I Am Guilty, Michael Shields Is Innocent

Posted by Paul Tomkins on July 27, 2005, 12:52:43 PM

I have a confession to make.

When I first read about the plight of young Michael Shields 末 subsequently sentenced to 15 years in a Bulgarian prison for attempted murder 末 I didn't believe his protests of innocence. It wasn't that I thought he was guilty, either; just that most criminals deny involvement in a crime.

Why was this any different? Haven't we heard it all before? Okay, so the eye-witness evidence didn't tally, and his friends swore he was tucked up in bed, fast asleep. But is that enough to prove he didn't cave in a man's head with a paving stone?

I'll admit it: I can be a cynical bastard at times. I'm sure we all can: it's a sorry symptom of the age. But it can be so difficult to tell what happened without the full evidence presented to a jury, and yet we all prejudge 末 be it OJ Simpson, or Michael Jackson, or a man running towards a tube train. We think we know it all. Even judges and juries can be prejudicial; after all, they are human.

Liverpool fans have been prejudged before. The Sun newspaper did so after Hillsborough, with abhorrent accusations 末 presented as "THE TRUTH", to add weight to a fact-free story 末 of those in the Leppings Lane end robbing corpses the deceased.

We now know that it was the Sun who stole from the dead in the wake of the disaster.

Just as the guilt of Liverpool fans at Heysel, four years before Hillsborough, was partly sealed by the actions of English football hooligans in the previous 15 years, then all English football fans are tarred with the same brush.

But it's not just football fans 末 it's 'Brits abroad'. Anyone who has given the inhabitants of the countries we have visited the sense that we're all animals shares the guilt for the treatment of this young boy. We have manufactured a stereotype. We dip the brush in the vat of tar and hand it to our accusers.


I grew up with a strange fear of being convicted for a crime I didn't commit. It haunted my dreams. I was certain I would pay for the actions of another. A mere child, I had of course not read the works of Kafka at the time, but the word 'Kafkaesque' would later come to my attention, to sum up that sense of events spiralling out of control, where the innocent are treated as guilty. Michael Shields understands the word better than anyone.

It's not just the miscarriage of justice, but the extra cruel nature of the timing: a young man, entering the prime of his life, on holiday just days after the greatest night he had known as a Liverpool fan. I imagine he couldn't have been happier.  Life must have felt amazing. Such a contrast is usually the preserve of the fiction writer 末 to twist from one extreme to another the emotions of the protagonist, so he or she suffer the greatest agony 末 and yet this is reality.

It was only when another man 末 Liverpool fan, Graham Sankey 末 confessed to the crime that took place in Bulgaria just days after the Champions League final that I really started to feel a sense of shame, and to empathise with a young boy who had fallen into my childhood nightmares.

No one admits to a crime they didn't commit with the chance of serving a long jail term in a non-English speaking country, and Mr Sankey's admission of guilt had 末 at the very least 末 to cast serious doubt on the trial that was then taking place. Not all confessions are from those responsible, but in this case there was no police coercion; the only driving force was a sense of guilt, after Mr Sankey was linked to the crime by the Echo newspaper. As a result, he should be tried for the crime; but given a fair trial, all the same.

The closest I came to a Kafkaesque fate (or at least what I felt was the case at the time) was when, aged 21, I ended up on the stand in a magistrates court for driving without insurance or a licence; I had previously produced both at the police station, as requested, but the records were lost, and I found myself dumfounded at my summons. A policemen at the court assured me he would sort the problem, but he wandered off and I never saw him again. It was fairly unnerving, but the misunderstanding was sorted and the judge eventually scrapped the case.

I can't say it was in the least bit enjoyable, but it's totally pathetic when compared to what young Michael has had to endure, and the years he now faces in a foreign jail, for being wrongly convicted of attempting to kill one of their nationals. He won't even understand the insults that will inevitably be hurled at him; but he'll get the message.

We need less cynicism and apathy. I should know: as well as being guilty of both, I've also been on the receiving end.

I am locked in my own kind of prison, albeit one infinitely preferable to the horrors of the Bulgarian variety. On top of suffering ongoing problems with my health, and unable to hold down regular employment as a result of the dips in wellbeing, I've been accused, on numerous occasions, of faking a long-term illness on account of there being no set diagnostic test, nothing to prove I have the condition other than a process of elimination based on the nature of the symptoms.

People I knew didn't believe me, and neither, at first, did some doctors. There was not enough evidence. I knew the truth; I knew what was going on.

Only now, in recent weeks, have scientists pinpointed a number of consistent differences 末 mutations 末 in the genetic code of those who have M.E., and those who don't. I, like other sufferers, feel vindicated. Clinical trials continue, but what pleases us most is being believed, and the knowledge that people out there are fighting our corner. A cure may be years off 末 so my sentence will continue 末 but any kind of breakthrough offers hope.

This is my small attempt to help Michael Shields fight his corner, partly through empathy, partly through guilt, partly through fear. After all, it could be any of us accused of a crime that occurred when we were fast asleep 末 from which we awoke into a nightmare.

Note: Keep an eye out for a website currently being set up to help Michael's case. In the meantime for information on how you can make donations to fund his fight for justice and the latest news visit the campaign thread:


Feel free to post this piece on other internet fora.

ゥ Paul Tomkins, 2005

View Comments | Post Comment