Straw refuses pardon for jailed football fan

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Justice Secretary Jack Straw today refused an appeal for a pardon by jailed football fan Michael Shields.

Shields was jailed for 15 years in Bulgaria in 2005 for the attempted murder of a barman following Liverpool FC's European Cup victory in Turkey.

In a provisional decision, Mr Straw was unable to conclude the 22-year-old was "morally and technically innocent", a Ministry of Justice spokesman said.

Liverpool city councillor Joe Anderson, who has spearheaded the drive to free the Reds fan, said: "We have only just heard and I am on my way to see Michael's parents to discuss it.

"We're still taking in the news."

The Ministry of Justice said a High Court judgment in December last year set a "very high" bar for granting what is known as a free pardon.

A spokesman said: "Mr Straw has made his decision in accordance with the High Court judgment of 17 December 2008 which indicated that, in order to grant a free pardon, he would have to be satisfied that Mr Shields was morally and technically innocent.

"This is a very high test and the Justice Secretary has provisionally concluded that, on the evidence he currently has, that test is not met.

"The Justice Secretary recognises, of course, that many will be disappointed by his decision. But in exercising this quasi-judicial function he has adopted the approach that the Court expected him to adopt."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said Mr Straw had made a "detailed and careful consideration of all the relevant evidence".

He said Mr Straw had written to Shields today to give him a "full explanation" of the reasons for his decision.

Shields can make further representations to the Justice Secretary, after which he will make a final decision.

Despite another man confessing to the attack, Shields was locked up for 10 years.

He was transferred to the UK to serve the remainder of his sentence, and is currently held at HMP Haverigg in Cumbria.

But he maintains his innocence and his supporters have continued their fight for his release.