War crime witnesses branded liars

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THE DEFENDANT in Britain's first war-crimes trial has adamantly denied assisting the Nazis in murdering Jews during the Second World War.

The Old Bailey was told yesterday that Anthony Sawoniuk, 77, told police that witnesses claiming he was involved in such killings were liars.

According to the prosecution, Mr Sawoniuk told police: "No one can put a finger on me that I killed a Jew. The people who gave you that evidence are liars. The people over there will tell you anything for a couple of bob. They are liars. They want to destroy my life."

The court heard that he made the denials in 1996 during interviews with Sergeant Michael Griffiths, who was attached to the Metropolitan Police war-crimes unit.

He told Sgt Griffiths that such allegations were "idiotic". "They used to help me. I used to work for them. They gave me food. I could not go against those people," he said. "If I was guilty I would tell my solicitor so - and I would not be here talking to you and would not let you come to my place and turn everything upside down."

Mr Sawoniuk, a former British Rail ticket collector, is accused of murdering up to 20 Jews while serving with a locally recruited police force in Domachevo, in Nazi-occupied Belarus in September 1942. Mr Sawoniuk is said to have "enthusiastically" signed up to help the Nazis, organising search-and- kill operations to track down Jews who survived a Nazi massacre in which 2,900 men, women and children were murdered in one day.

On one occasion Mr Sawoniuk is said to have ordered 15 Jewish women to strip off in a forest clearing before shooting them with an automatic weapon and pushing their bodies into pre-dug graves. On another, he is said to have shot dead three Jews with a pistol.

He denies all the charges.

Mr Sawoniuk initially told police that after the Nazi invasion of Belarus in June 1941 he had been forced to travel to Germany where he worked on a farm. But the prosecution has told the court that he later admitted he was present in Domachevo as a policeman at the time. The court also heard that Mr Sawoniuk told police he had joined the Polish army in France during the war and later went to Italy and then Egypt.

He said that after the war he went first to Scotland and then lived on the south coast at Brighton and Bognor. He was employed by British Rail at London Bridge station after doing a number of other jobs.

Mr Sawoniuk, who has sat throughout the trial at the back of the Old Bailey courtroom next to a member of his defence team, has been charged under the auspices of the 1991 War Crimes Act. The act extended the jurisdiction of the British courts to try people living in Britain for alleged crimes that were committed abroad.

The trial continues.