Leeds fans’ killers freed in Turkey ten years after match

Families of Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight fear justice will elude them

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The families of two Leeds United supporters killed a decade ago in Turkey have just received news that the Turkish authorities concluded the appeals of the five convicted men, currently free on bail, back in June.

Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight were among a group of approximately 25 Leeds United supporters attacked by a mob of up to 500 people in Istanbul on 5 April 2000. They had travelled to the Turkish capital to watch their side play Galatasaray but were stabbed to death. With CCTV evidence, four men were indicted for murder within a week, including Ali Umit Demir, at whose flat the police found a knife stained with the blood of both the deceased.

Accused were cheered

Although he admitted the offence and was sentenced to jail, his conviction was quashed. In a re-trial he was sentenced again but has been released on appeal, leading Loftus’s brother Andy to question whether the deceased’s families will ever receive justice.

When the four accused first appeared in court, they were cheered by members of the public. Three were released on bail following witness claims that Leeds fans, branded beforehand in some of the Turkish press as the worst in Britain, had provoked trouble by insulting the Turkish flag and assaulting people. Demir himself claimed his uncle had been attacked.

Not so, said members of West Yorkshire Police, whose spotters witnessed events when they found themselves locked inside a nearby bar. In addition no video evidence has ever been produced to back up claims that the Leeds fans had been involved in any incidents prior to their deaths.

In May 2002 Demir, who admitted the stabbings, was sentenced to 15 years in prison with four other men imprisoned for three months each. Within a year, however, Demir, following an appeal, was a free man after his conviction was quashed and a re-trial ordered.

Out on appeal

Demir was allowed to undertake national service with the Turkish military before being convicted for a second time in June 2007 and sentenced to 80 months. Then in a surprising twist the court imposed sentences on some of those who had originally escaped justice with Suleyman Gokhan Guven, Ali Baydar and Yilmaz Tutus given ten, six and five years in prison respectively.

Although the deceased men’s families and friends were disappointed with the length of time imposed they were glad to see those responsible finally behind bars. It wasn’t for long though, as two months later they were all out on appeal.

Now the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has just confirmed in a letter to Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract that the appeals were concluded in June and the final outcome has been sent to Beyoglu court in Istanbul. With the Turkish authorities refusing to share the outcome with the FCO then the families of Loftus and Speight must wait to hear the outcome.

No interference

In response to Andy Loftus’s request for the British government to put pressure on the Turkish government to bring the case to a satisfactory conclusion an FCO spokesperson said: “We cannot ask for this case to be expedited because the British government cannot interfere in Turkey’s judicial proceedings, in much the same way as our own judicial proceedings are similarly protected.

“The families should not have waited ten years. Unfortunately, Turkish courts will not share information about ongoing cases with third parties, including our consular staff. That said, judicial reform is one of the areas of focus in EU succession negotiations with Turkey.”

Loftus said: “All we wanted was justice in this case. We were told at the start by various authorities in this country not to make too much of a fuss, that the Turkish authorities would do the right thing as part of their country’s campaign to gain European Union entry.

Evidence not considered

“Yet ten years later it’s even taken three months to discover the appeals have been concluded. We had trials in which evidence from West Yorkshire Police was not considered, while the force itself is still to release to the families their own case papers. Earlier this year we were told that our petition, organised by Leeds Fans Remembrance, couldn’t be delivered to Downing Street as it related to events overseas over which the British government has no jurisdiction.

“What I fear will happen is that, at best, those involved – Ali Umit Demir, Suleyman Gokhan Guven, Ali Baydar and Yilmaz Tutus and Suleyman Aydin – will receive small prison sentences. This will be a mere gesture from the Turkish authorities as they finally seek to end our search for justice for my brother and Kevin Speight. I feel sickened about how badly we have been treated.”

A?West Yorkshire Police spokesperson would not comment on when it might release information to the families but said:?“We are confident that officers could have done no more than they did to support the Turkish authorities in their successful prosecution and conviction of Christopher’s killer.”

Galatasaray-Leeds photo: John Seb Barber

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