On Wednesday, May 12, at 18:42, a flight departed Heathrow Airport bound for Lisbon, carrying a former Kent fire fighter bound for an undisclosed Lisbon jail.
Garry Mann had been in a bar in Portgual during Euro 2004 when a riot broke out in a nearby street. In what must have seemed like a daze, Mr Mann was arrested, tried and convicted of hooliganism within 48 hours, with no idea what was happening around him.
Medway blogger Alan Collins has been following Mr Mann’s case closely over the past few weeks, as a law student looking at (amongst other things) EU Law and as a proud British citizen embarrassed by his government’s willingness to surrender one of its own citizens to face a prison sentence following a “serious injustice”.
Mr Collins commented: “It was, undoubtedly, one of the most grossly unfair trials faced by a British citizen within the Eurozone. 12 football fans were tried en masse, with one seemingly clueless lawyer and no chance to prepare a defence.
“After six years, Mr Mann, a former fire fighter and proud England supporter, has been forced back to Portugal after a European Arrest Warrant was released – a system introduced to aid the war against terrorism in Europe.
“Garry Mann may or may not have been innocent, I honestly cannot say either way. However, what I can say is that, in Britain, and indeed in most European countries, we live by the principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. That is a fundamental human right.
“Clearly, that human right was breached back in June 2004, a human right laid out in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that ‘In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing … Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.’
“Fundamentally, Article 6 states the minimum rights any person charged with a criminal offence has: ‘to be informed properly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him; to have adequate time and the facilities for the preparation of his defence … to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court’.
“The British Government, under the leadership and direction of the Labour Party, introduced the European Arrest Warrant. It is they who could have supported Mr Mann in his fight against extradition, but they chose to throw him to the wolves. The Labour Government abandoned one of its own citizens who had clearly not been afforded his basic human rights under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“This fact was recognised by the courts and judges of the United Kingdom which oversaw Mr Mann’s application against the extradition. They recognised, correctly, that, as Lord Justice Moses put it, ‘serious concerns’ had to be raised by the case, which ‘lends force to the belief that a serious injustice’ had occurred. Ultimately, following his judgement, he called the case an ’embarrassment’.
“But the fact is, our country is constantly willing to bend over backwards to Europe, and, not only were the Labour Government willing to throw a British citizen to the wolves, our legal system is undermined by that of the European Union, and, no matter how much they agreed with Mr Mann’s case, accepted that they had not the jurisdiction to prevent the extradition.
“Mr Mann’s only hope was with the politicians in the Labour Government, who were too busy appeasing everyone else in Europe to care about one of their own citizens.
“On Tuesday night, a new dawn broke in British politics. Prime Minister David Cameron and his Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg put tribal, partisan differences aside and formed a strong, exciting coalition government to work for the British people and to make great swathes of reforms where reforms are desperately needed.
“I would suggest that the first reform they should look at with regards to Europe is to scrap Britain’s unwavering commitment to the European Arrest Warrant, and to fight for Garry Mann to be released and brought home, or, at least to face a fair trial for the charges laid out.
“It was a system introduced to fight terrorists, not tourists, and it needs to be made clear that that is the only use of the European Arrest Warrant Britain will recognise.
“I understand that Hugh Robertson, Mr Mann’s local MP, made representations to the Foreign Office under Labour, and attempted to do the same on Wednesday. Unfortunately, not all ministerial posts were filled in time, and so Mr Robertson’s attempts to spare Mr Mann the effects of Portugal’s injustice were met with no response.
“But Britain need not give up now. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government cannot use the excuse that it is too late. It is not nearly too late. Garry Mann has two years to serve, during which time our government should be making representations to the Portuguese government that his being in prison following a travesty of a grossly unfair trial is simply unacceptable.
“Mr Mann leaves behind a partner and six children, not to mention other family and friends. That is to say, at least seven individual lives torn apart by the European Arrest Warrant. The Labour Government showed no mercy and no thought for Mr Mann’s case, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government had no time as Mr Mann was on a flight bound for Portugal before the end of their first 24 hours.
“The fight is not over. The real fight is only just beginning. Every day the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government sits on the fence is another day of freedom lost to Garry Mann. He cannot get those days back.
“The government needs to recognise that he suffered a serious injustice, and that he should be at home supporting his family while they are at school and suffering the mundane stresses of life.
“Most importantly, though, the government must recognise that the European Arrest Warrant is deeply flawed, and needs to be opted-out of before any more British citizens face a similar travesty of injustice and, too, get caught in its net.
“The government wants to be united, strong and firm in standing up for British citizens. I cannot say this any more strongly: Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg, now is your chance!“