Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Origin of bomb suitcase questioned

[What follows is an item from the Libya: News and Views website on this date in 2001:]

The defence in the Lockerbie trial used closing submissions on Tuesday to cast doubt on a point prosecutors must prove for conviction: the origin of the suitcase holding the bomb that killed 270 in 1988. Counsel for defendant Libyan Abdel Basset al-Megrahi summed up on the 82nd day of the trial by exposing flawed security at Frankfurt airport, in a bid to show the bomb bag could have been introduced there and not in Malta as the prosecution contends. Al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Fahima deny responsibility for the explosion that blew New York-bound Pan Am flight 103 out of the sky over the Scots town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988. Prosecutors maintain the two defendants were behind the planting of a suitcase containing the makeshift bomb on a Frankfurt-bound flight at Malta's Luqa airport. [Reuters]

[RB: Readers are reminded that Justice for Megrahi’s petition calling for an independent inquiry into the Megrahi conviction (PE1370) is up for consideration at the meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee that will start at 10.00 today in Holyrood Committee Room 2. The committee’s proceedings can be viewed on Parliament TV.]

Monday, 16 January 2017

Closing submissions for Megrahi at Lockerbie trial

[What follows is the text of a report that was published on the BBC News website on this date in 2001:]

The bomb on board Pan Am flight 103 could have been put there by a "dupe", a defence lawyer has told the Lockerbie trial.

William Taylor, QC, suggested that an unwitting passenger may have been used by a terrorist group to put the device on the plane.

And he also suggested that it could have been planted at London's Heathrow Airport.

The defence advocate, who is acting on behalf of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, was continuing his final arguments at the Scottish court in the Netherlands on Tuesday.

He said that a passenger could have been duped into taking the bag containing the bomb on board.

"The most obvious way for any suitcase to get on board is by passenger check-in," he said.

"The Crown have not proved that the improvised explosive device was not introduced by a passenger."

Mr Taylor said that Khaled Jaffar, one of the passengers who died in the disaster, was nervous and constantly looking around him at Frankfurt Airport prior to the flight.

"His demeanour could have been because he was given another bag to introduce at Frankfurt," he added.

Mr Taylor also dismissed the Crown's theory that an unaccompanied suitcase containing the bomb was placed on board an Air Malta flight at Luqa airport in Malta.

He said the suitcase had ended up in a luggage container close to the skin of the aircraft.

"The only airport where such control could be exercised was Heathrow," he said.

"The improvised explosive device did end up in the optimum position - either it was introduced at Heathrow or the position of the device was achieved by extraordinary chance."

Mr Taylor said a dramatic increase in security staff at Heathrow Airport in the wake of the disaster was testament to the "inadequacy of security" there before it happened.

The QC said three areas of Heathrow Airport could have been breached - an interline shed, the baggage build-up area and an area alongside Pan Am 103.

The court had heard that on the day of the disaster, some bags destined for Flight 103 were placed into the luggage container in the interline shed which stored bags from connecting flights.

This was left unattended at the baggage build-up area.

It was later taken to the tarmac where bags from Flight 103 from Frankfurt were loaded and the container was placed on the connecting aircraft bound for New York.

Mr Taylor described security at the interline shed as "inadequate" and said somebody could have placed a bag onto a conveyer belt which ran into the shed from the outside.

It was also left open and unattended overnight.

He said: "In the case of the interline area there was scope for a case to go into a container in error.

"This would make it easier for a case to be placed deliberately in a container such as AVE 4041 the container which held the case containing the bomb."

Mr Taylor also pointed out that the container was left unattended outside an office in the baggage build-up area for 40 minutes that day.

He said a label indicated the container's destination and flight number.

Mr Taylor described the identification of Mr Al Megrahi as the person who bought clothing, which was in the bomb suitcase, from a shop in Malta as unreliable.

Charred fragments of clothing found in the plane wreckage were traced back to witness Tony Gauci's shop.

Mr Taylor described his evidence as "utterly unreliable" and said talk of "resemblance" was worthless.

The judges are expected to adjourn the trial once the defence's closing submissons are completed and announce a date when they will deliver their verdict.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Megrahi dilemma

[This is the headline over an editorial that appeared in The Herald on this date in 2009. It reads as follows:]
Between a rock and a hard place. That is the uncomfortable territory Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Libyan serving 27 years for the Lockerbie bombing, now appears to inhabit. As The Herald reveals today, secret talks have been held involving officials from the Westminster, Holyrood and Libyan governments that could lead to Megrahi being freed from Greenock prison and returned to his homeland. Not much of a predicament in that scenario to exercise Megrahi's mind, it might appear. But there is a catch. For Megrahi to be considered for repatriation, he must first abandon the appeal against his conviction.
Should he opt to be returned under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) between Libya and Britain (subject to parliamentary ratification in both countries in March), the final decision on repatriation will rest with Kenny MacAskill, the Holyrood Justice Secretary. He could reject the appeal but the diplomatic choreography suggests the process is likely to conclude with Megrahi boarding a flight for Tripoli, an outcome that would seem to be at odds with Alex Salmond's statement in April last year. The First Minister said then that Megrahi would serve his full sentence in Scotland and that he would defend the integrity of the Scottish judicial system.
Ministers can point to Megrahi's subsequent diagnosis with terminal prostate cancer as adding to the complexity of the appeal process. There is some truth in this. The Appeal Court has, correctly in our view, rejected his request for release on bail pending the hearing of his complex appeal. It is due to begin in some three months and could take one year. There are more than 1000 pages of submissions from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which concluded the conviction may have been unsafe, and from Megrahi's legal team.
Megrahi's return home under the PTA might seem a neat solution but it ignores several factors. Megrahi continues to plead innocence and wants to clear his name (the main witness against him has been largely discredited). Testing all the evidence, including the secret document, in an appeal hearing offers the best hope of establishing the truth about the Lockerbie bombing. The opportunity will be gone if there is no appeal. The prospect of securing any subsequent convictions, should that be a possibility, would be remote as the world has moved on and relations with the countries suspected of involvement, including Libya, Iran and Syria, have changed. If, however, the integrity and independence of the Scottish judicial system is paramount, the appeal process should be allowed to run its course and make a final determination. Justice should be blind, not thwarted by political or diplomatic convenience.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Last days of the lockerbie trial

[This is the headline over an article by Neil Mackay that appeared in the Sunday Herald on this date in 2001. It reads in part:]

When the Lockerbie trial finally limps towards its end this week it will be with a whimper rather than a bang. Somehow or other, the dying days of a court case about mass murder and international terrorism have been muted to the point of anti-climax.

In the opening months of 2000 this was being hailed as the trial of the century. Just over six months later, the courtroom at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands is less than a quarter full. Only a handful of reporters from agencies such as Associated Press and Reuters are present to watch the proceedings.

On Wednesday there was a farcical moment of excitement among the press when two unknown faces walked into the court. They turned out to be a local mother and her teenage son from the town of Soesterberg who had nothing to do so decided to spend a day rubbernecking at alleged terrorists.

Even the defence team last week sent the trial into its endgame by deciding to put forward no defence as they believed there was nothing really to defend or disprove. There are few insiders and Lockerbie watchers who believe the two accused, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, will be found guilty of the murder of 270 people over Scotland in December 1988.

That is hardly a criticism of the prosecution team, led by Colin Boyd, Scotland's Lord Advocate. They are, after all, trying to shine a light into a world that even British and American intelligence find impenetrable. (...)

The rumour mill also got a little over-heated earlier in the week when two of the three charges against the Libyans were dropped by the prosecution. The Crown abandoned charges of conspiracy and a breach of aviation laws to concentrate solely on the murder charge. There were claims that this showed just how confident the prosecution was in securing a guilty verdict on the murder charge.

In fact it shows nothing of the sort. Even in the most anodyne of murder cases it is a recognised tactic of prosecutors to add additional charges in order to be able to present as much damaging evidence as possible to the court. These additional charges are often dropped at the last moment so a jury can concentrate on convicting a defendant on the most serious charge before them - murder.

There is a feeling of despair and inevitability around the court. On Thursday there were little more than 10 British and American relatives of the Lockerbie dead in the court. On the first day of the trial there were probably more than 100 family members there. Many have lost heart. Few of the American relatives see the case as more than a show trial. Many never wanted to see Megrahi and Fhimah on trial by themselves. They wanted their bosses, and their bosses' bosses, and everyone in the chain of command right up to Colonel Gadaffi himself in the dock.

Then there is Dr Jim Swire, the most prominent of the British family members, who never really believed that Libya was behind the bombing in the first place. Since the beginning of the trial he has been a daily fixture in the court and now, ever the diplomat, he is hinting heavily that the Libyan theory was far from rock-solid. While the defence insisted in its summing up that a Palestinian terrorist organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), was actually behind the Lockerbie bombing, Swire said: "Everything that has been said in court until now pales into insignificance in comparison to these claims. If what is being put forward is true, it would have the gravest of consequences for the prosecution."

Another member of the delegation of British families, the Rev John Mosey, said: "I think we are just hearing now that there is more to this case than meets the eye."

The only frustrating problem is that the defence decision to put on no defence robs us of the detail of why the PFLP-GC may have been the bombers. Defence now believes it has only to destroy the prosecution's case to get the two defendants off the hook, so the legal team didn't take the gamble of calling witnesses to the stand who, although they may have proved the PFLP-GC theory, might also have been damaging to Fhimah and Megrahi.

There was nobody in court during the week who had not reached the conclusion that the Lockerbie trial is serving a purpose beyond that of attempting to seek justice. Throughout the week Hamed El Houden, Libya's ambassador to the Benelux countries, sat at the back of the courtroom in one of the boxed-off VIP and observer areas. He hinted, during a short recess, that the trial's real success was bringing Libya, that one-time rogue state and haven for the West's bogeymen, in from the cold, opening the way for lots of rich oil investment in his country by the UK and USA.

"Without question, this trial has significantly improved relations between my country and yours - and America," said El Houden. "I do not envisage these relations deteriorating again. One should also say that there has been nothing said in this court that confirms that my country had anything to do with the bombing. I have every confidence in this court in recognising that fact." (...)

The fear is that if the relatives of the dead do not get the verdict they want they will need a whipping boy on whom to vent their anger - and that whipping boy comes in the shape of Scottish justice. For those who believe the Libyans did it - and that is nearly all the American families - Scottish justice will be seen as failing them, of being inadequate and cowardly, if Megrahi and Fhimah walk free from court. The fall-out will be even worse should the not proven verdict be called into play. In that case the US families will say that the law in Scotland is indeed an ass. In their eyes the country will have spent tens of millions of pounds on this case in order to reach no conclusion.

Families like the Cohens are already beginning to sharpen their knives for the assault on Scots law. Dan and Susan Cohen, who lost their young daughter Theo in the bombing, are starting to remind those who will listen that America helped finance the trial. They have also begun claiming that Britain was without the money or investigative ability to either stage such a murder inquiry or prosecute the case. (...)

Bob Black says: "If we do get a not guilty verdict, the outburst of fury from the US families will be spectacular - but their pain will have been made worse if the Department of Justice is currently preparing them for success."

Many of Scotland's best lawyers are already saying that if a guilty verdict does come in then there is no way it will stand up under appeal. This is fuelling the guessing game. Some reckon that the chance of the appeal succeeding will play heavily on the judges' minds. No judge wants their finding overturned in the appeal court.

Perhaps one indicator of whether this tortuous case will reach a guilty or not guilty verdict comes from a man with so much to lose - Megrahi's brother, Mohammed. There is something of an acceptance around the court that Fhimah will be freed, as little of substance has been said about him at all throughout the trial, but no-one is making a firm call on Megrahi.

Last May, his brother Mohammed was a nervous wreck. As he smoked tar-packed Arabian cigarette after cigarette, he constantly wiped tears from his eyes. There was a real and desperate fear in him that his baby brother - as he calls Megrahi - was going to go to jail in Scotland forever. This time around, he is not so despondent. "There is a God in the world, and God is just. Justice is part of God," he says. "Only the devil can now keep my brother in jail. I see in my mind's eye a month from now, my brother beside me and both of us beside our mother. That will be justice - and I know it is coming."

Friday, 13 January 2017

Megrahi petition again before Justice Committee

[Justice for Megrahi’s petition features on the agenda for the meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to be held on Tuesday 17 January 2017 starting at 10.00 in Holyrood Committee Room 2. The following are (a) the committee clerk’s note on this agenda item and (b) Justice for Megrahi’s submission to the committee:]

PE1370: Independent inquiry into the Megrahi conviction

Terms of the petition
PE1370 (lodged 1 November 2010): The petition on behalf of Justice for Megrahi (JFM), calls for the opening of an inquiry into the 2001 Kamp van Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988.

Current consideration
19. At its meeting on 27 September 2016 the Committee agreed to keep the petition open pending the completion of Operation Sandwood. This is the operational name for Police Scotland‟s investigation into the nine allegations of criminality levelled by Justice for Megrahi at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the police, and forensic officials involved in the investigation and legal processes relating to Megrahi‟s conviction. The allegations range from perverting the course of justice to perjury. It had previously been understood that the operation would be expected to conclude by the end of 2016. Further information is being sought from Police Scotland and the clerk will update the Committee on this at the 17 January meeting.
20. Police Scotland have previously stated that once the report is finalised it will then be scrutinised and assessed by an independently appointed Queen‟s Counsel appointed by Police Scotland to provide independent direction and advice.
21. In their submission to the Committee for the meeting on the 27 September, the petitioners informed the Committee that they continued to liaise with Operation Sandwood investigators and that they anticipated having a final meeting with them prior to the report being submitted to the COPFS.
22. The petitioners have provided a written submission (Annexe F*) asking the Committee to keep the petition open not only until the completion of Operation Sandwood but until the COPFS has fully considered the police report and announced its findings. The submission does not contain any new information from the petitioners as to the likely completion date for Operation Sandwood.

Options for action on petition PE1370
23. The Committee is invited to consider what action it wishes to take in relation to the petition, having regard to its decision in September in keep the petition open pending the completion of Operation Sandwood.

*Annexe F

Petition: PE1370 submission from Petitioner
In November 2010 Justice for Megrahi (JfM) lodged petition PE1370 with the Petitions Committee calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to open an independent inquiry into the 2001 Kamp van Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988. The petition was referred to the Justice Committee which first considered it on 8th November 2011.

In 2012 we lodged with the police nine allegations of criminality linked to the Lockerbie investigation and trial, and for the last three years Police Scotland has been conducting a major criminal investigation into these allegations under the codename “Operation Sandwood‟. It is anticipated that the police will submit their final report to the Crown Office in the early part of this year.

Over the period since its submission in 2011 the Justice Committee has agreed to keep this petition open. At the meeting on 27th September however members decided to keep the petition open “pending the completion of Operation Sandwood”. This could be construed as a change from the previous position, assumed by us, that the petition would be kept open until the Crown Office had fully considered the police report and announced its findings.

Given the centrality of this issue to the image of Scottish Justice at home and abroad and the previous public dismissal of the JfM allegations by Crown Office even before the police investigation of them had begun (indeed, even before the supporting evidence had been submitted), we would seek assurance from the Justice Committee that it will continue its review of our petition and the Operation Sandwood inquiry until the police report has been fully considered by Crown Office and its conclusions have been announced.

We believe that the Justice Committee is the principal body through which the Scottish Parliament fulfils its constitutional duty to provide political oversight of the Scottish Justice System. As such, we believe that its continued monitoring of the actions of the prosecution authorities in relation to the Operation Sandwood investigations is critical and very much in the public interest.

We would respectfully urge the Committee to allow Petition PE1370 to remain on the table until the Crown Office has announced its conclusions in respect of Operation Sandwood.

Discovery of dodgy timer fragment

[What follows is excerpted from an article published in 2007 by Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer:]

The Discovery of the MST-13 Timer Fragment

In the months following the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, someone discovered a piece of a gray Slalom-brand shirt in a wooded area about 25 miles away from the town. According to a forensics expert, the cloth contained a tiny fragment -- 4 millimeters square -- of a circuit board. The testimony of three expert witnesses allowed the prosecutors to link this circuit board, described as part of the bomb trigger, to Megrahi.

There have been different accounts concerning the discovery of the timer fragment. A police source close to the investigation reported that it had been discovered by lovers. Some have said that it was picked up by a man walking his dog. Others have claimed that it was found by a policeman "combing the ground on his hands and knees."

At the trial, the third explanation became official. "On 13 January 1989, DC Gilchrist and DC McColm were engaged together in line searches in an area near Newcastleton. A piece of charred material was found by them, which was given the police number PI/995 and which subsequently became label 168."

The Alteration of the Label

The officer had initially labeled the bag "cloth (charred)" but had later overwritten the word "cloth" with "debris."

The bag contained pieces of a shirt collar and fragments of materials said to have been extracted from it, including the tiny piece of circuit board identified as coming from an MST-13 timer made by the Swiss firm MeBo.

"The original inscription on the label, which we are satisfied, was written by DC Gilchrist, was 'cloth (charred).' The word 'cloth' has been overwritten by the word 'debris.' There was no satisfactory explanation as to why this was done."

The judges said in their judgment that Gilchrist's evidence had been "at worst evasive and at best confusing."

Yet the judges went on to admit the evidence. "We are, however, satisfied that this item was indeed found in the area described, and DC McColm, who corroborated DC Gilchrist on the finding of the item, was not cross-examined about the detail of the finding of this item."

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Lockerbie trial hears of security doubts

[This is the headline over a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2001. It reads in part:]

Defence lawyers in the Lockerbie trial have called into question security arrangements at an airport which handled the luggage containing the bomb.

The defence had alleged that Palestinian extremists - and not the two Libyans accused - were the real bombers behind the outrage which killed 270 people in December 1988.

The prosecution case has focused on allegations that the Libyans were responsible for sending the bomb on its way from Malta and that it was transferred to a Heathrow-bound flight at Frankfurt Airport.

But defence counsel William Taylor QC argued that security procedures at Frankfurt were inadequate, with baggage handlers making mistakes as they struggled to cope with pressures of work.

The systems in place were much less effective, he said, than in Malta.

The defence case has been that a German cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) had the means and the motive to attack the Boeing 747 Pan Am Flight 103.

Mr Taylor pointed out that the defence did not have to prove anything.
It only had to sow sufficient doubt over the prosecution case against Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah in the minds of the judges.

Mr Taylor, representing Mr Al Megrahi, said: "There was pressure at Frankfurt because of guarantees given in relation to the turnaround of the aircraft to operate the baggage conveyance system as quickly as possible."

He told the court evidence had been heard that security passes were not always checked at Frankfurt and there was at least one example of a "mystery worker" placing luggage into the system and sparking a security alert.

Mr Taylor also raised the question of whether there was a possibility of another unaccompanied bag on the Pan Am flight.

He said documents from German airline Lufthansa showed there were many questions raised by a piece of luggage which arrived at Frankfurt from Warsaw on the day of the bombing.

The court was told printouts showed it was headed for flight 103 but no passenger from the Warsaw plane was destined for the same aircraft.

"Did it fly from Heathrow on Pan Am 103? Did it contain the improvised explosive device?" he asked.

The case was adjourned until Tuesday when Mr Taylor is due to continue his closing speech.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

George H W Bush and Margaret Thatcher agree to low-key Lockerbie

[What follows is an excerpt from John Pilger’s Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs:]

Thatcher’s record on the Lockerbie disaster is quite appalling. She has been the chief architect of the monumental cover-up of what happened. When her new Transport Secretary, Cecil Parkinson, came whining to her last September [1989] asking for a judicial inquiry with Privy Councillors attached (an idea which Parkinson himself had put to the bereaved families) she sent him away with a flea in his ear. She was determined there should be no inquiry (except a Scottish “fatal accident inquiry” which can’t find out how or why the bomb got on the plane and how or why British airport security was so lax as not to trace it).

A report in the Washington Post on 11 January [1990] by Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta revealed that Thatcher and [President George H W] Bush had spoken about Lockerbie in mid-March last year. Anderson suggested that the two leaders had agreed to “low-key” the disaster because neither could do anything about it and did not want to appear impotent. Their intelligence services had reported “beyond doubt” that the Lockerbie bomb had been placed by a terrorist group led by Ahmed Jibril. The group, the report went on, had been paid by the Iranian Government, which wanted a reprisal for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by an American warship the previous year. Although they knew the terrorists responsible, however (Anderson’s report concluded) Bush and Thatcher agreed to keep it quiet.

[RB: I cannot find the Washington Post report online. However, I suspect it was in the same terms as this report by Jack Anderson in the Lewiston, Maine Sun-Journal on the same date.]

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Saudi Arabia and South Africa intervene in Lockerbie impasse

[What follows is a snippet from the Libya: News and Views website on this date in 1999:]

The United Nations announced on Friday that Saudi Arabian and South African envoys will spend two days in Libya next week in another attempt to persuade Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi to surrender suspects in the 1988 of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said the envoys, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, his country's ambassador to Washington, and Jakes Gerwel, South African President Nelson Mandela's chief of staff, would leave for Libya from London on Tuesday. Their visit is considered key following talks in Pretoria between Mandela and British Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier this week. [Reuters]

[RB: The suspects surrendered for trial in April 1999.]

Monday, 9 January 2017

Lockerbie film is a tantalising prospect

[This is the headline over a report in today’s edition of The Scotsman. It reads in part:]

There is no doubt over the quality of filmmakers like Ken Loach, Lynne Ramsay and Peter Mullan, who have been garlanded at some of the world’s leading film festivals for the work they have made in Scotland in the last 20 years or so. There have been numerous portrayals of working class Scots in films like Red Road, My Name is Joe, Ratcatcher, Small Faces and Orphans.

But it is hard to think of many films which have even touched upon the major events of modern-day Scotland.

While the playwrights of the day have regularly tackled the political upheaval in Scotland since the 1970s, filmmakers have been curiously reluctant to tackle some of the defining events that have shaped the country. That is perhaps why it is so intriguing to hear that a feature film exploring the conspiracy theories behind the Lockerbie disaster is being planned by one of the current crop of leading filmmakers.

Lockerbie has long been seen as an untouchable subject for writers and filmmakers to tackle. But the sensitive filmmaking deployed in Fire in the Night, the BAFTA Scotland-winning documentary about the Piper Alpha disaster, offered proof of the power of the real-life stories behind the tragedy and its enduring impact.

Kevin Macdonald, who made State of Play and The Last King of Scotland is perhaps best known for the Oscar-winning documentary One Day In September, which charted events at the 1972 Munich Olympic when a group of Israeli athletes were massacred.

With his Glasgow roots and strong track record over the last two decades it is hard to think of a British filmmaker more suited to attempting the unenviable task of distilling the Lockerbie story into a couple of hours. While expectations are already sky high about the forthcoming sequel to Trainspotting, the prospect about a feature film on the biggest conspiracy of modern times in Scotland is a tantalising one.

[RB: A report in today’s edition of The Times contains the following:]

The Lockerbie disaster, in which 270 aircrew, passengers and town residents died in a terrorist bombing, is to be made into a film by one of Scotland’s leading directors.

Kevin Macdonald, who won an Oscar for his documentary about the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, said he planned to shed light on the “unanswered conspiracy” behind Britain’s worst terrorist atrocity. (...)

The script is being developed by David Harrower, one of Scotland’s most acclaimed playwrights. The film will be produced by the dramatist Christopher Young. (...)

Film4 and the British Film Institute (BFI) are providing finance, with a possible release date at the end of next year to coincide with the disaster’s 30th anniversary. (...)

Young said: “We don’t believe al-Megrahi was responsible. There are a number of people in Scotland who feel very strongly that justice was ill-served. If we are to have any faith in our justice system we need to know the truth.”

Televising of Megrahi appeal

[What follows is the text of a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2002:]

The decision to allow the BBC to televise the Lockerbie bomber's appeal has been hailed as an "important step" by a Scottish legal expert.

However, Professor Jim Murdoch, of Glasgow University's law department, said the decision by Scotland's lord justice general should not be viewed as setting a precedent for the future.

Lord Cullen granted an application by the BBC to broadcast and provide an internet stream of the appeal proceedings, which are due to begin at Camp Zeist, near Utrecht, Holland, on 23 January.

Prof Murdoch said the decision was a crucial one for broadcasters in reinforcing the role of the media as a "watchdog" but he stressed that Scotland was still a long way from seeing the routine televising of trials.

He told BBC News Online: "This is an important step, but one which should not be seen necessarily as establishing a new precedent.

"We are - thankfully - still a great distance removed from American practice which readily allows the broadcasting of trials."

The focus on ensuring justice, he said, had rightly led to a refusal to allow broadcasting of the trial of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and his then co-accused Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, who was acquitted.

However, the appeal circumstances would be different as there would be no witnesses giving evidence.

Prof Murdoch said: "The Scottish legal system rightly places the fair administration of justice as of paramount concern and the court's refusal to allow the broadcasting of the trial proceedings was understandable.

"There would have been real concerns whether witnesses giving evidence could have been affected by the knowledge that their words would have been broadcast around the globe; further the legal system recognises that witnesses in trials may often require to be protected against the possibility of identification.

"The broadcasting of appeal proceedings concerning legal argument does not give rise to such concerns, and the watchdog role of the media in helping scrutinise the administration of justice can thus be more readily acknowledged."

Prof Murdoch said the broadcast of the appeal proceedings on television and the internet would assist people around the world in giving their own judgements on the trial.

"The decision will allow a much wider audience more easily to observe the appeal court's determination of whether the trial court's conviction was a safe one," he said.

[RB: I had earlier argued against the televising of the trial proceedings: see Head to head: Cameras in court. I had no objections to the televising of the appeal. However, as I wrote later: “The [appeal] proceedings (except when the evidence of witnesses was being heard) were televised live over the internet on a website maintained by the BBC, the first occasion in Scotland (or elsewhere in the United Kingdom) that live public broadcasting of judicial proceedings has been permitted. The consensus of opinion was that the administration of justice was not impaired by the presence of the television cameras, but that the level of excitement and drama was such that there is unlikely to be much clamour in the foreseeable future from either broadcasters or the viewing public for the experiment to be repeated.”]