Brussels suspect `already cleared'

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The Independent Online
A BRITISH lorry driver is being held in a Belgian jail accused of smuggling, despite already being cleared by British Customs of the same charges.

Eddy Bellfield, 44, from Canterbury, Kent, who is due to appear in a Bruges court today, was arrested in Belgium at the request of the German authorities for his alleged involvement in an international cigarette- smuggling ring.

But his lawyers claim that Customs and Excise had already eliminated Mr Bellfield during an investigation into smuggling.

He is the third Briton to have been detained under questionable circumstances by Belgium in the past few months. The cases have generated concern among British lawyers about the number of miscarriages of justice in Belgium involving UK citizens.

Last week Bridget Seisay, 30, from London, was acquitted at the Court of Appeal in Brussels after spending eight months in jail wrongly convicted of trafficking in people. Her prosecution and imprisonment had been branded racist by civil rights organisations and lawyers in Britain. Ms Seisay is black.

Michael Wheeler, another lorry driver, was released last month after he had his sentence for drug smuggling substantially reduced. He was mistakenly linked to a gang of drug smugglers who had been driving behind his lorry. It was alleged that Flemish police beat him up and made him answer questions spoken in Flemish, which he did not understand; his answers then incriminated him.

Stephen Jakobi, of Fair Trials Abroad, said miscarriages of justice were common in Belgium because very junior judges, who are politically appointed, preside over serious cases. "Some of them don't even understand the first principle of the European Convention of Human Rights which is that the prosecution must prove its case," he said.