My dodgy knee ached as I stood up. I looked down at the gleaming white toilet fittings with an air of satisfaction. Like most families, we share the burdens of housework. It had been my turn to clean the toilet. Downstairs I could hear the kids talking to Laura, my wife. They were banging on about homework and school. I noticed that I had spilled some bleach on my t shirt and mentally prepared myself for a gentle blocking - 'another t shirt ruined blah blah'. Such was the normality of my domestic situation on the early evening of Tue 6th March.
Fast forward 18 years.
Fair Trials International have been indispensable. From the first day they reassured my wife, arranged the correct legal representation for me, both in the UK and in Portugal, as well as handling the media. They were always at the end of the phone, even if I just wanted to have a bloody good moan. They understand.
The BBC had a free-lance journalist working in Portugal. Through him, they uncovered the fact that my original not guilty verdict had been overturned, and a retrial had been ordered. This came as a massive kick in the stones. However, there was no confirmation of this from the Portuguese authorities, so we had to treat it as speculation. Some weeks after the BBC's discovery, we received confirmation that the speculation was correct.
So, a retrial. What was the reason behind this? There must be new evidence. The Stephen Lawrance trial sprang to mind. Was this a similar situation? No, The reason for the retrial was, in layman's terms this - when the judge handed down her correct not guilty decision, she did not explain her reasons for the verdict properly. No new evidence, no forensics, nada. The verdict had been overturned on a legal technicality.
It has since transpired that a court appointed lawyer was given the task of representing me. The problem here is that despite being easily contactable, they had not informed me of these developments. The Supreme Court in Portugal ordered a retrial and still they did not inform me. The claim that I have been living as a 'fugitive from justice' is quite frankly 'bollocks'. Since 95 I have appeared in a UK court, passed a CRB check, flown abroad several times and applied for a new passport, I have had my details checked several times on the PNC and there has never been any mention of a warrant or retrial. Not to mention paying tax, being on the electoral role etc, etc.
By now my fear and frustration was becoming overwhelming. It seemed that they were out to get me and I had no idea why.
Step forward AnnaRaccon. (www.annaraccoon.com) She and her readers had been a tower of support. Anna's readers are an intelligent bunch and to have them onside was great. Now however, she came into her own. The tentacles of the Raccoon network stretch far and wide. She discovered that the victim was attempting to claim compensation for his injuries. I knew nothing about this. I'll leave the details of this investigation for Anna to blog about if she wishes. It's enough for me to say that she discovered details that were crucial - the main ones being that my 'murder' victim was still alive, and that he was keen to claim compensation. During the trial the victim was asked if he could recognise his attackers. he replied yes. He was asked to point them out to the court. He pointed to some people in the press gallery. He was asked if he was sure. He replied 'yes'. Why did he now want to claim compensation from me? The stench of rattus norvegicus was getting stronger!
The arrest warrant stated that the statute of limitations for criminal proceedings on the crime was due to expire on May 4th 2012. On the face of it, unless the Portuguese could get me over there to face another trial, the statute of limitations would expire, and that would be that. Ok, why worry I hear you ask? I continued to worry because the Portuguese authorities have a habit of getting things wrong, don't forget, the warrant was for a crime that even they agree was wrong as the victim was still alive. Why should I believe anything they say? The extradition hearing was scheduled for 12th July 2012 at Westminster Mags.
A Portuguese judicial spokesman told the BBC free-lancer in Portugal that two dates had been set for my trial, and that they may go ahead in my absence. The dates were for two days in April. However, the Portuguese again did not bother to inform me or my lawyers of this. Even now I don't know if this trial went ahead.
I have always wondered what happened to the victim on the night. The first time I clapped eyes on him was during the trial in 95. What I knew was that he was on holiday with a football team. Recently, I have come into possession of some official documents that show exactly what happened to him, where it happened and many other details. The description of events contained in these documents is completely different to the description of events given by the 'star prosecution witnesses' and the police. It is completely different to the description of the crime on the arrest warrant. Not even the location is the same. I now have to work out what to do with this information.
The statute of limitations date (4 May2012) came and went with no news. It seemed that I had been right to doubt the accuracy of the information regarding this on the arrest warrant. There was nothing for it. A Portuguese lawyer was going to have to be employed 'in country'.
Last week, my Portuguese lawyer discovered that the Judge had closed the case and withdrawn the extradition request on May 4th 2012 as the statute of limitations had passed. The paperwork shows the judge ordered the Portuguese police to inform the UK authorities of this. They didn't bother doing this. Were it not for my lawyer going to the court, I could still be waiting, still on bail, my family and friends would still be worried about me.
Last Thursday, news reached me via my lawyer in London that it was all over.
This has been brutal for my family and I. There have been some very, very dark moments. My health has suffered. What has made it easier is the massive support given to us be friends, and strangers alike. It is hard to describe in words how much the support we received helped. This will sound a bit like an Oscars speech but sod it -
Huge thanks go to Jago Russell and the team at Fair Trials International, Ed Grange from Sonn, MacMillan and Walker, Ben Cooper from Doughty Street Chambers, Vanya Costa Ramos from Portugal, Julian Brazier MP, Annaraccoon, her readers, all from IG's blog, my 'brothers' (you know who you are) and friends old and new, who were there when it counted. We will never forget your support and kindness. Thank you.