Leeds fans murder convictions upheld

Families hope legal saga ends

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Four Turkish men found guilty of killing two Leeds United supporters before the UEFA match with Galatasaray ten years ago are on their way back to prison after their appeals against conviction were dismissed.

The news, broken first to The Big Issue in the North, has come as a relief to the families of Christopher Loftus and Andy Speight and could finally bring the legal case to an end.

Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight were among a group of Leeds United supporters attacked by a mob of up to 500 people in Istanbul on 5 April 2000.

Four convictions

They had travelled to Turkey to watch their side play Galatasaray but were stabbed to death. With CCTV evidence available 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 the deceased.

The following month when the four appeared in court they were given a heroic welcome and 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 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. No video evidence has ever been produced to back up claims that the Leeds fans had been involved in incidents prior to the murderous assaults launched on them. Neither victim had any convictions for football-related violence.

Conviction quashed

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

Demir was subsequently allowed to undertake his period of 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. A fifth man, Suleyman Aydin was given six months and 20 days for his affray conviction.

Although the murdered men’s families and friends were disappointed with the sentences they were glad to see those responsible finally behind bars. Not for long though, as two months later they were released on appeal.

Turkey’s Court of Cassation concluded the appeal in June this year and the results were sent to Beyoglu court in Istanbul. But they were made only made public last week in response to inquiries by The Big Issue in the North when a spokesperson from the Turkish Consulate in said: “I would like to inform you that the appeal process against the verdict of Beyoglu Heavy Criminal Court has been competed and the Court of Cassation approved the earlier verdict recently.

“Thus, the prison sentences of six to 10 years that were given to four offenders whose guilt was clearly proven have become definite as of 22 September 2010. The relatives of the deceased may follow and inquire about the enforcement of the final verdict through their lawyers.”

Behind bars again

Reports from Turkey have indicated that Ali Demir, Suleyman Gokhan Guven, Ali Baydar and Yilmaz Tutus are now again behind bars, something which is certain to anger some in the country.

Andy, the brother of Chris Loftus, had feared that the appeals would be successful but said: “I welcome the dismissal of the appeals by the four men responsible for two innocent men’s deaths. It’s now up to the Turkish authorities to make sure they serve the sentences that were imposed on them. I’d like to thank all those who’ve supported us in our campaign for justice.”

The sentences were welcomed by Leeds MP Fabian Hamilton, who in May tabled a Commons early day motion and later met with the Turkish ambassador in October. He said:- “I am delighted that justice has prevailed. I hope that in every sense Kevin and Christopher can now rest in peace and that their murderers will now have the long opportunity to reflect with remorse on the suffering they have caused.”

Leeds-Galatasary photo: John Seb Barber

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