May 25th 2005. Liverpool fans around the world celebrated Liverpool’s success in Istanbul as they became European Champions for the fifth time.
One of those fans was Michael Shields. 18-years-old, a quiet lad by all accounts, delighted to see the Reds make history.
Today though Michael was sent to prison in Bulgaria for 15 years for a crime he so clearly did not commit. Michael Shields is an 18-year-old with his whole life in front of him – but will be 33 by the time his sentence is completed.
The teenager from Wavertree in Liverpool was actually tried for attempted murder. Martin Georgiev, a 25-year-old Bulgarian barman,was injured in an attack that left him with a fractured skull and possible brain damage. The injuries were alleged to have been made by a brick that had been thrown at his head.
There’s no doubt that Mr Georgiev has suffered badly from this mindless attack – but there is nothing but doubt about the conviction that was today made.
Michael has always protested his innocence. He said he was sleeping in his hotel room at the time the attack was said to have taken place. Unfortunately there was no way that he could prove this. At the same time there seems to be no way that the Bulgarian authorities could prove he carried out the attack – but it didn’t stop them locking him up immediately two months ago, until his trial this week.
A vital piece of evidence came up on Saturday that would surely help him be released – the real perpetrator of the attack came forward. Graham Sankey, a 20-year-old electrician from Anfield in Liverpool said he had carried out the attack. Sankey said he was willing to face the consequences, but only in this country. Bulgarian authorities completely dismissed the evidence.
Sankey’s solicitor David Kirwan today said that Sankey was "in despair" that despite his confession Michael was still convicted. Kirwan said: "Graham believed the case against Michael would either be thrown or adjourned after he came forward to make his confession, but, to his total despair, the judge decided to continue trying Michael."
Kirwan also said he would be speaking to Michael’s legal representatives: "I have this morning contacted Michael’s solicitors asking them to provide me with the prosecution’s evidence and witness statements which I need to review as a matter of urgency."
Kirwan hinted that Sankey would continue to stay away from the Bulgarian legal system, in the expectation of not receiving a free trial: "Given this background, what hope is there that Graham Sankey would receive a fair trial if he were ever to go before a court in Bulgaria?"
Michael’s uncle, Joey Graney, saw his nephew sentenced today. He said: "Michael was sobbing. He’s an 18-year-old lad, quiet as a mouse, on his own, going back to a Bulgarian jail. What’s he going to do?"
Joey continued: "As far as the Bulgarians were concerned, a local lad had been attacked and they wanted their scapegoat. They did not care that Graham Sankey has confessed to carrying out the attack. They just tossed that aside."
Michael’s father, also called Michael, said, "Shocking news. It’s just disbelief. We thought with this statement going to Bulgaria admitting this crime, Michael would be on the first plane home today. We are going to do everything in our power to clear Michael’s name."
Another British holidaymaker, 19-year-old Anthony Wilson, was cleared of a charge of hooliganism. He was convicted of possession of cannabis and sentenced to two-and-a-half-years in prison. This sentence was suspended though and he has been allowed to return home.
Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman said: "Graham Sankey has admitted he was guilty of the crime that Michael Shields is now convicted of, but he did so in a way that was inadmissible to the Bulgarian court." She said she intends to talk to the British Government and also the Foreign Office.
The Foreign Office would not comment on the verdict.
Michael’s uncle has probably hit the nail on the head in terms of what has happened to Michael. The Bulgarians were rightly angry that a "foreigner" had so seriously injured one of their own countrymen. They failed to find the real guilty person, but decided that it would be acceptable to take away Michael’s liberty in order to get justice.
Unfortunately they picked the wrong person. They, according to reports, have no forensic evidence that links Michael to the attack. They have ignored an admission of guilt from the real perpetrator, who they had already had in for questioning at the outset. He was let go and said he felt like he’d "won the lottery" when he got back home without being charged.
If a case like this came to a court in this country, involving someone from overseas, there would be an outcry. Accusations of racism would be levelled too, there’s no doubt about that.
If this case involved an 18-year-old stockbroker’s daughter from the Home Counties who had been overseas to watch a ballet, would the situation have been the same? No – the sympathy from the press and government in this country would have been greater, the story would have received greater coverage, the innocent person would be either home or on their way back home. An 18-year-old football fan, who is also a scouser, stands less chance of getting that sympathy.
Now Michael’s family are completely devastated by what has happened. They would be devastated if they had thought he had done it, even if they had a doubt that he might have been guilty. They know he was not guilty though.
They know who did it. The real criminal has owned up, sort of, about what he’s done. Bulgaria is not interested. They’ve got their piece of meat, their scapegoat, their trophy. Michael’s life has now been destroyed.
If you have any further information that you think could help in any way, Michael’s family can be contacted by either telephone or by email. Please do not abuse these contact details. By telephone you can call 07939 951 583, to speak to Laura or Sylvia. The email address is : firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any problems getting through by these methods then contact us and we will arrange for the information to be passed on. Anything you supply to us will be in strict confidence.
The family have also released some useful email and postal addresses that you can write to in order to press Michael’s case further:
Bulgarian ambassador to the UK – email@example.com
Bulgarian Minister for Justice Mr Anton Stankov – firstname.lastname@example.org
Prisoners Abroad – email@example.com
Louise Elman, Michael’s MP – (c/o Julie Lloyd) firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael’s family are having to spend a lot of money to try and look after their son. As well as legal costs they are trying to get over to be with him as much as possible, and we are told that even a few weeks ago the costs had gone past the £10,000 mark.
To make a donation an Appeal Fund has been set up with HSBC bank. The "payee" information for your donation is "Michael Shields Support Fund". The sort-code is 40-29-08, the account no is 22296330. You should be able to make payments to this account free of charge either from your own bank or at a HSBC branch.
There is also an option to pay using PayPal, which has been set up by Liverpool website "Red and White Kop" (RAWK). The site has arranged with Michael’s father and uncle to transfer all donations from RAWK’s paypal account directly to their bank account, and over £2000 has been raised so far. If you wish to donate this way please visit the following link – ensure that you use this link as this will ensure the donation is correctly identified and will be transferred directly to the appeal fund:
Our thoughts are with Michael and his family at this time. If you don’t feel moved by what has happened to him then try to think ahead to how old you will be in 15 years time. Or how old your children will be. How old you or your children were 15 years ago. It’s a long time for someone to miss out on. Do what you can to help.