EXPECTATIONS are high that a trial date will soon be set for a grandad accused of murder on a holiday island.
Wearside businessman Stephen Johnson has been on bail in Tenerife since January 2008, when he was arrested over the fatal stabbing there of a 25-year-old Moroccan.
The 55-year-old, who runs Stepys Coaches, has always vehemently denied the allegation – but the notoriously slow and clogged-up Spanish judiciary system has left him in limbo, desperate to prove his innocence and return home a free man.
But now Mr Johnson, from Hetton, hopes that the end may be in sight have been raised.
Papers relating to his case have been taken from court in Arona Las Americas to The High Court, in Santa Cruz.
Also, a family friend said the Johnsons have heard from an official that a trial date could be set soon.
It came after Mr Johnson went to ask about permission to temporarily return home for two months, from the end of April, for arthritis treatment.
He was told that visit of that length would probably be turned down, while a shorter one may not, strongly suggesting that significant progress in the case was likely.
It comes after the UK Government finally got involved in his case, after prolonged requests from family and friends.
Father-of-three Mr Johnson received a letter from an officer from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, outlining progress so far.
It read: “Following their review of the case, my colleagues in London have now asked the British Embassy in Madrid to send a note verbal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to ask them for details of when a trial date will be set in your case.
“We will keep you informed of information that we receive from the MFA when they reply.”
Mr Johnson is being backed in his bid for freedom, and keeping the family business afloat, by wife Joan, children Michelle, Lorraine and Gary, and mum Nora, from Haswell Plough.
He was arrested following an incident in an area of the Playa de las Americas resort known as the Patch.
He is adamant he did nothing wrong, saying he only acted as a Good Samaritan to stop a fight between people he did not know, and was left badly injured.
Five people have been accused of offences related to the killing, including a Liverpool man charged with murder and remanded in custody in Tenerife.