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Campbell ‘gob-smacked’ at acquittal, expresses gratitude for support

October 14, 2013

The Dundalk man who was last week freed after spending almost six years in Lithuanian jails on alleged gun-running charges has spoken out to condemn the justice system in the Baltic State and express his gratitude to those who supported him throughout his ordeal.

In an exclusive interview with The Examiner, Michael Campbell from Faughart reiterated his claim that he was the victim of set-up between British, Irish and Lithuanian authorities and says the judicial system is corrupt and without any principles of honesty or fairness.

Stating that without the unwavering support of his family and close friends, he could not have sustained the tough conditions in the jails with regimes designed to inflict the maximum torture on inmates.

Admitting that he was ‘gob-smacked’ when he was dramatically acquitted during an appeal hearing on October 2nd.  Campbell still expects the prosecution in his case to pursue the matter, and at the very least, appeal his acquittal.  This move would prevent him from claiming any compensation, something he believes the State will obstruct at any cost.

During his time in jail, Campbell’s health has taken a pummeling, the full effects of which may not be known for some time.  Where basic medical care is non-existent and conditions described as ‘inhumane’, many prisoners succumb to illness and disease.

“People might think that the documented conditions were blown up out of proportion, but that was not the case,” he said.  “It’s very rough – a hole in the ground for the toilet, temperatures of minus 22 to 25 degrees with little or no heating.  You’re just given a mattress and a dirty blanket that everybody has been using, there’s no such thing as laundry or cleaning and the food is very poor.  Everything is blended and eaten with a spoon, there is never a need for a knife and fork.

“Less than 90cent is the daily spend on prisoners food – to cover three daily meals, so you can imagine what could be bought for that.   Prisoners had to buy extra foodstuffs at their own cost to supplement meals.  We had to buy everything, even toilet roll, soap, toothpaste.”

Michael says attempted suicides and self-harm were rife among the prisoners.

“The amount of people who tried to commit suicide in the cell with me, as a way to get out, to get to the hospital. There was nothing we could do.  Men were coming in, coming off drugs, going cold turkey, there was no rehabilitation for people like that so they’re mentally ill.  If you see someone attempting to cut themselves, you have to grab them and bang on the door and when security would come to see what was wrong, you’d have to throw him out because he would be left to bleed in the cell.  It was harsh but it was the only way to get help for them. ”

Asked how he tolerated such dire circumstances, he answered: “It’s amazing then that you get used to the conditions and it gets to the stage that you almost think nothing of it.  I don’t know whether you switch on or switch off.  This is your here and now.  Anything else is out the other side, for another day.”

Conditions were designed to be made as difficult as possible for inmates where they were segregated and placed with various nationalities, creating a language barrier, to ensure minimal communication.

“For three years I did not have a single phone call, no visits, no communication, no contact whatsoever with the outside world.

I was kept with non-English speaking prisoners – Vietnamese, Turkish and Bulgarian.  I was not even allowed to mix with Lithuanian people so as to prevent me getting any message out through that way.  They move you from cell to cell if they see you getting on or able to communicate with anyone.  In one week alone I was in three different cells.

“There was one of each nationality in the cell, four of us, and at times eight.  The cell was about 8 foot by 10 foot, a hole in the ground for the toilet, food came to us, that what it was 23 hours a day.”

Trial

Referring to the time after his arrest, it soon became apparent that it would be impossible to defend himself or receive a fair trial.

“From the start, when I was being interrogated by the prosecutor, I had a Lithuanian advocate that the state appointed to me and if wanted to ask my solicitor anything through the translator, this was the same translator that worked for the prosecutor so anything I asked about, the prosecutor knew.  I had no private conversations,” he explained.

“Any letters that I wrote home were taking three or four months to arrive because they were being kept and translated. Anything I wrote home regarding my arrest and initial events was all taking so long and by then time had moved on and things were at a different stage.

“The trial was a white-wash.  There was no proof of anything.

There was no proof of who the witnesses were.  All the searches of the house were illegal, they were under the wrong sections.

There was no way I could defend myself properly.  I couldn’t phone home to say I need something checked out.  I didn’t even get a book of evidence so I had no idea what evidence was against me.  It’s impossible to defend yourself.

“The Irish Guards sent over a criminal record for Michael Campbell from County Louth but it was not mine, it was a different Michael Campbell.  But the court even accepted this as evidence without question, but I have no criminal record, I don’t even have a parking ticket.  To see what they let go and accepted as evidence was unbelievable.

“My family weren’t allowed to attend the trial.  My nephew came out and he was put out of the court. Some of the Lithuanian witnesses were kept in another room and were questioned through microphones.  They are supposed to be on their own answering questions.  My solicitors were asking them questions and we could hear other people telling the witness what to say.  It is all totally wrong but it was all accepted.”

Michael Campbell says he was “completely gob-smacked” when the appeal court freed him.  At the very least he had expected to have to take his case to a higher court and was looking at spending at least a further 18 months in Lithuania while awaiting his case to proceed.

“I knew to successfully appeal I had to go to Europe (court).  If I came home, they had won and for me that just wouldn’t do.  I had to fight it.  If I came home, that’s it, they win.  So coming home was not something I had thought about much.  Time is time no matter where you are,” he said.

The Lithuanian Prosecution has three months in which to appeal the court’s decision to acquit Campbell.  This is something he readily expects to happen as such a move would block the path for compensation.  However, he has indicated his intention to fight on to clear his name and has sought legal advice since his return to Ireland.

Expressing his gratitude for the support he received, he said: “I want to really thank everybody for all the support, for writing to me, it meant so much just to receive a letter, just to hear news from home.

People worked very hard to try and help me.  I received letters of support from America and different places, and I want to thank everybody for helping me.”

For now, though, Michael Campbell is content to appreciate the simple things freedom affords him, such as opening and closing a door himself and enjoying a walk outside.

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