I'm innocent, says England football fan jailed for Algarve riot

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The Independent Online

Seven days ago, Garry Mann was a tourist sitting in the Blues Bar in the Portuguese resort of Albufeira, drinking with his brother and a friend. Hours later, Mr Mann would be arrested as the "ringleader" of rampaging football fans, and the next day his salmon-pink face was emblazoned across British front pages as, "The shame of England".

Seven days ago, Garry Mann was a tourist sitting in the Blues Bar in the Portuguese resort of Albufeira, drinking with his brother and a friend. Hours later, Mr Mann would be arrested as the "ringleader" of rampaging football fans, and the next day his salmon-pink face was emblazoned across British front pages as, "The shame of England".

Yesterday, the 46-year-old firefighter sat in a noisy office yards from London's Eurostar terminal and revealed his latest public persona, that of a victim of torture, a grotesque miscarriage of justice and an attempt by a pugnacious Home Secretary to "nail him".

Backed by the campaigning group Fair Trials Abroad, Mr Mann hit back at David Blunkett's vow to ensure he is punished for his alleged role in the riot on 15 June by protesting his innocence and saying his trial in the Algarve resort had been farcical.

Reading from a scrawled statement with his lawyer at his side, the firefighter said: "I feel thoroughly victimised by a wholly unfair trial. I hope this matter is resolved swiftly, as me and my family are devastated by these events and all the media coverage."

The publicity offensive completed a remarkable week for the shaven-headed Mr Mann, who has four children, from Faversham, Kent. He has found himself transformed from a respected rescue worker to the embodiment of England's hooligan element, with a senior cabinet minister apparently taking personal charge of attempts to put him behind bars.

The firefighter was sentenced to two years' imprisonment by a Portuguese court on Wednesday and deported back to Britain to serve his sentence. Due to a legal technicality, he had to be released. The move prompted Mr Blunkett to promise at the weekend that he would everything in his power to see that Mr Mann does not escape punishment, holding out the hope that he could be extradited back to Portugal.

Mr Mann insisted yesterday that he was not a bottle-throwing thug, and he claimed that he had been subjected to 15 hours of beatings and sleep deprivation by Portuguese police. In a sober jacket and green shirt covering a tattoo of a St George cross on his arm, Mr Mann said the first he had known of any trouble was when he emerged from the Blues Bar, "nowhere near the alleged riot", at 3.45am on 15 June.

The firefighter said: "I was on my way back to the hotel when I was attacked by plain-clothed police officers and beaten up by police at the time of arrest. I was then held at military police headquarters with a number of others. We were subjected to 15 hours of sleep deprivation and beatings if we tried to shut our eyes."

A packed press conference was told that CCTV evidence of Mr Mann drinking at the Blues Bar had been rejected by the Portuguese judge and subsequently destroyed.

Mr Mann, who the Portuguese authorities said incited fans to throw bottles at police, refused to answer questions from reporters, his representatives claiming he was "too distressed". Instead, he vigorously shook his head as he was pressed on whether he had been prosecuted before for football violence.

Later, the owner of the Blues Bar said he could not confirm Mr Mann's alibi that he was drinking there at 1am when the trouble broke out. Clive Tomlinson, 35, said he could only remember the firefighter arriving at 3.30am.

Stephen Jakobi, the director of Fair Trials Abroad, said he believed the trial of the firefighter broke every minimum standard for a trial stipulated by the European Charter of Human Rights, including time to prepare a defence and put relevant evidence before the court. Mr Jakobi said: "The facts speak for themselves. The trial had concluded within 24 hours of arrest. It makes it impossible to abide by the rules of fair trial."

The Home Office said yesterday that it was waiting for the Portuguese legal process to be completed before seeing whether a European arrest warrant could secure Mr Mann's return to Portugal to serve his prison term.

Fair Trials Abroad, which produced a document given to Mr Mann banning him from returning to Portugal for a year, said Mr Blunkett's intervention made it unlikely that justice could be done. Mr Jakobi, who refused to say he believed the firefighter was innocent, added: "I don't think it is possible to get a fair retrial in Portugal if any Portuguese judge is under the impression that the British Government want this guy 'nailed'."