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6 Aug, 2010 02:56

Extradition of British citizens to Greece causes controversy in UK

Five British citizens have been extradited to Greece to face trial for allegedly stabbing and beating a man while vacationing in Crete.

At last taste of freedom before two young men, George Hollands and Ben Herdman, are extradited to a foreign country to face charges for a crime they say they did not commit. They must go to Greece following a European arrest warrant. The warrant operates Europe-wide, and does not require the extraditing country to present any evidence of people having been involved in a crime.

“The lengths I’m having to go to clear my name is unreal. It wouldn’t take long at all for the British authorities to look at the evidence, look at the statements confirming my non-involvement and tell the Greeks from there, and then they can extradite whoever from there,” said Herdman.

“The judicial authorities could look into the evidence in the case, and decide whether there’s sufficient evidence to send people to these foreign countries. In my case, I wasn’t even present at the incident, and all the evidence, all the witness statements say that, and yet they’re still sending me out knowing that I’m innocent,” Hollands stated.

Under the European arrest warrant, once an extradition request has been received, if the form is correctly filled out, there is nothing individual countries can do to prevent an extradition taking place.

“They don’t actually have to produce any evidence, which is a fundamental flaw,” commented Gerard Batten, a member of the European Parliament. “All they have to do is fill out a piece of paper, saying basic details, name, address. But the examining court, the British court in this case, has no power whatsoever to examine the prima facie evidence and decide whether there’s a case to answer."

A tearful goodbye, and Ben and George are gone, to join three friends accused of the same crime. No one knows when they will come back. They’re likely to be held in custody on Crete for up to 18 months awaiting trial. As they head into an uncertain future in a foreign land, some question an EU-wide diktat which strips individual countries of the right to protect their own citizens.

The young mens’ parents see them as victims of a UK government which has repeatedly failed to stand up to an ever-more legislative EU.

“The fact is, the UK should hear evidence before extraditing people. That’s why, if they don’t change the European arrest warrant, innocent people will carry on being extradited,” said Hollands’ mother, Vanessa.

As a member of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Batten says the European arrest warrant is just the tip of the iceberg:

“The next thing that’s coming along is something called the European investigation order, and what will happen there is EU countries like Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, they’ll be able to require the British police to investigate cases for them, they can snoop on you, take your DNA, your fingerprints,” he warned. “But what’s wrong about all this is that it’s entirely one-sided – they’ll collect evidence for the prosecution, but not for the defense.”

Critics say the arrest warrant and investigating order rest on the assumption that standards are the same across the board inside the EU. But the prison where Ben and George are likely to be held has come under fire from Amnesty International for inhumane treatment of detainees, something the UK courts refused to take into account.