Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Relative of Syracuse University 2014 Remembrance Scholar died on Pan Am 103

Today’s edition of the Daily Orange, the newspaper of Syracuse University, New York, thirty-five of whose students died on Pan Am 103, contains a moving article about one of the university’s 2014 Remembrance Scholars. The article is headed Coming full circle and subheaded Student honors family member who died in Pan Am Flight 103 bombing by becoming Remembrance Scholar.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Megrahi scandal reprised

[What follows is the text of an item posted on this blog on this date four years ago:]

The Megrahi scandal

[This is the headline over an article by me just published on the website of the Scottish Review. It was written in response to a letter that appeared on the site yesterday from retired solicitor Alistair R Brownlie OBE, criticising the Megrahi petition. Other SR readers have written in supporting the petition and their contributions can be accessed on the same web page. My article reads as follows:]

At the end of June 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi's conviction of the Lockerbie bombing back to the High Court of Justiciary for a further appeal. The case had been under consideration by the SCCRC since September 2003 and its statement of reasons (available only to Megrahi, the Crown and the High Court) extends to more than 800 pages, accompanied by 13 volumes of appendices.

The commission, in the published summary of its findings, indicated there were six grounds on which it had concluded a miscarriage of justice might have occurred. Strangely, only four of these grounds are enumerated in the summary. They are:

• That there was no reasonable basis for the trial court's conclusion that the date of purchase of the clothes which surrounded the bomb was 7 December 1988, the only date on which Megrahi was proved to have been on Malta and so could have purchased them. The finding that he was the purchaser was 'important to the verdict against him'.
• That evidence not heard at the trial about the date on which Christmas lights were switched on in Malta further undermined the trial court's conclusion that the date of purchase was as late as 7 December.
• That evidence was not made available to the defence that four days before the shopkeeper made a tentative identification of Megrahi at an ID parade he had seen a magazine article containing a photograph of Megrahi, linking him to the bombing.
• That other evidence which undermined the shopkeeper's identification of Megrahi and the finding as to the date of purchase was not made available to the defence.

The reasons given by the commission for finding that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in this case are not limited to the effect of new evidence (such as the payment to a key prosecution witness of $2m) which has become available since the date of the original trial and the non-disclosure by the police and prosecution of evidence helpful to the defence.

The prima facie miscarriage of justice identified by the commission includes the trial court's finding in fact on the evidence heard at the trial that the clothes which surrounded the bomb were purchased in Malta on 7 December 1988 and that Megrahi was the purchaser. This was the cornerstone of the Crown's case against him. If, as suggested, that finding had no reasonable basis in the evidence, then there is no legal justification for his conviction.

I have always contended that no reasonable tribunal could have convicted Megrahi on the evidence led. Here is one example of the trial court's idiosyncratic approach to the evidence. Many more could be provided.

A vitally important issue was the date on which the goods that surrounded the bomb were purchased in Malta. There were only two live possibilities: 7 December 1988, a date when Megrahi was proved to be on Malta, and 23 November 1988, when he was not. In an attempt to establish just which of these dates was correct, the weather conditions in Sliema on those two days were explored.

Shopkeeper Tony Gauci's evidence was that when the purchaser left his shop it was beginning to rain heavily enough for his customer to think it advisable to buy an umbrella to protect himself while he went in search of a taxi. The unchallenged meteorological evidence led by the defence established that, while it had rained on 23 November at the relevant time, it was unlikely to have rained at all on 7 December and, if there had been any rain, it would have been at most a few drops, insufficient to wet the ground. On this material, the judges found in fact that the clothes were purchased on 7 December.

On evidence as weak as this, how was it possible for the trial court to find him guilty? And how was it possible for the appeal court in 2002 to fail to overturn the conviction? The Criminal Appeal Court dismissed Megrahi's first appeal on the most technical of technical legal grounds: it did not consider the justifiability of the trial court's factual findings at all. Indeed, it is clear from their interventions during the Crown submissions in the appeal that at least some of the judges were only too well aware of how shaky certain crucial findings were and how contrary to the weight of the evidence.

I contend that at least part of the answer lies in the history of the Scottish legal and judicial system. For centuries courts have accorded a specially privileged status to the Lord Advocate. It has been unquestioningly accepted that, though a political appointee and the UK government's (now the Scottish Executive's) chief Scots law adviser, he (now she) would at all times, in his capacity as head of the prosecution system, act independently, without concern for political considerations, and would always place the public interest in a fair trial above the narrow interest of the prosecution in gaining a conviction.

This vision of the role of the Lord Advocate was reinforced by the fact that, until the Scottish Judicial Appointments Board commenced operations in 2002, all Scottish High Court judges (and lower court judges) were nominated for appointment to the Bench by the Lord Advocate of the day. This meant that, in all criminal proceedings, the presiding judge owed his position to the person (or one of his predecessors in office) who was ultimately responsible for bringing the case before him, and for its conduct while in his court.

I believe that, subconsciously at least, the judges were reluctant to reach a verdict acquitting both accused because of the humiliation that this would entail for the office of Lord Advocate in the most high profile prosecution ever brought in the Scottish courts.

Megrahi launched an appeal based on the SCCRC findings, but abandoned it in 2009 in order to maximise his prospects of repatriation to Libya when terminal metastatic prostate cancer was diagnosed. But the concerns regarding the propriety of his conviction raised by the SCCRC and others have not disappeared.

Lord Denning tarnished his reputation by expressing the view that an alleged miscarriage of justice should not be investigated because it might undermine confidence in the English criminal justice and judicial systems. It is sad to see Alistair Brownlie appearing to take the same stance in Scotland.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Lord Advocate accuses Libya of obstructing Lockerbie trial

[What follows is the text of a press release issued by the Crown Office on this date in 1997:]

The Lord Advocate, the Rt Hon Lord Hardie QC, today reaffirmed his commitment to bring the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing to trial in Scotland or the United States and accused Libya of prevarication and inconsistency in preventing this.

Speaking at the International Court of Justice at The Hague this morning Lord Hardie, who is leading the British legal team at the case brought by Libya against the United Kingdom, said in his concluding remarks:

This is not an ordinary case. I remind the Court of my primary responsibility as Lord Advocate of Scotland. It is my duty to bring persons charged with crimes to justice. In this case justice is being delayed and justice has therefore been denied since Libya first refused to hand over these two accused in 1991. I want to discharge my duty, which amounts to no more and no less than the presentation of the case to a jury of 15 ordinary citizens chosen at random.”

Replying to suggestions that the United Nations Security Council, which supports Britain’s position, did not fully represent international opinion the Lord Advocate said:

I will say only this. It is from the whole membership of the United Nations that the changing membership of the Security Council is drawn. It is the whole membership of the United Nations who have entrusted the responsibility of international peace and security to the Security Council. It is the whole membership of the United Nations who have agreed to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council. It is the whole membership of the United Nations who now look to Libya to implement the resolutions of the security council without further evasion and procrastination.

“On behalf of the relatives of the dead, on behalf of the people of Scotland, on behalf of the broader international community, who are watching these proceedings, I would urge this court to reach a decision which will expedite a trial of these men in Scotland or the United States of America.”

Earlier the Lord Advocate had said that while Libya had repeatedly talked about removing its constitutional impediment to the handing over of the accused it had done nothing about it. The Lord Advocate pointed out that several times in the past Libya had referred to action which could be taken to overcome these internal obstacles to extradition of its nationals. “If action had followed these words,” he said, “there would be no obstacle to a trial in Scotland.”

The Lord Advocate also repeated his offer to invite international observers to attend and monitor the trial and detention of the accused and stressed that any matter relative to the fairness of the trial could also be considered under the European Convention on Human Rights. He rejected as “offensive and without substance” Libyan claims that “incantations on the virtues and impartiality of Scottish or American judges are derisory” and underlined that the United Kingdom had been at pains to avoid making statements which prejudge the criminal case. He said “potential jurors are more likely to have been bombarded with ubiquitous reports, films, books and articles putting forward alternative explanations for the responsibility of the crime and suggesting the innocence of the accused.”

It is expected that the International Court will come to a decision on the case brought by the Libyans early in the New Year.

[RB: The case in the International Court of Justice was withdrawn by Libya after Megrahi and Fhimah surrendered themselves for trial. The UK and the USA had earlier sought to have the case dismissed on the basis that the UN Security Council Resolution requiring Libya to hand the suspects over trumped the Montreal Convention which entitled Libya to try them in its domestic courts. The Court resoundingly rejected the UK/US arguments (with the UK and US judges dissenting).

It was another nine months from the date of Lord Hardie’s statement before the UK and the USA agreed to a non-jury trial in the Netherlands, a proposal that had been accepted by the Libyan Government and the Libyan defence lawyers since January 1994. The history can be found here.]

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Libya is more dangerous than ever

[This is the headline over an article published today on the website of the Sri Lankan newspaper The Nation. The following are excerpts:]

It is less than three years since Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan dictator, was murdered by his own people. His savage killing, which took place on 20 October 2011, near Sirte, was welcomed with almost sadistic relish by western politicians. RAF and French warplanes had “facilitated” the butchery, the despot’s corrupt and inhumane regime was gone, “friendly” rebels were in charge, and gung-ho TV news channels were there to record the celebrations. “Job done” was the reassuringly simplistic verdict.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President who had pressed for the Nato bombing campaign that guaranteed Gaddafi’s demise, was particularly jubilant. He was greeted as a “liberator” in Tripoli, along with David Cameron, Prime Minister of the country that had poured the most resources into the adventure – up to £900m of British taxpayers’ money according to some calculations.

Nobody would deny that an end to the Gaddafi regime was long overdue. It was characterized by numerous human rights abuses, including the murder of more than 1,000 prisoners – mainly political opponents – at the Abu Salim prison in 1996. Gaddafi was also linked with a long list of heinous crimes abroad, such as the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 with the loss of 270 lives, and the murder of police officer Yvonne Fletcher in central London in 1984.

While UN Resolution 1973, the one that gave the green light to military intervention, had by no means authorized regime change, a dead Gaddafi heralded peace, prosperity and, crucially, a “strong and democratic future”, according to Cameron.How dismal all that sounds today. It was US air force jets flying above Tripoli this week, and their job was to guarantee the safety of their escaping diplomats. British and French subjects were also fleeing in fear of their lives. Even the UN mission was shut down.

Rebel infighting makes almost everywhere unsafe. Assassinations are routine, robbers stalk the roads, while water and electricity supplies are regularly interrupted. (...)

Those of us who visited the rapidly expanding glass-and-steel infrastructure of the commercially minded Libya at the start of the revolution saw hope in the country’s technical class. Highly trained engineers, energy workers, and numerous other professionals all wanted to do business globally, offering the possibility of radical transformation for the good.

Instead, western leaders put faith in unregulated forces carrying a vast arsenal of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles. Many of the warlords have strong links with Islamist terrorist groups operating across the deserts of North Africa.The repressive Gaddafi decades had kept these warring tribes in check through unacceptable levels of brutality. Viable political institutions and a credible security apparatus are now urgently needed, but none of the “liberators” seem interested any more.

Sarkozy is now an alleged criminal himself – he is being actively investigated in France for receiving up to £50m in illegal cash from Gaddafi to fund his 2007 election campaign. Examining judges are said to want to know why the so-called “brother leader” was honored with a state visit to Paris that year, and treated like a personal friend by Sarkozy. Sarkozy denies the charges. France’s current Socialist president, François Hollande, does not even mention Libya, and nor does Barack Obama. The US president was always lukewarm in supporting the intervention in Libya in the first place, making sure that his forces only played a supply role in the military campaign.

Cameron is now similarly lackluster about the growing crisis in a country he was once so proud to visit in person. The barbaric manner in which Gaddafi was killed should surely have provided him, and indeed the entire international community, with a stark warning about what was to follow.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Silence on the biggest outrage ever perpetrated in the UK is truly terrifying

[What follows is an item posted on this blog on this date in 2007:]

Lockerbie's indelible stain

What follows is a letter published in The Scotsman from Iain McKie, father of one of Scotland's recent miscarriage of justice victims. The comments at
are also well worth reading. [RB: Regrettably, the comments no longer appear on the newspaper's website.]

"As Lockerbie is once again thrust into the public conscience, I challenge everyone who aspires to a true and just Scotland to ensure that this tragedy is constantly at the forefront of his or her mind. 

“The dissembling dishonesty that cast a shadow over every aspect of the Lockerbie investigation has left an indelible stain on Scottish justice and remains an insult to the memory of the 270 souls who perished over 18 years ago. 

“It has corrupted a once respected system of jurisprudence forged over the centuries from the Scottish Enlightenment and demeans the worldwide legacy of Scots like David Hume and Robert Burns.

“We now live in a culture that favours political expediency, lying and mediocrity, over openness and accountability. As governments at home and abroad pledge to fight terrorism at every turn, their silence on the biggest outrage ever perpetrated in the UK is truly terrifying. 

"As Burns put it, 'There's nane ever fear'd that the truth should be heard, but they whom the truth would indite.' As a Scot, I believe it is my duty to fight for the truth about Lockerbie to be heard because that single injustice encapsulates everything that I loathe and despise about our otherwise great country."

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The tortuous path towards a Lockerbie trial

[What follows is the text of a report published on this date in 1998 by The Associated Press news agency:]

Britain said Friday it would not negotiate Libya's demand that two suspects, if convicted in the 1988 Pan Am bombing over Scotland, serve their prison terms in Libya or the Netherlands.

A US-British proposal to try the men in the Netherlands under Scottish law calls for any sentences to be served in Britain.

“We are not in discussion with the Libyans about this and we are not negotiating on it,'' said Britain's UN ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock.

Two Libyan intelligence agents, Abdel Basset Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, are accused of planting the suitcase bomb that ripped apart the New York-bound Pan Am jet on Dec 21, 1988, killing 270 people in the air and on the ground at Lockerbie.

Aside from Britain's refusal to negotiate with Libya over jail sites, Greenstock assured that the suspects' religious rights would be respected and pledged that any witnesses brought in to testify would be immune from any charges related to the bombing while they were in the Netherlands.

“They have a guarantee of immunity in that sense,'' Greenstock said.

He spoke to reporters after briefing the Security Council on Britain's efforts to clarify certain legal and technical questions that have been posed by Libya regarding the US-British plan.

Greenstock said he had passed along to the UN chief a “full set of clarifications,'' earlier this week regarding various aspects of the proposed trial and procedures surrounding it.

For years, Britain and the United States demanded that the trial take place in the United States or Britain. Libya refused to hand the men over, fearing they would never get a fair trial in either country.

The United States and Britain agreed in August to hold the trial in the Netherlands, using Scottish judges and Scottish law, in an attempt to achieve justice in the 10-year-old case.

The Security Council backed the proposal by agreeing to suspend an international travel ban on Libya once the two suspects arrived in the Netherlands for trial. While giving its qualified acceptance of the proposal, Libya has sought several clarifications, one of which is the demand that any sentences be served in Dutch or Libyan prisons.

A Libyan legal team was in New York recently to discuss details of the proposal with the UN legal team.

[This report illustrates the problems that were encountered in the process of securing a Lockerbie trial. The United Kingdom government refused to negotiate directly with the Libyan government or the Libyan defence lawyers over the fine print of the US-UK proposal for a trial in the Netherlands. Matters that could have been clarified or settled within minutes if the parties had only sat round a table took weeks through an intermediary (Hans Corell, UN Under-Secretary-General and Legal Counsel). Here is what I have said before about the process:]

Although the British proposal was announced in late August 1998, it was not until 5 April 1999 that the two suspects actually arrived in the Netherlands for trial before the Scottish court.  Why the delay? The answer is that some of the fine print in the two documents was capable of being interpreted, and was in fact interpreted, by the Libyan defence team and the Libyan government as having been deliberately designed to create pitfalls to entrap them.  And since the governments of the United Kingdom and United States resolutely refused to have any direct contact with either the Libyan government or the Libyan defence lawyers, these concerns could be dealt with only through an intermediary, namely the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Gauci brothers and reward money

[On this date in 2007, an item headed Now, there's a surprise! was published on this blog.  It reads as follows:]

Lucy Adams in The Herald of 15 October has a story to the effect that Richard Marquise, the FBI special agent who led the US joint task force on Lockerbie (and author of the book Scotbom: Evidence and the Lockerbie Investigation, 2006, ISBN-13: 978-0875864495) remains of the view that Megrahi was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103 and regrets only that the will is lacking to bring other more senior Libyans to trial.

He confirms that there were discussions about about monetary payments to the Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, but is unable to say whether any money was in fact paid over.

[What Mr Marquise is quoted as saying in the report in The Herald is this:]

He said he was unaware of any financial discussions between the CIA and the Gaucis but confirmed the US government ran a rewards programme for information at the time. "I know that when PanAm 103 went down, the State Department had a new programme called rewards for justice," he said.

It was well advertised in the Middle East, but the Scottish legal system has no mechanisms whatsoever for paying people and no comparative witness protection programme.

"We talked about it and we talked about the Gaucis and whether they needed to be protected," said Mr Marquise. "I think someone spoke to them in 1991 and said if you feel threatened we will relocate you, but as far as I am aware no-one offered them millions of dollars. Tony Gauci told someone that Australia would be the only place he might like to go, but he was happy in Malta and did not want to leave his pigeons so the subject was dropped. Instead extra security, including a panic button, was added to his shop."

[This should be compared with what we now know from Inspector Harry Bell’s diary of his dealings with the Gauci brothers, Tony and Paul.  The following is from a report in the Maltese newspaper, The Times:]

A document seen by the Scottish [Criminal Cases] Review Commission which reviewed the Lockerbie trial proceedings shows that star witness Tony Gauci had shown an interest in receiving money. (...)

The document was a memorandum dated February 21, 1991, titled Security of Witness Anthony Gauci, Malta, that consisted of a report sent by investigator Harry Bell to Supt Gilchrist just after Mr Gauci identified Mr Megrahi from a photo-spread six days earlier.

The memorandum was never disclosed by the prosecution during the trial.

Mr Bell discusses the possibility of Mr Gauci’s inclusion in a witness protection programme. The final paragraph, however, makes reference to a different matter: “During recent meetings with Tony he has expressed an interest in receiving money. It would appear that he is aware of the US reward monies which have been reported in the press.” (...)

But the review commission also had access to a confidential report dated June 10, 1999 by British police officers drawing up an assessment for the possible inclusion of Tony Gauci in a witness protection programme administered by Strathclyde Police.

In the report Mr Gauci is described as being “somewhat frustrated that he will not be compensated in any financial way for his contribution to the case”.

Mr Gauci is described in the report as a “humble man who leads a very simple life which is firmly built on a strong sense of honesty and decency”.

But the officers also interviewed Mr Gauci’s brother Paul, in connection with his inclusion in the programme.

The following passage in the report details their conclusions in this respect: “It is apparent from speaking to him for any length of time that he has a clear desire to gain financial benefit from the position he and his brother are in relative to the case. As a consequence he exaggerates his own importance as a witness and clearly inflates the fears that he and his brother have...  Although demanding, Paul Gauci remains an asset to the case but will continue to explore any means he can to identify where financial advantage can be gained.”

The report makes it clear that until then the Gaucis had not received any money.

But the commission established that some time after the conclusion of Mr Megrahi’s appeal, Tony and Paul Gauci were each paid sums of money under the Rewards or Justice programme administered by the US State Department.

Of particular note is an entry in Mr Bell’s diary for September 28, 1989: “He (Agent Murray of the FBI) had authority to arrange unlimited money for Tony Gauci and relocation is available. Murray states that he could arrange $10,000 immediately.”

When interviewed by the commission, Mr Bell was asked if Agent Murray had ever met Mr Gauci, to which he replied “I cannot say that he did not do so”.

However, the commission also noted that FBI Agent Hosinski had met with Mr Gauci alone on October 2, 1989 but Mr Bell said he would “seriously doubt that any offer of money was made to Tony during that meeting”.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Minister sacked after promising Megrahi pressure investigation

[What follows is part of an item posted on this blog five years ago on this date. It follows on from the item that I posted yesterday:]

“Farcical scenes” as Baroness Kinnock axed from Lords post immediately after pledging to investigate Megrahi pressure

[This is the headline over a report on the website of Scottish lawyers' magazine The Firm. It reads as follows.]

Labour Peer Baroness Kinnock has been unexpectedly replaced in her post as Europe minister, only hours after pledging to investigate whether Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was pressured into dropping his ongoing appeal against conviction before being transferred to Libya. 

The Scottish Government had denied any pressure had been applied, but the coincidental timing of the dropping of the appeal has been widely perceived as being linked to Megrahi’s transfer. 

In a debate in the House of Lords on Monday Lord Lester of Herne Hill said he was “very concerned about the circumstances in which Megrahi was persuaded to drop his appeal and to go and die in Libya.” 

“I saw him in Barlinnie myself. I would like to know, and I would like the Government to find out whether, when he was visited in prison, it was made clear to him that if he dropped his appeal he would be allowed to go and die in Libya, so that there would then be no appeal and the relatives—Dr Swire and the others—would never know the truth,” he said. 

“I would therefore like an assurance that there was no quid pro quo and no pressure put upon him. The Government may not know the answer, but they should find out. Was any pressure put on Megrahi that he would be sent to die in Libya only if he dropped the appeal?” 

Baroness Kinnock said in response that she was “not aware of what the answer might be,” but would ask for advice and respond. 

Within hours, Kinnock had been replaced amid what the Daily Mail described as “farcical scenes” as her replacement, junior minister Chris Bryant “broke with protocol and announced his new role on the Twitter website before Downing Street or the Foreign Office had a chance to issue a statement.” 

The Firm has asked the Prime Minister’s office to confirm whether Kinnock’s sacking is connected to responses to questions raised about Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi. So far Baroness Kinnock’s removal has been dismissed as “housekeeping” by the Prime Minister’s spokesman.

[Later today I begin my trek to Middelpos and Gannaga Lodge (via Cape Town and Stellenbosch). For the next five-and-a-half months the blog will be updated, perhaps somewhat more intermittently, from South Africa.]

Monday, 13 October 2014

A denial of justice and Megrahi not proved to be guilty, says English QC

[The following are extracts from an item headed Megrahi release and the House of Lords which was posted on this blog on this date five years ago:]

Two short debates were held yesterday in the House of Lords on matters related to the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Megrahi.

The first arose out of a question asked by Lord Pannick QC: "To ask Her Majesty’s Government why they did not make representations to the Scottish Secretary for Justice on whether Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi should be released from prison on compassionate grounds." The answer and the ensuing interchanges can be read here. One exchange reads as follows:

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I should declare a professional interest as the former co-counsel for Mr al-Megrahi in his unsuccessful application to the European Court of Human Rights. In the interests of justice and for the sake of the Lockerbie families, would the Government now seek to persuade the Scottish Executive to set up a full judicial inquiry into the matters raised by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and the UN observer, Professor Köchler, about a possible miscarriage of justice and abuses in the investigation, prosecution and trial?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, as yet the British Government have made no decisions on these matters. The Lockerbie investigation took place and the result was that al-Megrahi was imprisoned in Scotland under that legal system. That remains the case and nothing can change in terms of what is possible from the investigation. The Libyans paid substantial compensation to the Lockerbie victims, but we accept that that is no justification.

The second debate arose out of the repetition in the Lords of the statement that had earlier been made in the Commons by the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. The statement and the debate to which it gave rise can be read here. One exchange reads as follows:

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, as I mentioned at Questions, I disclose my professional interest in having acted as co-counsel in the claim by Mr Megrahi to the European Court of Human Rights, which got nowhere. Since then I have had no professional interest in the case. However, in the work that I did on it, which lasted several weeks, I went through the whole of the transcripts and read the appellate judgment, and I have to say that I came to the conclusion, entirely objectively and working with Scottish counsel, that there had been a denial of justice and that Mr Megrahi had not been proved to be guilty. When I then read the summary of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission report, which my noble friend referred to just now, and realised that it had come to the same conclusion, I was very disturbed.

I shall deal with a couple of points in addition to those that have been made by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. First, will the Government please give an assurance that they will consent to the publication of the whole report? The commission does not have the power to do so itself. If the Scottish Executive or Scottish Parliament ask them to, will the Government consent to the publication of all the report so that we can see what its grounds are for believing that there may have been a miscarriage of justice?

Secondly, I am very concerned about the circumstances in which Megrahi was persuaded to drop his appeal and to go and die in Libya. I saw him in Barlinnie myself. I would like to know, and I would like the Government to find out whether, when he was visited in prison, it was made clear to him that if he dropped his appeal he would be allowed to go and die in Libya, so that there would then be no appeal and the relatives—Dr Swire and the others—would never know the truth. That is very important to them, and they have written to me about it. I would therefore like an assurance that there was no quid pro quo and no pressure put upon him. The Government may not know the answer, but they should find out. Was any pressure put on Megrahi that he would be sent to die in Libya only if he dropped the appeal?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: On the last point, I am not aware of what the answer might be. We will ask for some advice on whether anyone has been asking those questions and, if so, I will respond to the question that the noble Lord raises.

On the issue of an independent inquiry, I have to keep repeating that is not really for us to say whether that will happen.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The run-up to Megrahi's first appeal

[On this date in 2001, various news agencies were reporting on the preliminary hearing due to be held later that week at Camp Zeist in connection with Abdelbaset Megrahi’s appeal against his conviction in January that year. What follows is a digest of these reports, taken from The Pan Am 103 Crash Website which was run by Safia Aoude:]

Libyan Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi is due to appear before a Scottish appeals court in the Netherlands Monday to try to overturn a life sentence for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. The preliminary hearing at Camp Zeist in the central Netherlands will deal solely with administrative matters before the actual start of the appeal in January or February. "It is a hearing to tie up loose ends before trial," said Paul Geoghan, a spokesman for the court. Megrahi, who has insisted throughout the trial he had nothing to do with the attack, logdged his appeal in February and a Scottish high court accepted the appeal in August. The grounds on which Megrahi is appealing are not known and will not be dealt with at Monday's hearing, according to legal experts at the university of Glasgow school of law.

Defence lawyer Alistair Duff told AFP his client would be present at the preliminary hearing but also said it would be purely procedural. "The judges may ask for written submissions because they may want to know which piece of evidence we intend to direct to in our arguments," he said. In Scottish court, submissions are usually done orally. The appeals chamber will consist of five judges. Although Duff would not comment on the grounds of the appeal, it is believed the defence will challenge evidence which came from Tony Gauci, a shopkeeper in Malta, who identified Megrahi as a man who bought clothes from his store shortly before the bombing. The reliability of Gauci's evidence was called into question during the trial.

The defence is also expected to question wether the trial judges were entitled to decide that Megrahi was the man who bought the clothes. In September, Britain's Daily Mirror reported that the bomb that blew up the Boeing 747 could have been put on board in London. If confirmed, the report would destroy a key plank in the conviction of Megrahi. The prosecution case hinges on the suitcase containing the bomb having been loaded in Frankfurt, Germany after being sent there via an Air Malta flight from Valetta by Megrahi. When Megrahi was convicted [and sentenced to] to life imprisonment in January, the verdict did not lay to rest the many unanswered questions of the families of the Lockerbie victims. The court accepted the prosecution's theory that Libya was behind the bombing, rejecting another scenario put forward that Iran, Syria and the Palestinian group FPLP-CG carried out the attack to avenge an Iranian aircraft accidentally shot down by an American missile in July 1988.

The families of the victims of the bombing have called repeatedly for a full public inquiry by the British government into the case. "What we are after is the whole truth," Jim Swire, a British doctor whose 23-year-old daughter Flora was killed in the tragedy, told GMTV television in August. Relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing are travelling to Holland for the first stage of the appeal of the Libyan convicted of the atrocity. Two British fathers who lost their daughters in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 were today making the journey to Holland to be at the appeal hearing. Dr Jim Swire and the Rev John Mosey were at Camp Zeist for virtually every day of 49-year-old Al Megrahi's trial which began last May and ended in January this year.

Mr Mosey, who lost his 19-year-old daughter Helga in the bombing, said: "We feel it's important that someone from the families is there to see that justice is done." Dr Swire, whose daughter Flora, 23, was killed, said: "We followed the whole of the trial so it makes sense to follow this stage as well." Dr Swire also revealed how he and other members of the UK Families Flight 103 pressed Foreign Secretary Jack Straw for a full inquiry into the tragedy at a recent meeting. He said: "We intimated that in our view it's extremely urgent to have an inquiry because Lockerbie was always an avoidable tragedy."

The hearing tomorrow before five Scottish judges - Lords Cullen, Kirkwood, MacFadyen, Nimmo-Smith and McEwan - will consider various procedural and administrative matters. The hearing is expected to last a day and to set the date for the start of the appeal which is likely to be early next year. The full grounds of Al Megrahi's appeal have not yet been made public.

[The appeal was heard early the following year and dismissed on 14 March 2002. An account of the reasons for the failure of the appeal (primarily the astonishing failure by Megrahi’s legal team to argue the correct grounds) can be read here.]