By Christopher Booker
EU extradition treaty means British law no longer protects us
Andrew Symeou was deported to Greece, where he was not allowed bail because he is not domiciled there, says Christopher Booker.
In 2001, when EU leaders gathered in Laeken, Belgium, to plan their next great leap forward to European integration – the ill-fated EU constitution – they also agreed on what they saw as another bold symbol of their wish to see Europe politically and legally united: the European Arrest Warrant. Fired by the recent 9/11 outrage, they agreed that the courts of any country could call on those of another to order the automatic extradition of anyone suspected of offences under 32 headings, with such crimes as terrorism, drug-running and “xenophobia” high on their list.
Even then, fears were expressed that such a summary shortcutting of normal legal procedures might lead to serious injustices. Not all of the EU’s judicial systems (to put it mildly) rest on the same ideas of justice. But even those most worried about the dangers of this system could scarcely have imagined a case like that involving the extradition to Greece of a 20-year old British student, Andrew Symeou.
In 2007, Mr Symeou, from Enfield, was on holiday in the Greek island of Zakynthos. One evening, he paid a short visit to a nightclub. A couple of days later, he returned happily to England. Two days after that, however, two friends who had remained on the island were arrested by the police and aggressively questioned for eight hours about an incident that had taken place in the club on the evening of Mr Symeou’s visit.
Another young Englishman had allegedly been punched off the stage, sustaining serious head injuries from which he died in hospital. The police had, for some reason never quite clear, decided to fix their suspicions on Mr Symeou. His friends, by their own account, were beaten and threatened by the police until they signed statements implicating Mr Symeou. As soon as they were released, they protested about their treatment to the British consul, wholly retracting the statements which they claimed to have signed under duress.
The only other evidence against Mr Symeou was an eye-witness description of the assailant, as tall and blond, whereas Mr Symeou is short and dark and was, at that time, bearded. For a year nothing happened, until in July 2008 Mr Symeou was told a European Arrest Warrant had been issued for him and that he would be extradited to Greece, as was confirmed by Horseferry Road magistrates.
In light of the evidence of alleged misconduct by the Greek police and other suspicious features of the case, a legal battle ensued. Mr Symeou’s case was taken up by various bodies including Fair Trials International, Liberty, Open Europe and the UK Independence Party. (Politicians of the three main parties pointedly refused to get involved.) In June this year, two High Court judges proposed that the case should go to the House of Lords because it raised legal issues of “public importance”. But the Law Lords refused to hear it because it did not raise “an arguable point of law of general public importance”.
On July 23, Mr Symeou was deported to Greece, where he was not allowed bail because he is not domiciled in Greece. He was imprisoned for some days in concrete cells in Zakynthos, locked up with illegal Albanian immigrants in intense heat and taunted for being British, until he was last week transferred to another prison near Athens. His parents, allowed to speak to him through bars, say he is not taking his ordeal well. He could be held in prison for up to 18 months before trial, although this week his Greek lawyer hopes to win a further plea for bail.
Little could Tony Blair and his fellow European leaders have imagined in 2001, when they blithely agreed to strike a blow against terrorism by agreeing to the Arrest Warrant, that this was what it would come down to in practice. All traditional British beliefs in protecting the liberties of the subject have been thrown out of the window. Mr Blair – and all those other politicians who acclaimed the Arrest Warrant and have refused to comment on Mr Symeou’s case – can really be proud of what they have done.