Sunday, May 03, 2015

I was framed, jailed and betrayed: British tourist tells how he was arrested for murder in Greece and held in a squalid prison because of the controversial European Arrest Warrant

It was August 4, 2009 and I was being held at Avlona, a prison north of Athens. I was a frightened 20-year-old, wrongly identified as a killer, as the man who ended the life of Cardiff teenager Jonathan Hiles in a nightclub fracas on the holiday island of Zante two years earlier.

I knew the case against me had been fabricated. I could prove I was somewhere else at the time. But I was up against the controversial European Arrest Warrant, a fast-track extradition system introduced in the wake of 9/11 in an attempt to fight terrorism. The British authorities had no power even to examine the evidence against me.

My three new cellmates asked me why I was inside. I explained that I was innocent, but they all laughed: ‘Everyone here is innocent!’

Two years earlier I’d been on holiday with seven schoolfriends to Zante – a group of normal 18-year-olds out to have a great time after our A-levels. While we were there, a young man called Jonathan tragically died after being attacked in a nightclub called Rescue. According to his friends, Jonathan was punched by an unknown man who had first urinated in public.

Jonathan fell from a raised stage on to his head and died two days later from a brain haemorrhage.

I knew nothing of this. I had never met Jonathan and wasn’t in the club when he was punched to the ground.

I returned home safely, but two days later, something unexpected happened. I had been ‘identified’ as one of several attackers in the nightclub. Two of my friends from North London’s Cypriot community – Chris Kyriacou and Charlie Klitou – had been booked on later flights home, and while I was back in Britain, they had been dragged to a police station where officers took it in turns to beat them.

They forced my friends to incriminate me. Chris was slapped and punched over a period of eight hours and was allowed to leave only once he’d signed a handwritten document in Greek. He couldn’t understand it but later discovered it said that Jonathan and I had got into a fight over a girl and I had punched him.

Charlie’s treatment was worse still. One of the officers gave him a powerful right hook to the jaw, which later required hospital treatment. He, too, signed a statement because he feared for his life.

When, a year later, I answered the doorbell at my home in Enfield, North London to find a group of tall, suited men from Scotland Yard, I had a sinking feeling that I knew what it was about.

The officers told me I was under arrest for the murder of Jonathan Hiles and handed me a European Arrest Warrant. I felt numb. My life was about to change.

On the advice of a solicitor, my friends and I had all made statements of our whereabouts and collected photographs of the night – photographs that established my innocence. But that made no difference in the case of an EAW.

The officers drove me in silence to Edmonton Police Station, where I was put in a holding cell overnight. The EAW I had been given said: ‘Murder, maximum 20 years.’

The morning of June 27, 2008, found me trembling in the dock at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. The judge asked me if I would allow the State to extradite me to Greece. I refused and was released on £20,000 bail.

It was at my first meeting with my barrister that I discovered just how difficult it is to overturn an EAW. The fact that I could prove my innocence was irrelevant.

My family hired a Greek lawyer who told us that five friends of Jonathan Hiles had signed statements with the Zante police describing the events that led up to the attack. Three of them were word-for-word identical. They described the assailant as having a muscular build with short, dark brown hair. Yet I was very chubby with distinctive long sideburns that met at a goatee beard at my chin and a thick moustache.

A fourth witness admitted he did not see the punch while the fifth described the perpetrator as a tall, blond male with a heavy northern English accent and spots on his face. Yet all of them later identified me as Jonathan’s attacker.

I felt for Jonathan’s parents, who had lost their son on the eve of his 19th birthday and were entitled to an investigation. But this was a witch-hunt. These same witnesses had given detailed statements to South Wales Police for the inquest: all were completely different to the Greek police versions.

Yet we were forced to fight on technicalities – abuse of process –and that I was being put at risk of mistreatment. On October 30 it was ordered I should be extradited. We appealed to the High Court, but I learned in May 2009 that I’d lost again. I’d be sent to Greece two months later.

On July 23, 2009 I left my home for Belgravia police station in a taxi and was taken to Heathrow to be handed over to Greek police. We were met at Athens airport by five police cars, a police van and seven uniformed officers with machine guns.

Within a few moments they’d cuffed me, dragged me down the stairs and pushed me into a cage in the back of the van for a sweltering 40-minute drive to a transfer jail in Athens which stank of body odour and used ashtray. My graffiti- covered cell had five concrete beds, a few of which had thin filthy mattresses. I noticed that the only window was welded shut.

Five days later, I was taken to a police station in the town of Zakynthos on the island of Zante. I filled with a numbing fear.

There were only three cells. The middle one was filled with about six or seven men, The heat was almost unbearable.

After 20 minutes, I heard a female voice I could have sworn was my mum, except she was speaking in Greek. My Greek Cypriot parents were born in Britain and always speak English at home. Suddenly a woman walked in front of the cell bars. It took a while to process, but it was my mum.

It was tough to see her. I had already got myself into the ‘prisoner’ frame of mind. I was shaking as I squeezed her arm, but it wasn’t long before she was asked to leave.

Over the next few days I memorised every bit of graffiti on the cell walls. I recall ‘PATSI! GOUROUNIA! DOLOFONI!’, which were translated for me by a cellmate – Cops! Pig! Killers!

Our own police had been kind and considerate. I was taken in handcuffs to see the prosecuting judge. She demanded to know why I had been ‘on the run’ for two years and denied me bail.

A few days later, I was taken back to Patras and four days later to Avlona, a juvenile prison.

My three cellmates introduced themselves as Fivos, Christos and Yiannis. Fivos spoke English and told me that I was lucky to be put in a cell with ‘the Greeks’.

It wasn’t until October 15, 2009 – day 85 of my incarceration – that I discovered my application for bail had been refused. Six weeks later, I was told to pack my things. The nightmare of Korydallos, an adult prison and one of the most notorious in Europe, was becoming real.

On December 2, 2009, I stepped into Gamma wing at Korydallos, immediately confronted by wolf-whistles and shouting. It was chaotic and I was instantly filled with fear. Hundreds of inmates roamed the wing. A soaring ceiling covered a barred jungle of three levels, which hosted about 120 solid steel cell doors – each coated in dull orange paint. The ground floor was home to a number of dirty stray cats as well as many criminals.

A few days later I met Apollo, a hitman who’d killed a man for €20,000. ‘Andreas, come!’ he said, motioning me to his cell.

‘My friend, look.’ He pulled out a tray from under his bunk that had two objects wrapped in tin foil. One was about the size of a tennis ball; the other was bigger – about the size of a small melon. ‘You see this,’ he said, pointing at the smaller one. ‘This is €10,000. I sell this.’

He unwrapped it, pouring out a pile of a brown, lumpy powder. ‘There are kings in this prison. I am the king of the Greeks. No business is done without me knowing.’ He used a plastic pre-paid telephone card to create a small line of the drug, then put a plastic straw up his nose and snorted it.

‘You see this,’ he said, unravelling the bigger tin-foil ball. ‘Andreas, man, this one’s yours.’ I looked at the line of heroin in front of him; it was smaller than the one he’d just snorted. It was a little taster for beginners. ‘Oxygen is my drug,’ I said.

‘You can leave, I’ve got business to do,’ he said, brushing me off. He’d seen me as an easy target, maybe a top customer.

Once I watched about 100 prisoners beating the hell out of each other; one African guy was on the ground getting very badly beaten, whipped with hoses and hit with poles. There was blood everywhere. The guards couldn’t do anything.

My trial finally began on June 4, 2010. My dad had brought me a suit to wear and I was ready. The hearing was a shambles. But after an hour’s delay, I was overwhelmed to be told I was to be released on €30,000 bail on the condition I remained in Greece.

It was March 4, 2011, before we were called back to court.

When the case started in earnest on March 22, Jonathan Hiles’s friends took turns to positively identify me as the man who urinated on the stage and punched him. Their lies were transparent.

My lawyers pointed out in cross-examination that their testimonies contradicted statements they had given to South Wales Police.

My defence was simple – I wasn’t even in the nightclub at the time of the attack.

We submitted photographs taken that night by three friends. One showed me and my friends in a different nightclub. You could zoom in on my watch, which clearly showed the time as being 1.20am – the time of the alleged attack in the Rescue nightclub.

My friends Chris and Charlie explained the beatings they had been subjected to and how they had been forced to sign papers they couldn’t read.

When the verdict came, the translator gave me a simple thumbs up.

After everything that we’d been through as a family it was all over.

Original report here

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