Teenager tells of 'hell' of being arrested by mistake

 

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The Independent Online

A teenager who was held in custody for nine days after being mistakenly identified by police as being responsible for setting fire to a Miss Selfridge store during riots in Manchester has spoken of going through "hell" during his detention.

Dane Williamson, 18, of Salford, was arrested after £319,000 worth of stock was damaged at the city-centre store.

But shortly after appearing at the city's crown court on Thursday, he was told that the case against him had been dropped and that he had been exonerated.

Mr Williamson had consistently protested his innocence, claiming his arrest had been a case of mistaken identity, but he was charged with causing criminal damage and being reckless as to whether life was endangered, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

While on remand in Forest Bank prison, his flat in Salford was severely damaged by fire, destroying all his possessions and leaving him homeless.

"Being in Forest Bank was horrible. I had heard my name all over the radio. In prison I was being treated as if I was already guilty. It was quite scary and an experience I don't want to repeat," Mr Williamson told the Manchester Evening News.

He added: "I was going through hell. I was depressed. I was having panic attacks. I feared I was going to get convicted for something I didn't do, which potentially carried a life sentence.

"While I was in custody I got the news from my solicitor that there had been a fire at my flat. All my personal belongings and photos were destroyed. I lost my home."

Mr Williamson has spent 17 years of his life in care, had moved into his home in Broughton, Salford, with the help of the children's charity Barnado's.

His solicitor, Kerry Morgan, said that she was concerned that the courts dealing with people charged over the riots had not been working on the presumption of innocence enshrined in British law. She added that charges against Mr Williamson had been "rushed" through because the case was high-profile.

Police have since arrested a 50-year-old man in connection with the fire but Greater Manchester police say they are still searching for those who started it.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "The evidence against Mr Williamson was based on recognition from visual recordings. However after charging Mr Williamson police discovered CCTV footage that significantly undermined the case."

In London, where the worst riots occurred, nearly 2,000 arrests have been made but fewer than half that number charged.

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