Club attack accused men lose extradition fight

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Five men lost a High Court battle today to block extradition to Greece where they are accused of a savage attack on a footballer outside a Crete nightclub.

Lawyers for the five said they were innocent and potentially faced detention in terrible conditions in a Greek jail, without charge, for many months.

But two judges ruled the evidence of them possibly suffering inhuman and degrading treatment "fell a long way short" of establishing a bar to extradition.

The men, all in their early 20s, are suspected of stabbing Robert Hughes, also British, with a broken bottle before stamping on his head in an incident in the resort of Malia in June 2008.

Mr Hughes, who has played football for Oxford United, Fulham youth team, Sutton United, Croydon Athletic, Bromley and now Welling, was left in a coma for two months as he underwent three brain operations to save his life.

He has now recovered to the extent that he is again playing football.

The five suspects - Curtis Taylor, Daniel Bell, and Sean Branton, all from Horley, Surrey; George Hollands, from Reigate, Surrey; and Benjamin Herdman, from Worth, West Sussex - deny involvement in the attack

The men were invited to go back to Greece in June last year, but they refused and were then detained under European arrest warrants in December.

They asked President of the Queen's Bench Division, Sir Anthony May, and Mr Justice Blair, sitting at the High Court in London, to block a City of Westminster magistrates court decision last February giving the go-ahead to extradition.

But today the judges upheld a finding by District Judge Caroline Tubbs that there was no reason why the five should not travel to Greece to stand trial.

The judges rejected claims that the five were unfairly refused an adjournment to fully prepare their case, call witnesses and present fresh evidence on prison conditions in Greece.

Alun Jones QC, appearing for the five, had told the High Court they faced being detained in "intolerable, disgusting and unacceptable conditions", violating their rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.

He said they could be held for months or years, without formal charge, in overcrowded jails with appalling hygiene and toilet facilities where the authorities were unable to protect individuals from violence and abuse.

The QC asked the judges to order a re-hearing so that "fresh evidence" could be called, including statements from the family of Andrew Symeou that showed prison standards in Greece were so bad that UK citizens should not be subjected to them.

Mr Symeou, from west London, was extradited to Greece on suspicion of killing 18-year-old Welsh roller hockey player Jonathan Hiles in an incident at a Zakynthos nightclub in July 2007.

Refusing to intervene, the judges said the fresh evidence was inadmissible, but in any event it would have made no difference to the court's decision.

The judges said: "Having considered the evidence, we are of the view that it falls a long way short of the high threshold necessary to establish an Article 3 bar to extradition.

"Disturbing and deplorable though the accounts of the prison conditions we have seen are, they do not show strong grounds for believing that these appellants, if returned to Greece, face a real risk of being subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

The judges also concluded that the general arrangements in Greece for granting bail were compliant with the Human Rights Convention, and the five had failed to show that their bail requests would be dealt with improperly.

They had also failed to demonstrate there was a real risk that they would be denied the right to a fair trial.

The judges' ruling led the mother of one of the accused to warn the parents of "British lads" to be "very afraid" if their sons were planning holidays in Greece.

Vanessa Hollands, mother of George Hollands, said on hearing the decision: "My son is being forced into indefinite incarceration in Greece with no prospect of bail, to await trial for a crime that all the evidence shows he did not commit."

Condemning the extradition laws as "not fit for purpose", she said: "How many more young innocent British lads like George will be banged up across Europe before the Government shows some mettle and gets to grips with the failings of the European Arrest Warrant?

"Parents up and down the country be very afraid - this summer it could be your son wrongly accused after an innocent lads' holiday in Greece, yet you'll be powerless to stop their extradition and immediate detention.

"By the time they make it to trial to be acquitted, the damage will have been done.

"When did this country become so feeble in failing to stand up for the rights of its own?"