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UK government pardons football fan

world Updated: Sep 09, 2009 19:52 IST

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Britain’s government on Wednesday pardoned an English football fan convicted of attempted murder in Bulgaria, saying another man had confessed to the crime.

Michael Shields, 22, was “absolutely ecstatic and so are his family,” following news of the decision, lawyer John Wheate said. TV cameras captured images of Shields leaving detention late Wednesday morning.

British Justice Secretary Jack Straw said he pardoned Shields after new evidence “profoundly changed the credibility of the various accounts of what actually happened in this case.” Another man, whom he did not name, confessed to the attempted killing at the time Shields was on trial in Bulgaria in 2005, Straw said.

Shields and several other fans were visiting Bulgaria after seeing Liverpool FC win the Champions League soccer final in neighboring Turkey in 2005. Bartender Martin Georgiev was attacked when he tried to break up a brawl between fans.

Georgiev suffered head injuries when he was struck with a paving stone.

“I have concluded, having looked carefully at all the evidence now available, that Michael Shields is telling the truth when he says he is innocent of the attempted murder of which he was convicted in Bulgaria,” Straw said.

Shields was transferred to Britain in 2006 to complete his 10-year sentence.

In July, Straw had said he would not grant a pardon to Shields, but revised his decision following a meeting with Shields’ parents.

He said they disclosed details of a confession by a second man in July 2005 which was not considered by the Bulgarian court. Straw confirmed that details of the evidence have been passed to authorities in Bulgaria.

“Michael has suffered a gross miscarriage of justice, incarcerated for four years for a crime he did not commit and for which another man has confessed,” said Louise Ellman, a Labour lawmaker who represents part of Liverpool.

Liverpool FC said it welcomed the pardon. In December, the club’s players wore T-shirts with the slogan “Free Michael Now,” while warming up at the club’s Anfield stadium ahead a televised match.

“We know how difficult the last four years have been for Michael and his family and everyone at the club, the staff, the players and the fans have tried to support them during this time,” the club said in a statement. “We hope now that Michael and his family will be able to move on with their lives and look to the future.”