by Rupert Insider
I received the following letter from the LFC Supporter’s Site – YNWA – You’ll Never Walk Alone. It is about the case of Michael Tonge and Lee Yarrow. I assume it was sent because of my blog article about the return from Bulgaria to the UK of Liverpool supporter Michael Shields . That thread is closed so I have taken the liberty of treating the submission from YNWA as a contributing article.
It is not about LFC supporters or even supporters of other teams at away matches, or even football, as I originally assumed when I first received it and posted it.
Nevertheless it does touch on matters of European law which do affect LFC supporters and it has some relevance to the Michael Shields case. It has potential relevance to the case of Steve Cook, the young Liverpool supporter who went missing in Crete, Greece.
First the letter and excerpts from the article that was enclosed with it, then I’ll offer some comments.
It is not often ynwa.tv gets behind an appeal that does not relate immediately to the site or to Liverpool Football Club. But please take time to read this, with our very own Steve Cook still missing, and the Bulgarian trial concerning Michael Shields, this hits a nerve.
You can read all the details of the story on the Michael and Lee website.
On the 21st June 2005, some 6 years after the original incident, the Greek government issued a European Arrest Warrant seeking the extradition of Michael and Lee to Greece to stand trial for attempted murder. The matter was heard at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on the 4th October 2006. The Judge was due to give his decision on the 30th October 2006, but this has since been postponed.
If Michael and Lee are extradited to Greece, there is a very real concern that they will not be afforded a fair trial as guaranteed by Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Article 14 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and would be under threat of subjection to ill treatment.
* FTA has dealt with other cases in Greece in which defendants have not been afforded a fair trial due to lack of access to a lawyer and/or interpreter; poor quality of interpretation services; police brutality; biased police investigations which are inadequately conducted; culture of ‘blame the foreigner’, planting of evidence; poor prison conditions and suspects forced to sign admissions of guilt.* Michael has always maintained his innocence yet this case has been dealt with under the presumption that he is guilty.”
from Fair trials abroad:
There is a website www.tynesidetwo.co.uk for updates and a document that can be downloaded and emailed to Alan Campbell mp. You can also contact Michael direct on firstname.lastname@example.org
Five minutes of your time could help stop a family, and an innocent man, from a lifetime of hurt.
Comments by Rupert Insider
While not about football, this case does illustrate a broader problem that should concern LFC supporters and it has some relevance to the case of Michael Shields and Steve Cook.
It is about the risk supporters face when they travel to other countries to support their team. The risk is heightened when groups of supporters demonstrate against the home-team supporters in the stadium or the the streets or clubs. Those demonstrations are often staged and managed – a kind of ritualistic warfare for bragging rights. Although they can be frightening to onlookers, no real harm is intended by either side. But LFC supporters know too well that such demonstrations sometimes run out of control. And it doesn’t help when the local police intervene with methods which, at the time, appear to be brutal and unfair.
There are occasions when the supporter is the aggressor and nobody condones that. It follows that they then have to face the risks involved in the local system of justice including the rough conditions of imprisonment that probably apply to locals as well as to visitors.
But there are other risks. We all know about LFC supporters being stabbed from behind in the thigh and the buttocks as they leave the stadium in Turkey or Rome, and most of us have heard of other unprovoked attacks on individuals.
We are also aware of the mysterious disappearance in Greece of the young supporter, Steve Cook .
In our system we recognise the right to self-defence when attacked. But that right may not be recognised so clearly in other countries. And a supporter who defends themself by fighting back may find themselves be treated as though they were the aggressor.
And if someone is accused formally of violence in a foreign country they have an uphill battle in the justice system.
Many countries use a version of Napoleonic law which is quite different from ours. Whereas in our system an accused is considered innocent until proven guilty, in the Napoleonic system the accused is presumed guilty until he proves his innocence. It starts with a denunciation by the police. The court then accepts the police charge and the matter is subject to further prosecution and trial.
It’s in everyone’s interest that the legal risks be minimised so that European football can flourish. While every country has the right to conduct its own affairs, there ought to be a common framework of rights, laws and practices to ensure that anyone caught up in such incidents are treated according to the overriding European charter of rights.
And that, in the final analysis, was what the Michael Shields appeal was about. Not to declare his innocence or his impunity from Bulgarian law, but to give him a fair trial and an appeal process as we, British, Irish and Europeans, understand those terms – and to help his family bring that about.