PARDONED football fan Michael Shields thanked his tireless supporters last night and declared: “Today is the first day of the rest of my life.”
Shields, who looked tired, emerged smiling from prison yesterday after British Justice Secretary Jack Straw granted a much fought-for royal pardon.
The 22-year-old’s release means he is “technically and morally innocent” of the attempted murder of waiter Martin Georgiev in Bulgaria following Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League win.
He was sentenced to 15 years but the term was later reduced to 10.
At a press conference yesterday, Shields, wearing a black Liverpool Football Club t-shirt, looked visibly shaken and moved from tears to laughter as he praised supporters, saying: “Your voices were heard.
“Thanks to you, I knew I would never walk alone. Thank you.”
The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, read a statement on his behalf. “The last four years have been the hardest four years of my life.
“They have been a living hell. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.
“And I am only sitting here today thanks to the love, support and tireless campaigning of a number of people, some of whom are here today.
“Most of all I want to thank my mum and dad, my sisters, my family and my friends, who never for one minute doubted my innocence and who stood by me every step of the way.
“I couldn’t have made it without their love.
“It’s a hard thing to be locked away for a crime you did not commit. I was just 18 when I was arrested. Today is a happy day for me but one of mixed emotions too.
“I am a free man, yes, but it should not have come to this.
“I now face a hard battle to adjust to normality.
“To find a job. To resume friendships. To build an ordinary life.
“I would like to extend my sympathy to the family of Martin Georgiev, who was the innocent victim of an unprovoked attack.
“He and his family, like me and mine, have been denied justice for four long years.”
Despite rumours of good news for the prisoner’s campaign team, the release came as a shock.
Shields was told by the governor of Thorn Cross Young Offenders’ Institution in Warrington shortly after 9am that he would be released.
And his parents received a phone call from Mr Straw at a similar time.
Shields’ father Michael senior said: “We are feeling elated, it has taken such a long time.”
According to their solicitor John Weate and barrister Peter Weatherby, Mr Straw took the decision after receiving new “corroborative” evidence during a meeting with the family at the end of August.
The evidence was that members of Shields’ family went to visit convicted racist Graham Sankey at his Liverpool home where he admitted committing the crime.
Apparently, Mr Straw did not know about this, despite knowing Sankey had provided a written confession to the attack which he later retracted.
Pushed about why this added extra gravity to Shields’ case, Mr Weatherby said it was “regrettable” the pardon took so long but it would be “churlish to go further than that”.
Now, the legal team hopes the Bulgarian authorities re-open the case after considering the pardon and a Merseyside Police report concluding there were huge doubts over the case.
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