Judge orders extradition of five men over Crete murder bid

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The Independent Online

Five young men accused of attempting to murder a British holidaymaker in Crete were today ordered to travel to Greece to face justice.

A judge granted an extradition request after hearing the gang were suspected of the savage mob attack in Malia in June 2008.

City of Westminster Magistrates' Court heard the men are accused of stabbing footballer Robert Hughes with a broken bottle before stamping on his head.

The 28-year-old victim, who once played for Sutton United, suffered brain damage and was left in a coma for two months as he underwent three operations to save his life.

District Judge Caroline Tubbs said there was no reason the five suspects, all from Surrey and West Sussex, should not travel to Greece to stand trial.

But their barrister Alun Jones QC said they would apply to the High Court within seven days for a judicial review of how the Greek authorities have handled the case.

The five men are Curtis Taylor, 20, Daniel Bell, 21, a former soldier who served in Afghanistan with the 1st Rifles, and Sean Branton, 20, all from Horley, Surrey; Benjamin Herdman, 20, from Worth, West Sussex, and George Hollands, 22, from Reigate, Surrey.

The extradition case against a sixth man, Joseph Bruckland, 20, of Hookwood, Surrey, was separated from the group and adjourned for legal reasons that cannot be reported.

The six suspects were arrested last December after they refused to return to Greece in June for a preliminary court hearing and European arrest warrants were issued.

Solicitor John Jones, speaking on behalf of the Greek authorities, said the victim was stabbed with a broken bottle in the early hours of the morning.

The solicitor said the case could be one of murder had several passers-by not intervened to rescue Mr Hughes as he lay unconscious on the ground.

The victim suffered a brain injury in the attack, which meant he lost memories since his teens.

Mr Jones said: "This case concerns allegations of a particularly cowardly and savage attack.

"The lone victim was attacked and stabbed in the head, then repeatedly kicked in the head and stamped on, fracturing his skull and leaving him in a coma for two months.

"He is only alive as a result of three life-saving brain operations."

The young men have been told they could be jailed for between three and 10 years if found guilty, and could spend up to 18 months in prison while awaiting trial.

Mr Jones added: "This is an extremely serious matter. It is true that justice delayed is justice denied and that is why we seek to proceed matters as expeditiously as possible."

Speaking on behalf of the accused, Alun Jones QC said paperwork submitted by the Greek authorities was flawed and they may not receive a fair trial if they travel abroad.

He said: "I do not need to emphasise the public importance of this case because the victim's family or associates have made a public campaign of it.

"They have gone to the press and enlisted the views of David Cameron and Boris Johnson that these things are things of national importance."

Alun Jones QC accused Greek prosecutors of being "lame" and of giving a "dog ate my homework"-type of excuse when they could not trace details of a key phone call.

He said the defendants were not responsible for any delays which were instead down to the authorities in Greece who did not respond to a series of letters with requests for information.

In her ruling, Mrs Tubbs said the five accused had been given "ample" time to prepare their case and she found their extradition would be within the law.

Speaking outside the court, Alun Jones QC confirmed an appeal would be made within seven days on the basis that extradition would be in breach of European law governing the right to a fair trial.

The five accused were released on conditional bail, pending their appeal or extradition. Bruckland, whose case was adjourned, will appear again on March 29 at 2pm.