Cleared men face 15-year prison term

TWO young men acquitted for the manslaughter of a Cypriot teenager fear they could be jailed without trial for 15 years today. Luke Atkinson and Michael Binnington had been cleared at trial of conspiracy to commit manslaughter and grievous bodily harm after the car they were passengers in crashed into 17-year-old Christos Papiris's moped.

James Hore

TWO young men acquitted for the manslaughter of a Cypriot teenager fear they could be jailed without trial for 15 years today.

Luke Atkinson and Michael Binnington had been cleared at trial of conspiracy to commit manslaughter and grievous bodily harm after the car they were passengers in crashed into 17-year-old Christos Papiris's moped.

But they were left devastated in January when the Cypriot Supreme Court overturned the acquittals following an appeal from prosecutors.

The 23-year-olds from Witham will be sentenced in their absence today, but campaigners Fair Trials International have warned the pair should expect a long prison term.

And Mr Atkinson's mother, Averil , said the family was preparing for the worst.

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It is likely that the Cypriot Court will issue a European arrest warrant to be executed by police in the UK, although the men would have a chance to fight extradition.

Their uncle, Julian Harrington, who was driving the hire car, pleaded guilty to manslaughter after he was told it would secure a better deal for his nephews.

The court heard Mr Harrington, a fence maker from Witham, rammed Mr Papiris' motorbike in the resort of Protaras as part of a revenge attack after another Briton was hurt in a fight outside a local nightclub.

But Mr Papiris had not been involved in the altercation in August 2006, prosecutors said.

Mrs Atkinson said her son had been “bottling up” his feelings as the big day approached.

She said: “I have not heard from anybody out there - all we know is that our lawyer will be able to give some mitigation.

“Luke has just been trying to get on with his life, but I think they will get 15 years like Julian did.

“I can't believe it - I just cannot believe it can happen. It cannot be right, even in the eyes of the Cypriots, this cannot be right.”

And a spokeswoman for Fair Trials International agreed that the men should not get their hopes up.

She said: “We are not really hoping for anything as we think the outcome is inevitable I am afraid - it is likely to be in the region of what Julian Harrington was given.

“I think if they had gone out there, they would have been given the sentence and started it immediately, but at least this way they will have a chance to fight extradition in the British courts which they can have faith in.”

The sentencing comes as Mr Harrington waits to hear if his 15-year-term has been cut by the country's new president, Dimitris Christofias.

In Cyprus it is traditional for the incoming president to reduce the sentence of all prisoners by up to a third, although it is a discretionary act.

Once the president has made the announcement Mr Harrington, who was on the island to arrange his wedding, will then apply to transfer home to the UK to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Mr Harrington said once his brother's transfer request goes in, it could be just a matter of months before he is back in the UK with his fiancé, Maxine Scrivener and their daughter, Jazmin.

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