Shields’ Battle for Freedom

Michael Shields was one of the thousands of British teenagers who were celebrating Liverpool FC’s brilliant triumph in Istanbul in the 2005 Champions League. The football fans were delirious and partied throughout the night and for the next four days.

The 18 year old Liverpool supporter travelled to Golden Sands, a nearby resort in Bulgaria. Shields planned to continue the victory celebrations in the sun with a group of friends. ON the third day after the football match, a brawl broke out near a cafe in Varna along the Black Sea Coast. The incident involved a group of Liverpool fans and the barman, Martin Georgiev, who was hit on the head with a rock. This resulted in Georgiev suffering a broken skull.

Bulgarian Police arrested Michael Shields just hours before he was due to fly home to England, claiming that he had attempted to murder the barman. Shields, however, insisted that he had been asleep at the time the brawl took place.

A month later in July of that year, the teenager was convicted of attempted murder and was given a 15 year prison sentence in Bulgaria. Even though another Liverpool supporter, Graham Sankey, confessed to the crime, Shields continued to be held.

The family of Michael Shields began to campaign for his release, claiming that the local authorities had used him as a scapegoat. The family gained the support of fellow football fans, who were allowed by the club to display “Free Michael” banners at Liverpool’s first game played at home in the 2005/2006 season.

The failure of Shields’ first appeal to the Bulgarian Court in November 2005 prompted the family to start a petition to give to Downing Street pleading for the Government’s intervention. They managed to obtain 70,000 signatures. In April 2006 Shields lost another appeal, and then was refused a retrial by the Bulgarian Supreme Court, who would not accept a signed confession from Sankey.

Relying now on a “royal prerogative of mercy”, by which the British Government could exercise the authority to release Shields, the family waited while the Ministry of Justice insisted that new evidence was needed to grant the release.

Today, Justice Secretary Jack Straw has granted Shields’ release after 4 years in captivity. Football fans, London escorts and people who have been following the case have all been rejoicing today that justice has finally prevailed.