Dave Evans has sent over some images of Michael Shields’ release, a story that look sure to dominate headlines for some time to come.
The local media has waged a vociferous campaign to have Shields freed, and local celebrities, clergy and footballers have also rallied to the cause.
Shields was freed following a Royal Pardon that was issued by Justice Secretary Jack Straw after receiving ‘fresh evidence which the Bulgarian court did not consider’ that indicated that Shields was ‘morally and technically innocent’ of the attack on a Bulgarian national.
Shields was convicted of attempted murder in a Bulgarian court in 2005 and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, later reduced to ten. In 2006 he was transferred to a British prison.
Shields always maintained that he was asleep in bed at the time of the attack and a hotel night porter appeared to give Shields an alibi, while another man, Graham Sankey, later confessed in writing to the specific attack, later withdrawing this confession.
Sankey’s confession was not admissible as he refused to repeat it in the Bulgarian court.
In July this year, Straw provisionally denied Shields a pardon, after the Court of Appeal chucked the case back to the Justice Secretary. At this point Shields’ father announced his intention to stand as MP for Blackburn against Straw at the next election.
Following a meeting with Shields’ parents in August, Straw decided to grant the pardon.
Straw says that at this meeting he was given ‘important new evidence’, which convinced him that his former decision was wrong.
Straw appears to indicate that this new evidence derives from a verbal Sankey confession, allegedly made to Shield’s family members in 2005, and that Merseyside police have uncovered corroborative evidence relating to that confession.
Straw says this of the evidence:
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.This in my view profoundly changed the credibility of the various accounts of what actually happened in this case.
This evidence, says Straw, was not available at the time of the Bulgarian trial, nor had he been previously aware of it. Shields’ current solicitors were not aware of the evidence either.
Of the assault, Straw says this:
It is not for me to say who was responsible for this disgraceful assault.
However, although Straw has been careful to word his explanations for Shields’ release, the new evidence that Straw finds so compelling can only point to one explanation.
A postscript to Straw’s statement sees him stating that Justice Secretaries should not, in the future, be responsible for handling such cases.
The Shields family say they intend to embark on an effort to clear Michael’s name in Bulgaria.
All images © Dave Evans