Anger at Cyprus death crash verdict

THE “devastated” family of an Essex man - one of two men facing jail for a death crash in Cyprus after having their acquittals overturned - say he may take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

THE “devastated” family of an Essex man - one of two men facing jail for a death crash in Cyprus after having their acquittals overturned - say he may take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Luke Atkinson, 23, and Michael Binnington, 23, from Witham, were passengers in a hire car which hit a moped, causing the death of 17-year-old Christos Papiris in August 2006.

The car driver, their uncle Julian Harrington, 40, also from Witham, was jailed for 15 years last year after pleading guilty to charges of manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm.

The court heard he rammed Mr Papiris' motorbike in the resort of Protaras as part of a revenge attack after a Briton was hurt in a fight outside a local nightclub. But Mr Papiris had not even been at the nightclub, prosecutors said.

Harrington's nephews were cleared last year of conspiracy to commit manslaughter and grievous bodily harm, but on Tuesday the Cypriot Supreme Court overturned the acquittal. They will be sentenced in Cyprus on March 13.

Yesterday, the decision was described as “manifestly unfair and totally unjust” by an MEP.

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And Mr Atkinson's mother, Averil, who is also Mr Harrington's sister, said the decision - which came through to the family in a fax - was devastating.

She said: “We are absolutely devastated. Luke has gone back to work. He said 'How do you think I am feeling? I could be facing 15 years'.

“He had been acquitted but now could be going back for 15 years. He is in a poor way. I was absolutely shocked when I got this news from the lawyers. The whole family was shocked. We could not believe it.

“I don't know where this goes now, and whether they are facing extradition.

“It seems that Cyprus likes it all its own way - it is their way or no way. We have not had any luck out there at all.”

The family's lawyers in Cyprus have already applied for a mitigation hearing in early March and they could also apply to the European Court of Human Rights, Mrs Atkinson said.

Meanwhile, her son, who is studying to be a technical assistant in the building industry in Chelmsford, was hoping he might be able to take his second-year exams early so that his studies did not suffer, she said.

Richard Howitt, MEP for the East of England, who has campaigned on behalf of Mr Harrington, said the Supreme Court's decision was “frankly breathtaking”.

He said: “The family did not know that a retrial was taking place. They thought it was simply an appeal hearing by the prosecution and that they might be asked to go back and face charges.

“To find out by fax that you are facing a jail sentence of up to 15 years without having an opportunity to give your side of the story is manifestly unfair and totally unjust.”

Mr Howitt added: “It is palpable nonsense and I feel very aggrieved for them.”

He also said he would now be seeking to meet the High Commissioner of Cyprus to discuss the case and that they would definitely work on an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Supreme Court ruled that evidence showed the pair had “undoubtedly encouraged and had common purpose with” Harrington to “seek, pursue and punish” the Cypriot teenagers.

State prosecutor Eleni Zachariadou warned the charges carry a maximum life in prison but that the court was unlikely to impose a sentence longer than that given to Harrington.