Pensioner gets life for murdering Jews

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The Independent Online
A LIMPING, white-haired pensioner yesterday become the first person to be convicted in Britain of war crimes committed during the Second World War. In an historic decision, an Old Bailey jury found Anthony Sawoniuk, 78, guilty of murdering 18 Jews while serving as a police officer in Nazi- occupied Belarus between 1941 and 1944.

None of the jurors was born when Sawoniuk committed the crimes for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He is the second oldest person in British legal history to receive such a sentence.

During the eight-week trial, the court heard how Sawoniuk, from south London, was actively involved in the Nazis' so-called Final Solution. Recruited in his home town of Domachevo, he enthusiastically led "search and kill" operations to track down those who escaped the massacre of 2,900 Jews on 20 September 1942. At least one witness said Sawoniuk was present on the day of the massacre. The judge, Mr Justice Potts, told Sawoniuk: "Although you held a lowly rank in the hierarchy of those involved in the liquidation of Jews in eastern Europe, to the Jews of Domachevo, it must have seemed otherwise."

The jury took three days to reach its verdicts. Sawoniuk was found guilty unanimously on the first count of murder and by a majority on the second count. As the jury returned its verdict Sawoniuk, pale and troubled, slumped backwards in his seat.

The trial, which cost an estimated pounds 1m, was the result of an eight-year investigation into war crimes costing pounds 10m. Sawoniuk is likely to be one of just two people to be charged.

Sawoniuk's solicitor, Martin Lee, said: "We are instructed to consider grounds for appealing against conviction. In my view this case has demonstrated that the War Crimes Act 1991 has established a bad precedent in respect of retrospective criminal legislation. Retroactive criminal legislation is bad practice and I cannot now see how this prosecution has made it good law. Millions have been wasted by the Government on prosecuting a nobody from south London when hundreds of relatives of the survivors of the First and Second World Wars are desperate for recompense."

The Crown Prosecution Service said the result was "a tribute to the courage and resilience of the witnesses".

Nazis' hired killer, page 8