Monday, 18 June 2018

The case that never goes away

[What follows is the text of a talk given by Dr Morag Kerr on Saturday, 16 June 2018 at a rally at Inch Park, Edinburgh:]

This year is the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster, the case that never goes away.

I've heard people say, drop it, it's history.  But it's not much longer ago than Hillsborough, and that was only resolved to public satisfaction very recently.  And I personally have an aversion to a false narrative going down in history.  Other people feel the same way, including people personally impacted by the atrocity, and that's why we still have active campaigns.

Why is it that there's still so much concern about Lockerbie?Fundamentally, because the verdict in 2001 never made any sense.  As the court proceedings unfolded the prosecution case appeared to be falling apart.  The evidence against the accused was far far weaker than the public had been led to believe and credible alternative culprits and lines of inquiry had never been properly investigated.  The guilty verdict against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi came as a genuine shock to many informed observers, and their concerns have never been laid to rest.

Two separate but parallel campaigns have been going on for the last few years, and both are seeing significant developments unfolding.  First, there is the application by Megrahi's family for a posthumous appeal against his conviction.

This case has already had two appeals come to court.  The first appeal, the automatic one immediately after the conviction, was brought on the wrong grounds by Megrahi's inept advocate, and was dismissed essentially on a string of technicalities.  The second appeal was the result of a prolonged investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and it came to court in 2009.  But by that time Megrahi had been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and was anxious to return home to his family before he died, and he formally abandoned that appeal immediately before he was granted compassionate release.

This introduced a legal controversy.  Megrahi himself and his legal team maintained that he had withdrawn the appeal to make it more likely that compassionate release would be granted.  Kenny MacAskill denied having made that a condition of granting compassionate release.  When Megrahi's family applied to the SCCRC for a third appeal, the point that had to be decided was, how many bites at the cherry is anybody allowed to have?  The appellant abandoned his appeal voluntarily, so why should another be allowed?

The SCCRC's decision on this was reported last month.  They accepted that Megrahi withdrew the appeal because he believed it would improve his chances of being allowed to go home, and that it wasn't in any way a capitulation or an admission of guilt.  They have therefore decided to carry out a full evaluation of the new application from his family.  I anticipate that this will result in a third appeal being allowed and going to court.

The second campaign is an initiative by the pressure group Justice for Megrahi, of which I'm secretary depute.  The JFM committee includes retired senior lawyers and a retired senior police officer as well as relatives of Lockerbie victims, so we have a lot of expertise to call on.  Back in 2012 when the prospects of getting a third appeal to court were looking remote, we had a look at other options to force the authorities to look again at the case.  The thing is, you can't just go to the police or the Crown Office and say, look, here's why I think you got this wrong, you must reconsider.  It doesn't work like that.  What you can do, is force the police to look at the case again by making formal allegations of criminality against other people, which they are then duty bound to investigate.

I'm not talking about allegations against alternative suspects, but against people involved in the original investigation and the trial at Camp Zeist.  We had very good reason to believe that significant shenanigans had taken place at both stages of the proceedings, and that we had sufficient evidence to compel the police to investigate this seriously.  Eventually we submitted nine separate allegations to the authorities, backed up with credible evidence in each case.  These included police misconduct, forensic fraud and/or criminal negligence, perjury, and attempts to pervert the course of justice.

Now of course talk is cheap and anyone can allege anything, but if there had been no substance to our allegations the police could have disposed of them quickly with very little trouble.  That's what they thought they were going to do, at first.  However it was eventually realised that there was serious substance to what we were saying, and in 2014 a dedicated Police Scotland investigation was set up, codenamed Operation Sandwood.  I think the fact that it has taken these detectives four years to finalise their report says a lot about how well-founded our position is, and how thorough the investigation has been.

It seems likely that the Operation Sandwood report will be submitted to the Crown Office before the SCCRC is ready to report, but I don't really know how much longer it will be for either of them.  Both reports will be confidential and will not automatically be made public, so we're going to have to do a fair bit of reading between the lines.

Although the two investigations are separate, they are essentially investigating the same thing -- the evidence in the Lockerbie case.   There's a huge amount of that, but systematic analysis boils it down to three critical points, only two of which specifically incriminate Megrahi.

The first of these is the identification evidence.  Clothes packed in the suitcase with the bomb were traced to their manufacturer, and from there to the shop where they were sold.  Amazingly the shopkeeper remembered selling more than one of these items to a customer, and he had some recollection of what that man looked like.  The prosecution alleged that it was Megrahi who had bought these clothes.

The first SCCRC report detailed six grounds on which the commission believed it was possible that a miscarriage of justice had occurred, and all of these related to the clothes purchase.  It seems to me inevitable that the new SCCRC investigation will have to allow a new appeal on these grounds if nothing else.  However, we hardly need to wait for the SCCRC on that one.  Kenny MacAskill has already, belatedly, conceded the point.  In his recent book and again in press articles, he agrees that Megrahi was not the man who bought the clothes.

In fact that's all it should take to overturn the conviction entirely.  If he didn't buy the clothes the case against him falls apart in logic.  However, Kenny doesn't see it that way, and pins his continued assertion that Megrahi was involved in the bombing on the second main point which appears to incriminate him, the fact that he was present at the airport when the bomb was smuggled on board the plane.  This also seems to be the fall-back position of the Crown Office.  Well, maybe someone else bought the clothes, but Megrahi was there when the crime took place and he was a Libyan security agent so go figure.

That aspect of the case is my own personal speciality.  Was Megrahi present at the scene of the crime?  There's no doubt he was at the airport in Malta that morning, catching a short-hop flight back to Tripoli after an overnight business trip to Malta.  The question is, was that actually the scene of the crime?  There was no evidence at all that security at Malta airport was breached that morning, no evidence that an illicit, unaccompanied suitcase was smuggled on to the flight to Frankfurt, and considerable evidence that no such thing actually happened.  Exactly how the prosecution managed to persuade the judges that it had happened is one of the enduring conundrums of the Lockerbie saga.

The Crown case depends absolutely on their preferred modus operandi, the story of the suitcase that was smuggled on to an aircraft in the morning on Malta, was transferred automatically through the baggage transfer system at Frankfurt without anyone realising that there was no passenger attached to it, and was then in due course transferred to the transatlantic airliner Maid of the Seas at Heathrow.  It was the transatlantic leg that blew up over Lockerbie.

However, as I said, there's no evidence at all of that suitcase being present at Malta airport, and the evidence from Frankfurt that was used to assert that it must have been there is tenuous beyond belief.  It's only when you look at the evidence from Heathrow itself that things get a lot clearer.  To cut a long story short, there is clear and incontrovertible evidence that the bomb suitcase was already in the baggage container at Heathrow a full hour before the connecting flight from Frankfurt landed.  This evidence was available to the investigation at an early stage, but it appears the investigating officers simply didn't want to know.  The amount of effort expended in ignoring that suitcase is quite remarkable.

But once that is accepted, Megrahi really is exonerated.  This smear of "well maybe he didn't buy the clothes but he was there when the bomb was smuggled on board the plane so obviously he was involved" simply doesn't stand up.  He was 1,500 miles away at the time -- the distance from London to Tripoli.

The Crown Office case simply collapses.  It's not a situation where the crime has been more or less solved but there just isn't enough admissible evidence to get a conviction to stick, the Lockerbie investigation was up a gum tree almost from the beginning. Despite clear and compelling evidence that Heathrow was the scene of the crime, the police chased a red herring down a blind alley to Malta, and refused to think again even when prolonged investigation there turned up no sign of the bomb.

This admission would be hugely embarrassing for the legal establishment.  Millions of pounds spent on an investigation that was investigating the wrong airports.  An entire country ruined by punitive sanctions imposed on the assumption that its nationals were guilty of the atrocity.  Millions more spent on that three-ring-circus of a trial.

So I think we can anticipate some pretty strenuous resistance to this finding.  I expect the SCCRC to be pressurised to confine their investigation to the original six grounds of appeal, which were all about the clothes purchase, and not to extend their remit to the route of the bomb suitcase or indeed to the third point of contention, the identity of the fragment of printed circuit board that was alleged to have been part of the bomb's timing mechanism.

I also expect the Crown Office to try to bury the Sandwood report into our allegations of criminality.  There's an unavoidable weakness there.  The stratagem that we had to use was to accuse individuals of criminal offences in the course of these matters being wrongly investigated and wrongly presented to the court.  However, even if Operation Sandwood agrees with us on all three main headings -- that Megrahi was not the man who bought the clothes, that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow not Malta, and that the fragment of circuit board was not what the prosecution said it was -- it's quite possible that no actual prosecutions will result.

The people involved are now quite elderly, in their seventies or older.  Some of them are dead.  John Orr, the first senior investigating officer assigned to the case, who was prominent in turning a blind eye to the Heathrow evidence, died about four months ago.  Even if Operation Sandwood concludes that there is credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing as opposed to blind incompetence, it's not impossible that a decision might be taken that prosecutions are not in the public interest.

So I'm somewhat prepared for the announcement that no prosecutions are to be brought as a result of the Operation Sandwood investigation.  That, in my opinion, will not be good enough.  The public paid for that investigation, and the public is entitled to know the broad outcome of its inquiry into the facts.  Does the Sandwood report accept that the witness Tony Gauci was groomed and pressurised into identifying Megrahi as the man who bought the clothes, even though he looked absolutely nothing like him?  Does it agree that the Lockerbie bomb started its journey in the late afternoon at Heathrow airport, not in the morning on Malta?  And does it agree that the scrap of printed circuit board, whatever it was, was never part of one of the timers in the batch that was sold to Libya?

We may have to wait for the third appeal coming to court to get to the bottom of all this, but these are the questions that the public, and in particular journalists, should be asking.

Now if anyone wants to hear a lot more detail about this, I will be giving a longer, illustrated talk on the evidence at the Yes Hub in a couple of weeks time, and there will be more opportunity for questions, and you won't have to stand in the rain to do it.  But if anyone has anything they want to ask now, fire away.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Lockerbie investigators 'were led by the nose to Libyan culprits'

[What follows is excerpted from an item headed Fred Burton and The Lockerbie Case posted today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website:]

In his best-seller book Ghost[: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent (2008)], Mr Fred BurtonStratfor Vice President of Intelligence — makes a truly extraordinary statement regarding the Lockerbie Case. If true, Burton’s allegation totally destroys the credibility of the ‘official story’ as narrated by FBI Richard Marquise, who led the US side of the Lockerbie investigation. But, and this is amazing, it also gives the boot to the ‘alternative theory’ promoted by many, including former CIA officer Robert Baer.

During the Lockerbie investigation, detectives from Britain, the United States and Germany examined computer records at Frankfurt airport.

They concluded that an unaccompanied Samsonite suitcase — thought to have contained the bomb — arrived on 21 December on Air Malta Flight KM 180 before being transferred on to Flight 103.

This evidence led Britain and the US to charge two Libyan Arab Airlines employees who had worked in Malta  — Lamen Khalifa Fhimah and Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi — with putting the suitcase on Flight KM 180.

In his best-seller book Ghost, Mr Burton — a former deputy chief of the DSS counterterrorism division — claims that the CIA told him — a few days after the bombing of Pan Am 103 — that the bomb (located in a Samsonite suitcase) had come from Malta Airport. REPEAT: “A few days after the bombing of Pan Am 103.”

The key Frankfurt document — printed by an airport employee named Bogomira Erac — was given to the German BKA in February 1989. This document was not shared with the Lockerbie investigators until the end of the summer 1989. (Marquise – SCOTBOM page 50).

So, if Mr Burton tells the truth about his CIA contact, we have a serious problem.

How on earth could the Agency have known in December 1988 about the Malta-Frankfurt route when the ‘evidence’ about it only appeared eight months later?

Burton’s extraordinary allegation would imply that the Lockerbie investigators were led by the nose to the ‘Libyan culprits’.

But this story turns into a paradox. According to former CIA Robert Baer, the Agency never believed that Libya was behind the Lockerbie bombing!

“Regarding the CIA people in Malta who knew about Giaka [the Lockerbie trial ‘star’ witness], I asked them what the fuck was going on.

And they said: ‘We took one for the team, by making up this stuff about Libya.’

That was their exact words, ‘we took one for the team’.

Meaning they knew Giaka was a fraud, a swindler”.

As I have explained in the past, I do believe that Libya was framed for the Lockerbie bombing. But the decision to frame Libya did not occur before the summer of 1989. (...)

As a matter of fact, the CIA stopped paying Giaka because he had no useful information to pass.

The SCCRC has recently accepted to review the Lockerbie case. If Mr Burton’s extraordinary allegation can be proven, then obviously, Megrahi was framed as many experts suspect. Of course, the study of the key piece of evidence (PT35b) has already demonstrated that much.

Unless you are willing to accept the concept of ‘alternative truth’, there are simply too many ‘true stories’ about Lockerbie.

As long as the ‘truth’ will be defined by the lies upon which Western Intelligence Agencies decided to agree, I will keep on writing ‘a complete fictional account’ of the Lockerbie case.

At least, my ‘fiction’ respects the laws of nature (physics, chemistry,  metallurgy …), as well as logic and good old common sense. The ‘Lockerbie legal truth’ narrative is nonsense, utter nonsense.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Lockerbie bombing TV drama 'in development'

[This is the headline over a report published today on the BBC News website. It reads in part:]

A drama series about the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland is in development at Channel 4, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald is in charge of the project, which was originally conceived as a film.

"We've decided to turn it into TV, as is the way of the moment," Macdonald is quoted as telling the industry journal.

Channel 4 would not confirm the project - to be written by Scottish playwright David Harrower - had been commissioned. 

The Pan Am flight from London to New York exploded 31,000 feet over Lockerbie, 38 minutes after take-off from London on 21 December 1988. (...)

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was jailed for 27 years in 2001 after being found guilty of Britain's worst act of terrorism.

The Libyan intelligence officer died of prostate cancer in 2012 after being released on compassionate grounds in 2009.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Macdonald's series will dramatise the bombing and the various conspiracy theories surrounding it.

Last year he described the Lockerbie bombing as "one of those huge events that sort of casts a shadow over Scottish life".

"It seems like it is Britain's JFK in some ways - a looming unanswered conspiracy," he told The Scotsman newspaper.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Arguments for a Lockerbie inquiry

representatives of UK Families Flight 103 had a meeting with the
Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, with a view
to pressing the case for an inquiry into Lockerbie. The Rev’d John
Mosey, a member of the group, has recently found amongst his papers
a briefing note that I wrote for the group before that meeting
containing suggestions for points that should be made to Mr MacAskill.
It reads as follows:]

1. The SCCRC findings are there. [RB: The Scottish Criminal Cases
Review Commission found in June 2007 that there were six grounds on
which Megrahi’s conviction might have amounted to a miscarriage of
justice.] They cannot simply be ignored or swept under the carpet.

2. The SCCRC is not a body composed of conspiracy theorists. Nor are
those who have, like it, questioned the justifiability of the Zeist verdict.
Apart from a number of UK relatives, they include the UN observer
Dr Hans Koechler, Kate Adie, Ian Bell, Ian Hislop, Michael Mansfield QC,
Gareth Peirce, John Pilger, Kenneth Roy, and Desmond Tutu.

3. There is widespread public concern within Scotland regarding the
Megrahi conviction. Look at the letters that have been published, and
the readers' online comments that have followed articles, in eg The
Herald, The Scotsman and Newsnet Scotland. Public confidence in the
Scottish prosecution system and the Scottish criminal justice system
has been severely dented.

4. At the very least there must be an inquiry covering the six issues on
which the SCCRC found that there might have been a miscarriage of
justice. All of the material on the basis of which that conclusion was
reached is already in the hands of the SCCRC in Scotland. There is
therefore no justification for contending that a purely Scottish inquiry
would not be meaningful, and the UK relatives may soon be compelled
to begin saying so very publicly. In respect of some of the SCCRC
evidence the previous Foreign Secretary [David Miliband] asserted
public interest immunity. If the new Foreign Secretary [William Hague]
refused to allow that material to be laid before an independent Scottish
inquiry, he would open himself to public excoriation. And even an
inquiry limited to the mass of SCCRC material in respect of which no
PII issue arises would still be valuable.

5. If, as a spokesman for the First Minister has asserted, "the Scottish
Government does not doubt the safety of the conviction of Megrahi"
will the Scottish Government disband the Scottish Criminal Cases Review
Commission? This expert body has stated that on six grounds there are
reasons for believing that Megrahi may have been the victim of a
miscarriage of justice. On what grounds and on the basis of what
evidence does the Scottish Government expect the people of Scotland
and elsewhere to prefer its satisfaction with the conviction over the
SCCRC's doubts? If the Scottish Government has evidence that
establishes that the SCCRC's concerns are unjustified, laying it before
an independent inquiry would be the best way of getting it before the
public at home and abroad and allaying their concerns about the safety
of the Megrahi conviction.

6. At present the SNP, unlike the Labour and Conservative parties, has
clean hands over the Megrahi conviction. But unless it moves soon, the
opprobrium over that conviction will begin to attach to the SNP as well.

7. Moreover, establishing an inquiry, as the UK relatives wish, is
morally the right thing to do. Surely the Scottish Government wishes to
occupy the moral high ground?

8. It took 19 years for Scottish politicians and the Scottish criminal
justice system to rectify the miscarriage of justice suffered by Oscar
Slater. Does the Scottish Government really want to break that dismal
record in relation to the Megrahi case?

9. Until the Megrahi conviction is removed from the picture, it can be
used -- and is being used -- by governments and politicians as a reason
for denying relatives an independent inquiry into the whole Pan Am 103
affair. By establishing an inquiry covering the SCCRC concerns only, the
Scottish Government would deprive the UK Government of this very
convenient excuse.

10. It was Voltaire who said that the best is the enemy of the good. Of
course an inquiry convened under international auspices, or an inquiry
convened by the UK Government which has foreign relations powers,
would be better than one which would of necessity be limited to such
aspects of Lockerbie -- eg the police investigation, the prosecution, the
trial, the conviction, the SCCRC investigation and findings, the
applications for prisoner transfer and compassionate release -- as are
within the competence of the Scottish Government. But the argument
that a good and useful thing should not be done because somebody
else could, if so minded, do a better and more useful thing is always
a bad argument. It is sad to see the Scottish Government resorting to it.

11. There are skeletons in the cupboard of Scottish and UK Labour
Governments in relation to the Lockerbie case. If the Scottish
Government falls in May 2011 into the hands of the Labour Party,
there is no prospect whatsoever of a serious investigation. They have
too much to hide. Our only hope is for the SNP Government to do the
right thing.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Chancellor Kohl denies Lockerbie bomb passed through Frankfurt

[What follows is a statement from the Rev’d John Mosey which is
published here with his consent. The letters referred to in it are in Mr
Mosey’s possession.]

My wife is a German citizen and our nineteen year old daughter, Helga, was also
a passenger on board Pan Am Flight 103. Dr Jim Swire and I shared an apartment
in Zeist for the duration of the Lockerbie trial process.

On the 4th February 1996 my wife wrote to the German Federal Chancellor,
Helmut Kohl, asking what investigation was being carried out regarding the alleged
passage of the bomb through Frankfurt airport. I would like to know how the official
position, which is being so tenaciously and desperately clung to by the Westminster
and Holyrood politicians and the Scottish legal system, can be reconciled with
his reply on the 6th March 1996 (below). Who stands to lose should the truth ever
come out?

“Now that the Federal Ministry of Justice has made its position known, I return to
your letter of 4th February 1996. But first I want again to express to you my deep
sympathy at the loss of your daughter which you suffered through the attack on
Pan Am flight 103.

“The Federal Government is aware that the supposition that the explosive material,
the detonation of which led to the shooting down of the Pan Am aircraft, was
brought from Frankfurt to London, is still voiced from various sides. For that,
however, as the Federal Ministry of Justice has emphatically assured me, there are
no indications at all. The investigations of the State Investigation Authority in
Frankfurt in connection with the crash of the Pan Am aircraft which concentrated
especially on this question, have produced no findings to support this.”

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Nonsense, utter nonsense

"The case against Megrahi is nonsense, utter nonsense. Despite its complexity, the absurdity of the Lockerbie case is rather obvious for anyone who is willing to approach this affair with an open mind."  So writes Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer on his blog Intel Today on the sixth anniversary of Abdelbaset's death today. He goes on to give his explanation of just why. Read it here

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Shameless behaviour over Libya

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Kenny MacAskill in today's edition of The Scotsman:]

Robin Cook became Foreign Secretary in 1997 amid much fanfare about an ethical foreign policy. That lasted a matter of weeks before arms sales to Indonesia intervened and a muting of the sound was required. 

To be fair, Cook was a good man who tried to do the right thing and showed his mettle and his principles by resigning from office over the Iraq War. However, it also showed how difficult it can be to abide by ethical values when the needs of a state intrude. (...)

However, New Labour gave up any pretence of an ethical foreign policy after Tony Blair rode shotgun for George W Bush on the invasion of Iraq. It was without any ethical basis and predicated on a lie. Having supped with the devil, Blair seemed to lose any moral scruples on foreign policy, as shown by the shameless behaviour over Libya. 

When news of a UK and Libya ‘Prisoner Transfer Agreement’ first broke, Jack Straw sallied north to appease the new SNP administration’s concerns about its effect on Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. The UK Justice Secretary seemingly genuinely willing to remove Scotland’s only Libyan prisoner from the document until overruled by the Treasury and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which made clear the demands of Libya and the needs of the British state. [RB: See Jack Straw and the UK-Libya prisoner transfer agreement.]

Straw was no innocent on Libyan affairs as shown by the parliamentary apology tendered last week over the case of Abdel Belhaj, a Libyan dissident rendered into the Gadhafi regime’s hands by the US with the complicity of the UK. (...)

Belhaj and his pregnant wife weren’t the only prisoners rendered to Gadhafi’s Libya by the CIA and UK’s security services. There were others and they were returned to a despot that the UK was imposing international sanctions on and rightly condemned. To be fair to Cook, his initial involvement with Libya was simply to seek the release of the Lockerbie suspects for the trial that took place at Camp Zeist. His successors though discarded all pretence at justice and policy was dictated by the shameless pursuit of UK economic interests, irrespective of the welfare of innocents. 

When Blair made his deal in the desert and embraced Gadhafi, other connected events quickly followed. First was the signing of a huge oil deal and second the commencement of the prisoner renditions. For the deal was a two-way street with benefits for the Libyan regime as much as the UK. It wasn’t just a lessening of sanctions but also involved the supply of arms and even the training of Gadhafi’s elite troops by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

That was exposed in an Amnesty International report shortly after I made the decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds – and not because of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement. Individuals are entitled to their view on that, but the criticism of it by Labour was brazen given the actions they were involved in. America was equally Brazen with Clinton and Obama pursuing commercial deals with Libya, as well as courting him as an ally against Islamism. They embraced the Gadhafi family before Megrahi was even released but were equally craven in their denunciations.

The great irony is that when the West realised that Gadhafi was neither going to change nor be reliable they turned on him once more.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

What is source of information on which Kenny MacAskill's opinions based?

[The following are two letters submitted a few days ago to The Scotsman but not, as far as I can see, selected for publication:]

As the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie Pam Am disaster approaches it appears as if a light is finally going to be shone into the murkiness surrounding the UK’s worst ever terrorist outrage.

Police Scotland is finalising its four-year investigation into Justice for Megrahi’s (JfM’s) nine criminal allegations against some of those involved in the investigation and trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, and is preparing its report for Crown Office.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has decided that it is in the interests of justice to conduct a full review of Mr Megrahi's conviction in order to decide if the case should be referred back to the Court of Appeal.

The Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament continues its consideration of JfM’s petition for a public enquiry and is monitoring the police, Crown Office and SCCRC initiatives.

At such a critical time therefore it is surprising that Kenny MacAskill (Scotsman 10 May - Kenny MacAskill: Lockerbie bomber’s conviction may well collapse) should yet again see it appropriate to speculate publicly about the likely outcome of these enquiries and Mr Megrahi’s guilt.

It must be remembered that Mr MacAskill, as Cabinet Secretary for Justice, made the controversial 2009 decision to release Mr Megrahi on compassionate grounds and in 2013  turned down JfM’s request for a public enquiry, underlining that the Scottish Government 'did not doubt the safety of the conviction'. Yet, since leaving office, he has repeatedly, in writing and in interviews, questioned and dismissed key pieces of the evidence on which Mr Megrahi was convicted. If, as Mr MacAskill avers, that evidence is in doubt, then as he himself acknowledges the case against Mr Megrahi falls.

Both in reaching his decision to release Mr Megrahi and in making the statements that he has since leaving office Mr MacAskill must have received substantial confidential information from the police, Crown Office and other sources which he now chooses to release into the public arena before the various investigations are complete and apparently without regard to the effect this might have.

Has Mr MacAskill reported his concerns to Police Scotland and/or Crown Office? Where did he obtain the information on which he is basing his speculation and opinions? Was this confidential information received while acting as Cabinet Secretary for Justice and should it have  been used for public speculation and profit?

It is in the interests of justice that these questions are asked and that Mr MacAskill passes any relevant evidence to the authorities as a matter of urgency.
Iain A J McKie 
Secretary of Justice for Megrahi

I am sorry to see that Kenny MacAskill's article contains a number of easily refutable errors, but I value his continued contributions.

One of the more obvious errors is that there is, so far as we know, no proof that Gaddafi ever admitted responsibility for Lockerbie. 

That means that when, as I believe will eventually happen, the Megrahi verdict is seen as untenable, it is likely that many will continue to believe that 'it must have been Libya's work through Malta somehow'.

When I last met members of the Tripoli based Government after the murder of Gaddafi, senior members were seized with a determination to blame Lockerbie onto their fallen leader, perhaps in the hope of reducing blame on others. It seemed to be a belief without any 'proof', except for their own enthusiasm for it.

Among all the conspiracy theories of thirty years, my friend has always been William of Occam [1287-1347] who seems to have believed quaintly that the simplest explanation compatible with the actual facts was the most likely to be true. Here are some facts about Lockerbie, suggesting a relatively simple explanation:-

1. Iran had an airbus containing 290 innocent victims destroyed by a US missile 5 months before Lockerbie, and received no timeous apology whatever for that dreadful error. Indeed the man responsible for firing the missile, Captain Will Rogers of the USS Vincennes, received a medal.

2. Iran publicly swore revenge.

3.Iran was linked to the Damascus based terror group known as the PFLP-GC and their bomb maker, the Jordanian, Marwan Khreesat. The CIA knew this and also were aware of a payment by Iran into a numbered PFLP-GC bank account discovered in the possession of an arrested member of that group. 

4. A letter from the King of Jordan to John Major claiming that Lockerbie was not the work of the Libyans was in possession of the Zeist prosecution, but when later requested for defence purposes was hastily given a PII certificate by the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, at the request of Scotland's Advocate General.

5. Kreesat had developed anti-aircraft bombs based on an air pressure sensitive switch and crude timer. His bombs were not adjustable, were stable at ground level, but constructed to explode automatically within 30 - 45 minutes of take off if placed in an aircraft.

6. A detailed analysis of these devices by the West German police had been sent to UK and US authorities well before Lockerbie, confirming that not all the examples of these devices were thought to have been recovered from the terrorists.

7. Steps taken to block insertion of such devices at Heathrow were wildly inappropriate.

8. In the light of Morag Kerr's book Adequately explained by stupidity? there is powerful reasoned argument for re-assessment of the happenings at Heathrow that evening, and in particular uncertainty over the origins of two suitcases loaded there aboard the fatal flight, and placed close to the origin of the explosion. 

9. The fatal flight exploded in the very middle of the designed fixed flight time for Khreesat's devices.

These are but a few simple facts from among many others. It is to be hoped that the question of ingestion of the bomb at Heathrow, not just Malta or Frankfurt as well as the bomb's most probable origins, will soon accompany new steps by the Scottish authorities to review this dreadful case in detail, on behalf of the late Mr Megrahi's family. 
Dr Jim Swire

Friday, 11 May 2018

Lockerbie: Kenny McAskill and Alex Salmond must tell all

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of the Daily Express. It reads in part:]

Former SNP ministers Kenny MacAskill and Alex Salmond should be hauled before MSPs to explain what they knew about the Lockerbie bomber’s conviction.

The demand came as the man who freed Abdelbaset al-Megrahi from prison said the case against the Libyan would “almost certainly” collapse on appeal.

During his tenure as Justice Secretary, Mr MacAskill insisted the Scottish Government “did not doubt” Megrahi’s conviction for Britain’s worst terrorist atrocity.

However, since standing down from Holyrood in 2016, he has performed a public U-turn and described the court’s decision as “probably unsafe”.

Mr Salmond has also used his chat show on Russian TV channel RT to suggest Megrahi – who died of prostate cancer in 2012 – was wrongly convicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988 with the loss of 270 lives.

Mr MacAskill yesterday dismissed the evidence of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, who said Megrahi bought the clothes shown to be in the bomb suitcase from his store.

It has since emerged that Mr Gauci was secretly paid $2million by the US Government and Mr MacAskill said it was “hard to see” how his evidence could be allowed to stand by appeal judges.

He added: “If it falls, then the case against Megrahi almost certainly collapses.”

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) recently launched a review to decide if a fresh appeal can be allowed.

Police Scotland is also nearing the end of a four-year investigation into serious allegations of criminality by Lockerbie investigators and prosecutors made by the campaign group Justice for Megrahi (JfM).

JfM spokesman Iain McKie called for Mr Salmond and Mr MacAskill to report any “relevant information” to both the police and the SCCRC.

He also demanded the pair should be required to appear before the Holyrood Justice Committee “as a matter of urgency” to explain their public statements since leaving office.

He said: “Kenny MacAskill turned down our request for a public inquiry into the conviction and yet now he is saying that same conviction is unsafe. Politicians in parliament are engaged in oversight and members of that committee should be made aware of all the facts.

“We are not attacking anybody, we are simply saying that important ex-politicians have a duty to bring forward every scrap of information they hold and also to explain how they came by that information. 

“It’s time the mists were cleared and MacAskill and Salmond are not helping to clear those mists.”

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Lockerbie bomber’s conviction may well collapse

[This is the headline over an article by Kenny MacAskill in today's edition of The Scotsman. It reads in part:]

The Lockerbie saga continues and, as with the assassination of John F Kennedy, conspiracy theories will run for ever. It’s unsurprising that the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC) has passed it through the first stage of their process, as Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction is questionable to say the least.

As the SCCRC found on the last occasion when they considered this a decade ago, there are issues to investigate. Not least the evidence of Tony Gauci, a man who it’s since been disclosed received substantial sums of money for his testimony. Of course, it doesn’t mean he was a liar, I’ve heard many say he was just a simple man who tried to help and only later discovered there was a reward available. 

However, given that it’s unprecedented in Scots Law and that the court in the same trial castigated the evidence of a paid CIA informer, it’s hard to see how it can be accepted. If it falls, then the case against Megrahi almost certainly collapses.

That doesn’t mean that those who prosecuted him or convicted him were at fault. In my view, all involved sought to act appropriately in what was an extremely difficult case. Nor does it necessarily follow that the court will exculpate Megrahi as I’ve always he had a peripheral role but wasn’t the bomber. It’s one thing to argue the conviction was unsafe but quite another to say that he had no involvement. 

It’ll also be interesting if it does return to court to see if new evidence is rolled out by the Crown. Since the fall of Gaddafi, the CIA and MI6 have obtained documentation from Libya, as well as locating key witnesses and removing them from the failed state. They’re now available but will they be produced? In particular will Moussa Koussa, Libya’s former Foreign Minister, appear? He defected with the help of MI6 and now lives in Qatar.

Conspiracy theories abound about who perpetrated the Lockerbie bombing, most are absurd though a few have more legitimacy. However, it’s surprising that people still question Libya’s involvement in the atrocity and the reasons are threefold. Firstly, all the evidence points to it. Secondly, Colonel Gaddafi admitted it, stating that they hadn’t planned it but accepting that they’d taken over its delivery. [RB: The only evidence that tenuously supports this claim is an account by Arnaud de Borchgrave of a private conversation with Gaddafi. On no other occasion is he ever reported as having accepted Libyan involvement in Lockerbie.]  He explained that if had they conceived it they wouldn’t have used Malta as the airport to place the fatal case on board, given its known use by Libyans. Thirdly, those who have succeeded Gaddafi in whatever semblance of government that has followed in that country have also accepted culpability, though they blamed it on the former despot’s regime.

Of course, what gives some credence to conspiracy theories is that Libya neither acted alone nor initiated it. As a former senior police officer once told me, using that euphemism from the Iraq war, it was a “coalition of the willing”. And that included Iran who put up a bounty for an American airliner to be bombed, following the downing of their own civilian airliner by the USS Vincennes just months before. It also included the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, which accepted the contract and had been planning an atrocity before being intercepted by German police just weeks prior in possession of Pan Am air tags, timetables and similar bomb-making equipment. Others including Syria would have known or been involved. 

This coalition mirrors the investigation into the atrocity which included not just US and UK law enforcement and security services but many others including the Germans and Israelis. 

Now there are some who persist that Megrahi was just some innocent abroad who happened to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Really? Flying in on a false passport never to be used again, initially denying ever being there and apparently travelling without any luggage. 

The specific evidence against him may be limited but the circumstantial evidence is compelling. He was a senior Libyan intelligence agent – head of security at Libyan Arab airlines. Not only did he carry out covert work for the regime but he was both a member of the Gaddafi clan and married into the family of another senior regime leader. (...)

Some have argued that the bomb was placed aboard at Heathrow but that’s rejected by the evidence though it’s been unhelpful that the Crown have yet to publish the police report into. [RB: The sentence breaks off here, leaving us no wiser about just what police report Mr MacAskill is referring to. Could it possibly be the report on Operation Sandwood?] More compellingly Pan Am went bust as a result of their security failings at Malta and it’s inconceivable that if there were any doubt that wouldn’t have been challenged. Money talks as they say! [RB: The security failings that led to Pan Am going bust were not at Malta Airport. IF the bomb suitcase started from Malta, it went from Luqa to Frankfurt on an Air Malta Flight, NOT a Pan Am flight. Pan Am's security failings were at Frankfurt and/or Heathrow.]

The initial prosecution was also against many more than just Megrahi and his co-accused Fhimah. They included far more senior figures and included the man believed to be the bomb-maker. All requests even by the defence in due course to speak to him were rejected by the Libyans, just as all demands for more senior accused to be handed over were rejected. [RB: This is false. No charges were ever levelled at any time against any Libyans other than Megrahi and Fhimah. No request was ever made by the United Kingdom or the United States at any time for other Libyans to be handed over.]

For a deal had been brokered by the United Nations between the US/UK and Libya that not only would the trial be under Scots Law, though at a neutral venue, but that there would be no regime change. In a nutshell the two accused offered up by Libya were the highest-ranking accused that the Libyan regime was prepared to release and the lowest level that the UK/US were prepared to accept. 

But, there’s more evidence available now and others that can be prosecuted. So rather than looking back at Megrahi’s conviction, maybe it’s time to look at new evidence and at other accused.

[RB: Kenny MacAskill has made most of these points before. They have been comprehensively refuted by James Robertson here and John Ashton here.]