By James Mills
‘Innocent’ student extradited to Greek prison hell under EU arrest warrant
A student and four of his friends are facing years in a Greek prison after a holiday turned into a nightmare.
Ben Herdman, 20, was due to start his final year studying business at Brighton University soon. Instead he and his friends were extradited this week, accused of attacking a man outside a nightclub in Crete two years ago and leaving him in a coma.
They were flown to Athens yesterday. Lawyers for the five claim the case against them is ‘ridiculously weak’, but they were powerless to prevent the extradition as the Greek authorities used the controversial European Arrest Warrant to force them to stand trial.
They are likely to spend up to 18 months in a squalid Greek prison until their case is heard, and face ten-year sentences if found guilty.
Mr Herdman – whose Brighton University tutors describe him as ‘an exceptional student’ with a ‘charming and engaging personality’ – claims he was more than 100 yards away when the attack happened in Malia in June 2008.
Another of the five, 22-year-old George Hollands, was asleep in his hotel room. They claim they were targeted by police because they were on holiday with a sixth British man – Joseph Bruckland – who witnesses say was involved in a fight with the 29-year-old victim, Rob Hughes, a semi-professional footballer from Bromley, Kent.
Mr Bruckland, a 20-year-old carpenter from Hookwood, Surrey, is facing a separate extradition hearing next month and also denies the allegations.
Mr Herdman, who lives with his parents in Worth, near Crawley, West Sussex, said he was ‘appalled’ by what happened to Mr Hughes, who needed three life-saving brain operations after the attack.
But before leaving for Athens yesterday, he added: ‘Being extradited for something I had nothing to do with and facing 18 months in a foreign prison until I get the chance to prove my innocence is terrifying.’
Mr Herdman was with Mr Bruckland and three of the other accused – Curtis Taylor, 20, Daniel Bell, 21, and 20-year-old Sean Branton, all from Horley, Surrey – before the attack.
They were walking back to their hotel at around 5am when an argument started with a group of Mr Hughes’s friends. Mr Herdman, who is planning a career in IT, said he carried on walking because he did not want to get involved in any trouble.
Minutes later a fight broke out and Mr Hughes was gravely injured.
Two days later, Mr Bruckland was identified by a witness as he sat on the beach with his five friends. All six were questioned but released without charge.
A year later, the Greek authorities asked the six to return for further questioning after a campaign by the victim’s family.
The suspects’ British lawyers advised them not to go as the Greek authorities refused to disclose the allegations against them.
They were arrested by British police in December last year after European Arrest Warrants were issued.
Mr Herdman’s father, Mike, a 55-year-old independent financial adviser, said: ‘I’ve always told my sons to walk away from any trouble and that’s what Ben did. Witnesses have verified this.
‘If the police had done their job properly two years ago they could have identified who did this and justice would have been done. Instead, a lot of innocent people are being put through hell.’
Mr Hollands, a plumber from Reigate, Surrey, said: ‘The only reason I’m involved is because I was on the beach with Joseph Bruckland when a witness pointed him out. Anyone who happened to be on the beach at that moment would be in the same boat as me now.’
His mother Vanessa said: ‘How many more young innocent British lads like George will be banged up across Europe before the Government shows some mettle and gets to grips with the failings of the European Arrest Warrant?
‘When did this country become so feeble in failing to stand up for the rights of its own?’
Karen Todner, of Kaim Todner Solicitors, who is representing the five, said they were being jointly charged with the attack despite witnesses – including friends of the victim – stating that only one man was involved.