I’ve just attended the appeal hearing in Riga, Latvia, for the Derby Two. That’s the Prosecutor’s appeal against their acquittal last year. Not, apparently, a case of double jeopardy, but it certainly feels like it.
The story so far: (readers familiar with the case of the Derby Two can skip this section). Way back in 2008, David Birkinshaw and Matthew Neale went to Riga with a stag party from Derby. Bear in mind that British stag parties are not terribly popular in Riga, for understandable reasons, and this may have coloured the attitude of the Latvian authorities to the case.
Some sort of incident took place in the street, after which an Auxiliary Policeman claimed to have been assaulted by the two Brits. They say that he approached them in an aggressive manner, and far from them assaulting him, he started to push them around. In 2009 they were sent under the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) to Riga to face assault charges. They were held in a Stalin-era gaol described by the then President of Latvia as “not fit for animals”, for an unlimited period which in the end was nearly three months, without a trial date or even a formal charge. When the case was finally heard, no substantive evidence was adduced, and the case was dismissed.
They went home greatly relieved, so we can imagine their feelings when they were advised that the Prosecutor was appealing against the acquittal. They were on the point of attending the new hearing on March 25th, when they received a call at Gatwick airport from their Latvian lawyer advising that the hearing was postponed until May 27th, because the alleged victim (and key witness) was “stressed”.
The hearing took place yesterday. There appeared to be no new evidence. Indeed much of the evidence was about a subsequent and unconnected injury sustained by the alleged victim, which had left his memory impaired. It seemed bizarre that the prosecution should make such an effort to discredit its own witness.
The main evidence was two separate CCTV files. We watched them in some detail, and while they showed a group on the pavement including Matthew Neale and the alleged victim, we did not see any punching, nor any kicking (both key elements of the accusation) nor did we see the alleged victim on the ground, where he claimed he had fallen when punched.
In short, there was no substantive evidence of wrongdoing whatever by the Derby Two. During the hearing, the Prosecutor withdrew the appeal in the case of David Birkinshaw — effectively an admission that he was innocent, that they had no contrary evidence, and that the appeal should never have been brought. But perversely, she did not withdraw the appeal in the case of Matthew Neale.
Because of a technicality in the Latvian legal system, the court sought to postpone the case until next week. However Matthew Neale’s lawyer submitted on his behalf that his fiancee was seriously ill, and he also had two children at home in the care of relatives: he could not stay ’till Tuesday. So yet another hearing was set for later: October 6th.
This case has been hanging over the two for two years. It is now set to go on for a further five months. It has caused huge anxiety and distress to the two men and their families, not least to David Birkinshaw’s three-year-old daughter, who can’t bear to hear the word “Latvia” spoken.
At least David Birkinshaw’s confirmed acquittal should have been some cause for celebration, but after all the trauma, and with their friend Matthew still caught in the net, David and his fiancee Rachel (who was with him in Riga) were too shell-shocked to celebrate.
I believe that this case perfectly illustrates what is wrong with the EAW. It is a form of extradition, but it sets aside all the normal legal safeguards that should apply to extradition.
First of all, no one should be extradited unless the alleged offence is sufficient to justify it. Extradition, in other words, should be proportionate. In this case, David Birkinshaw, now acquitted and innocent, has suffered two years of desperate anxiety. He has spent three months in gaol. And he has been hit with costs and loss of income amounting to tens of thousands of pounds. That is far more than we could have expected his penalty to be even if found guilty. It is wholly disproportionate.
Secondly, no one should be extradited unless a British court has established that sufficient evidence exists to establish a prima facie case. There was no such evidence in this case. I am confident that if the UK Crown Prosecution Service had considered the case, it would have decided against bringing it to court on the grounds that it had no realistic prospect of success.
Thirdly, no one should be extradited to any country unless that country’s judicial system can guarantee broadly comparable standards and safeguards to those available in the UK. As we have seen in this case, that does not apply in Latvia — nor in Hungary, nor in some other EU countries. It is bizarre that we won’t deport Islamist terrorists to Islamic countries for fear that their human rights may be infringed, yet we happily send British subjects to other EU countries where, as with the Derby two, they suffer manifest injustices.
I am taking up the issue of the EAW both with our new Home Secretary Theresa May, and with EU Justice Commissioner Vivian Redding.
After the hearing, I visited British Ambassador Andrew Soper to brief him on the developments.
So if your question is “What did the EU ever do for us?”, just don’t ask the Derby Two.