Legal Affairs Correspondent
Szymon Serafinowicz, a frail 84-year-old man, faced a British court yesterday accused of taking part in the murder of Jews in eastern Europe during the Second World War.
Mr Serafinowicz, who was born before the First World War in Belarus and lives in Banstead, Surrey, became the first person to be charged under war crimes legislation passed four years ago. It allows the prosecution for murders in German-occupied territories before 1945, even if they were not British citizens at the time of the alleged offences.
He faced Epsom magistrates across a wood-panelled suburban courtroom, as the extraordinary charges were read by the court clerk, and translated into Russian by an interpreter standing next to him in the dock.
He gave his address, and his date of birth: 19 December 1910. His hair was white, his face red and veined with age, and he wore a black jacket, an open-necked white shirt and a grey and red pullover over corduroy trousers.
He nodded to show that he had understood as he was told that he was charged on four counts of murder in Belarus. It is alleged that on 27 October 1941, in the village of Turets, he murdered an unknown Jew in circumstances constituting a violation of laws and customs of war. The second charge is that on 4 November 1941, in the same village, he murdered an unknown Jew in the same circumstances. He is also alleged to have murdered an unknown Jew in similar circumstances in the town of Mir, on 9 November 1941 and another unknown Jew between 31 December 1941 and 1 March 1942, in the village of Kryniczne.
He was remanded on bail until 5 October, on condition that he does not apply for a passport. Reporting restrictions were not lifted. Outside court, Nicholas Bowers, his solicitor, read a statement: "My client is completely innocent of these charges and a full and vigorous defence will now be prepared."
He said Mr Serafinowicz would apply for legal aid, which is guaranteed under the War Crimes Act to allow defendants to fund a case which could involve witnesses and evidence from foreign countries. "My client entered this country in 1945, and has subsequently been granted British citizenship. Since that time he has been an honest and hard-working member of society. In his work as a builder and carpenter, he has contributed considerably to the community for many years.
"He has been aware of the police investigation for more than two years, and has been under considerable pressure in view of the possibility of charges being brought. He is now determined to have these matters brought to trial so that he will have the opportunity to clear his name and to live out the remainder of his years in peace."
Mr Serafinowicz said nothing as he left the court.
On Wednesday night, he had been picked up from the semi-detached mock- Tudor home he shares with his son Kazimerz, and charged at a police station in south London. Yesterday he was collected again by police and led into court with a large police escort. He was taken back home by police.
Scotland Yard is working on another 14 war-crimes cases, while a further six files are with the Crown Prosecution Service awaiting a decision.
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