate of Shields, faxed a confession to Bulgarian officials, which he later retracted, saying he had committed the crime and Shields was innocent.

But the court rejected it, saying the details of his account conflicted with testimony from nine witnesses who saw the assault and identified Shields as the attacker.

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