Wednesday, 12 December 2018

William Blum, 6 March 1933 - 9 December 2018

The death has been announced of William Blum, US author, historian and longtime critic of his country's foreign policy. Mr Blum wrote extensively about the Lockerbie case and was unconvinced of the guilt of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi or of the involvement of Libya. Links to his Lockerbie writings can be found here.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Thirty years is a long time to grieve…without answers

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Marcello Mega published in today's edition of the Daily Express:]

Flight PanAm 103 was only 38 minutes into its flight from London to New York in December 1988 when a bomb hidden in a Toshiba cassette recorder and smuggled into its hold exploded.

The force of the blast punched a 20-inch hole in the left hand side of the fuselage of the jumbo jet and a subsequent investigation concluded that the nose of the plane was blown off within three seconds of the bomb’s detonation.

Victims and debris were flung over an 81-mile corridor covering 845 square miles. One wing section hit number 13 Sherwood Crescent in the Scottish border town of Lockerbie at 500 miles per hour. Its occupants Doris and Maurice Henry were killed instantly and nine other residents of the street also died.

Disputes over who planted the bomb have raged ever since and, on this side of the Atlantic, Dr Jim Swire – who lost his daughter Flora in the disaster – has been the most prominent campaigner against the official version of events. Now aged 82 he fears he might not live to see justice done for his daughter.

Swire is always dignified and articulate despite the quiet fury that has burned within him since Flora was murdered, on the eve of her 24th birthday, along with 258 others on the plane.

On December 21, he and other relatives who lost loved ones will mark the 30th anniversary of Europe’s most devastating terrorist atrocity but Swire notes pointedly that their numbers are dwindling.

“Thirty years is a long time to grieve, especially without answers,” he says. “We are beginning to die out in this group of relatives. Justice has been slow and inconsiderate. We above all deserve to know who murdered our loved ones and why it was not prevented.”

Swire and the other UK relatives have never believed in the guilt of the Libyan intelligence agent convicted of the bombing by a specially-created Scottish court in the Netherlands in 2001.

Three Scottish judges sat without a jury and concluded that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was guilty, while his co-accused, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, was not.

Swire sat through every minute of evidence over many months firmly believing he would see and hear the proof of Libyan guilt but he was so sure after hearing all the witnesses that both men were innocent that he fainted on hearing the guilty verdict.

Those close to him in the court feared he had dropped dead from the shock as he was out cold for several minutes.

In the years between the verdict and Megrahi’s death from cancer aged 60 in 2012, having been released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009, Swire befriended the “bomber” and visited him in jail and later at his home in Tripoli, even apologising for the injustice he had suffered.

“When I met Baset, I had no problem shaking his hand because I sat in court every day and listened to all the evidence and I knew his hands had not been involved in the murder of my daughter,” he says.

“There was a natural warmth between us and each could sympathise with the other. He understood how I might feel having lost my much-loved daughter in the most atrocious way and I understood the pain he and his family must feel at their separation. I could also imagine how devastating it must be to be labelled a mass murderer unfairly.

“We became friends. He comforted me over the loss of my daughter and I apologised to him for what he and his family were being put through by the Scottish justice system and most of the time we talked about how we could get to the truth.”

Totally convinced that Megrahi’s conviction had been engineered for political reasons after the West’s relationships with Middle-Eastern states changed because of the first Gulf War – when Iran allowed the US and UK to attack Iraq from its air bases – Swire has played his part in trying to discover the truth.

Five years ago, he travelled to Sweden to confront Mohammed Abo Talb, a convicted terrorist then recently released from a 20-year sentence in that country, hoping to question him over his suspected role in the bombing.

The terrorist hid from the then 77-year-old behind his wife, refusing even to talk through an open second-floor window.

In Scotland and in the US, the authorities continue to maintain that Megrahi was guilty and that the bombing was planned and paid for by Libya, though the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is expected to refer Megrahi’s case for a posthumous appeal shortly.

In 2007, the commission referred the case for appeal, stating there may have been a miscarriage of justice on six grounds, among them the fact that no reasonable court could have convicted Megrahi on the evidence presented, a damning condemnation of the verdict.

In 2009, Megrahi, by then diagnosed with terminal cancer, abandoned his appeal to secure a transfer home. Swire is certain that the SCCRC cannot ignore the evidence it had unearthed more than a decade earlier.

“I am certain there will be another appeal, and that the conviction cannot be maintained in the face of overwhelming evidence that points away from my friend,” he says. “But the authorities are in no hurry.

“They like to delay. They create the delays, and I wonder whether I will even see the conviction quashed, never mind the investigation that must follow into who really did it.”

Swire, like many informed Lockerbie watchers, believes the terror group, the PFLP-GC, the first suspects in the case, were the culprits, and that the bombing was ordered and paid for by Iran.

When an Iran Airbus carrying pilgrims to Mecca was shot down over the Gulf by the US vessel Vincennes five months before Lockerbie, killing all 290 on board, the Iranians said the skies would run with the blood of Americans.

Rather than offer an apology, the Americans further provoked the Iranians by giving William C Rogers III, the captain of the Vincennes, an award for “bravery”.

Swire was appalled by the disregard the US displayed for the victims and remains certain that it contributed to the awful fate endured by his daughter and 269 others.

His anger, however, is not confined to the real culprits, or even to the US and Scottish investigators, who he believes wilfully ignored the evidence against Iran and the PFLP-GC to pursue Libya for political reasons.

He is also angry with successive UK governments for allowing it to happen in the first place and then for failing to deliver truth and justice. He still craves the full public inquiry that would force senior politicians and senior intelligence figures to reveal what they knew.

“When Sheriff Principal John Mowatt QC published his report in October 1990 into the fatal accident inquiry he chaired, he said the bombing had been avoidable,” he says.

“Cecil Parkinson, who became Secretary of State for Transport in 1989, promised the relatives a full public inquiry, then had to let us down because Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wouldn’t allow it.

“In the lead-up to Labour winning the election in 1997, we met with Robin Cook and Tony Blair and were promised it would be different when they won power. After they won, they stopped returning our calls.

“We know there were warnings to intelligence agencies about a threat to Pan Am flights at this time. We know this plane was only two-thirds full when every other flight from Heathrow to JFK in that week before Christmas flew at least at 95 per cent capacity and we know that some VIPs who were booked on the flight didn’t travel.

“We also believe the three-flights’ theory to be nonsense, and it was never proved in court. The judges said the Crown had failed to prove there was an unaccompanied case on the flight from Malta to Frankfurt and clung to the flimsiest possibility of an unaccompanied case on the flight to Heathrow.

“All the evidence tells us the bomb was loaded at Heathrow. It was our government’s responsibility to keep Flora and all the others safe.

“Any parent who lost a child in these circumstances would be shouting for answers, and 30 years on we are still shouting and we need to be heard.”

Friday, 7 December 2018

The Lockerbie Legacy

[This is the title of a programme to be broadcast in the Disclosure series on BBC One Scotland on Thursday, 13 December 2018 at 21.00 GMT. The programme description reads in part:]

Rare archive and untold personal testimony combine to reveal how the residents of Lockerbie have been forever changed since the downing of Pan Am flight 103.

Three decades on from the UK's worst terrorist atrocity, residents of Lockerbie reveal untold stories of how they have been affected by the downing of Pan Am flight 103. Piecing together rare archive with personal testimony of those who were there on the night and in the months after, the film charts how the quiet Dumfriesshire market town has been forever changed.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Justice has been devalued

[This is the headline over a letter from Iain Mckie published in today's edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]

Congratulations to Kevin McKenna on his perceptive and timely critique of our justice system (“Do not believe the big lie that the British justice system is fair”, The Herald, December 1).

As a former police officer and justice campaigner, I am sad to say that the lessons of the past have not always been learned.

In both capacities, I have witnessed innocent people wrongly condemned to the Kafkaesque nightmare that is prison.

The root causes are much more than a collection of disparate individual failures. They are systemic in our whole approach to justice. The very court system we rely on to deliver justice is often an embarrassing shambles that affects victims and the accused alike and fails to deliver the checks and balances necessary to prevent injustice.

Many accused hand themselves over to a system that is slow, inefficient and increasingly expensive. It is also often overstretched and under resourced.

Real change will only result when there is the political will to re-assess and update our justice system and its institutions in the knowledge that blind faith in the judiciary, courts, law and police is no way to work towards a fairer and more just society. Unfortunately, I suspect Kevin McKenna’s pleas will fall on deaf ears as our justice system so often fails to deliver in these important areas.

We have a system that is rooted in the past with the maintenance of the status quo being of more importance than ensuring everyone is equal before the law.

As the 30th anniversary of Lockerbie approaches on December 22, we would do well to remember the words of Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It is Scotland’s disgrace that, for nearly three decades, the truth about the UK’s worst terrorist atrocity has been sacrificed at the altar of expediency.

Time and time again political spin and vested interests have prevailed while our justice system has sat in denial with its collective head stuck firmly in the sand.

Where are the visionary voices offering escape from the old systems and self-serving values that have suffocated dissent and devalued justice?

Monday, 3 December 2018

Ministers must end the Lockerbie secrecy

[This is the headline over an article by Magnus Linklater in today's edition of The Times. It reads in part:]

Secrecy is the enemy of truth. It suggests the real facts are being withheld, encouraging suspicion, conspiracy theories and fake news. In the case of the Lockerbie bombing, it plays into the hands of those who believe that we have been hoodwinked about the evidence. They are adamant that prosecutors got the wrong man. The latest disclosures make the search for truth more complicated. (...)

It is 30 years since a PanAm plane crashed on to the town, and in that time the idea has grown that governments colluded in pointing the finger at Libya and away from the real perpetrators. According to this, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted, was innocent and the real plotters were Palestinians backed by Iran.

Why else, goes the theory, would British intelligence have been tapping phones and monitoring calls? As Marc Horne revealed in The Times last week, relatives of those who died are convinced that, in the aftermath of the atrocity, their conversations were recorded. They would hear “clinks and clunks” on the line; files disappeared from computers; odd people pretending to be journalists turned up to interview them. [RB: Marc Horne's articles can be read here and here.]

Papers released by the UK government from the national archives show that Lynda Chalker, a Foreign Office minister, wrote to the late Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, then Lord Advocate and in overall charge of the investigation, to express concern about victims’ groups on both sides of the Atlantic. They “will need careful watching”, she wrote.

Not surprisingly, the surviving relatives, or at least those who believe there has been a miscarriage of justice, smell a rat. They think ministers were worried lest they stumble on an inconvenient truth: that intelligence agencies were busy doctoring facts to implicate Libya.

The latest revelations seem to bolster that view. It is not just the sketchy evidence that has been revealed, but the dozens of documents that are being retained, and will not be released for another five years at least. They include, bizarrely, reports brought back from Libya by the late Labour MP Bernie Grant who travelled several times to Tripoli to interview members of Gaddafi’s regime and left his papers to a London college. They have been closed to members of the public by the government until 2025.

If you wanted to encourage the idea that there has been a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, you could hardly do better than that. As Aamer Anwar, the Megrahi family’s lawyer, who hopes to run another appeal, says: “It comes as no surprise that the security services were instructed to spy on those British relatives who to date have never given up in their pursuit of the truth.”

On closer examination, the revelations do little more than muddy the waters. It is intriguing to note, for instance, that the period in 1989 when phones were allegedly being tapped, long precedes the implication of the Libyans. The main suspect was a Palestinian group known as the PFLP-GC, allegedly backed by the Iranian government, seeking revenge for the sabotage of one of its planes. Briefings from Lord Fraser’s office pointed in that direction. Why officials should have wanted to tap the phones of relatives is far from clear.

In May 1989, a fragment of a bomb timer was found in the charred collar of a shirt packed in the suitcase that had held the bomb. The significance of its discovery was not immediately apparent but from it would stem an investigation that eventually pointed to Megrahi and the Libyans.

According to campaigners such as Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the attack, and Robert Black, QC, architect of the Lockerbie trial, that evidence was manufactured, probably by the CIA, because neither UK nor US governments wanted a confrontation with Iran at the time. Libya was a more convenient target, and Megrahi a disposable suspect. They believed their communications continued to be monitored.

Many thousands of words have been published to sustain the case. That does not mean it is true. For all the painstaking work done to cast doubt on the course of the trial and conviction of Megrahi, it takes a massive suspension of disbelief to accept that a decision was made at the highest level to suppress evidence, substitute false information and tilt the Scottish justice system in the direction of a miscarriage of justice. It would have involved hundreds of intelligence agents, criminal investigators and government officials, to say nothing of Scottish lawyers and judges.

Maybe that is what happened, but maybe is not enough. To allow the allegation to hover in the air is to undermine natural justice. It is unfair to the relatives, it casts doubt on the integrity of police and politicians, it clouds understanding of history.

Withholding evidence that might cast light on this matter is no way to resolve it. Many relatives have gone to the grave with uncertainty hanging over them. By 2025, when some or most of the papers are due to be released, others will have followed. There may be an appeal but, in the meantime, the government should come clean over its knowledge on Lockerbie and the investigation. It is hard to believe national security is still at risk 30 years on. Ministers have a responsibility to the dead and to the living. Justice suppressed, they should remember, is justice denied.

[RB: Mr Linklater once again contends that we Lockerbie dissentients are positing a grand conspiracy involving "hundreds of intelligence agents, criminal investigators and government officials, to say nothing of Scottish lawyers and judges". This is just nonsense. Here is what John Ashton wrote on a previous occasion when Mr Linklater made the same allegation:]

According to Mr Linklater's Times column of 13 August 2012, we allege a huge plot to shift the blame from Iran and the PFLP-GC to Libya, which involved: 'the planting or suppression of forensic evidence, the control of witnesses by intelligence services, the approval of senior politicians, the complicity of police officers, a prosecution team prepared to bend every rule to secure a conviction, and a set of senior Scottish judges willing to go along with that'. [RB: Responses to that article can be read here.]

The last sentence is key. It suggests that we claim that everyone from the police to the judges plotted with government and intelligence services to protect the likely bombers and convict those whom they knew to be innocent. The trouble is neither I, nor the great majority of Megrahi's supporters, have ever made such a claim.

To be clear, I believe that two different things happened: firstly, the US government ensured that blame was from Iran and the PFLP-GC to Libya; secondly, the Scottish criminal justice system screwed up massively. The first I consider likely, but unproven, the second I consider a cert. Both are based upon a rational evaluation of the available facts. I do not believe that the second occurred because the Americans told the Scots to exonerate the real culprits and frame innocents, indeed I find such suggestions fanciful.

In an email to me, Mr Linklater wrote: 'I've been in the [journalism] business for more than 40 years, and have learned over that time a simple principle of reporting: that good investigation requires sound proof'. Yet he has failed to produce any evidence that the majority of Megrahi's supporters have posited a grand conspiracy. The Justice for Megrahi campaign committee has formally alleged that some of the failures might have involved criminal conduct by certain Crown servants. They do not, however, claim that it happened at the behest of governments and intelligence services.

The US government was motivated to exonerate Iran, I believe, because the Iranians knew where the Iran-Contra skeletons lay and also held sway over the US hostages held in Lebanon – whose safe return was an obsession of the Reagan-Bush White House. Another obsession was Libya. As Watergate journalist Bob Woodward revealed, CIA director William Casey launched one of the biggest covert programmes in the agency's history, with the clear aim of toppling Gaddafi. Disinformation – that is, lying and fakery – was at its core.

The Lockerbie investigation was supposedly driven by old-fashioned detective work, but, as we have learned over the years, behind the scenes the CIA played a key role. We now know that the timer fragment was not from one of the 20 timers to Libya. Is it really far-fetched to suggest that the CIA planted it in order to conclusively link Libya to the bombing?

I have done many months of my own old-fashioned detective work among the hundreds of people who searched the crash site. They witnessed American officials in Lockerbie within two hours of the crash, CIA agents searching the site without police supervision, and substantial drug and cash finds – all things that have been officially denied. There may well be innocent explanations for these events, in which case the authorities should reveal them. And, instead of writing me off as a conspiracy theorist, perhaps Mr Linklater should do some door knocking of his own.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Further claims by Lockerbie figures of monitoring of communications

[A report in today's edition of The Times carries the headline Lockerbie professor says secret service agents snooped on him. It reads in part:]

A senior legal figure who masterminded the Lockerbie trial believes that he was put under surveillance by the security services.

Robert Black, professor emeritus of Scots law at the University of Edinburgh, is convinced that his emails and telephone calls were intercepted at home and his campus office.

Professor Black spoke out after The Times published extracts from Foreign Office documents, circulated to Margaret Thatcher in 1989 when she was prime minister, which warned that relatives of the bomb victims were becoming increasingly vocal and required “careful watching”. (...)

Professor Black was the key architect of the arrangement that allowed Abdul Baset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, to stand trial under Scots law at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in 2000.

After the trial, which ended with Megrahi being found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, the academic became convinced that a miscarriage of justice had taken place.

Professor Black believes that he and Jim Swire, a former GP who became the public face of the campaign to secure an independent inquiry into the atrocity, attracted the attention of the intelligence services. Mr Swire’s daughter Flora was killed in the bombing.

“I had suspicions about interception of email communications and monitoring of telephone conversations both at my home and at my university office,” Professor Black said.

“In telephone conversations Dr Swire and I would sometimes deliberately include misleading information. On other occasions, if clicks and hissing made the apparent monitoring more than usually obvious, Dr Swire would say: ‘Hi guys’.”

Professor Black, who was born and brought up in Lockerbie, added: “This was at a time when I had put forward my proposal for a non-jury Lockerbie trial in the Netherlands after getting Libyan agreement to it. Opposition to it was virulent and those pressing the scheme, including Dr Swire and myself, were very unpopular in government circles.”

Dr Swire and the Rev John Mosey, who lost his daughter Helga in the tragedy, also claimed that their phone calls were often disrupted and their computer equipment interfered with after they spoke publicly about the case.

Peter Biddulph, a researcher and author who has spent years investigating the bombing, is also convinced that he was put under surveillance,

He said: “Around two weeks after I had interviewed Jim [Swire] I sat down and found every one of the files in my computer folder had been accessed that morning.

“It was a bit of a shock and I was in a flat panic. I ended up in my solicitor’s office swearing an affidavit, which is still in his safe. After that I got a second computer and made sure it wasn’t connected to the internet.”

The claims were corroborated by Hans Köchler, an Austrian academic, who was appointed by the UN to be an independent observer at the Camp Zeist trial.

He told The Times: “I had similar experiences in the time after the publication of my first report on the Lockerbie trial in 2001 and the following years, in terms of intrusion into the computer systems in my office in two different locations, leading to data loss and destruction of the operating system.”

A spokesman for the Crown Office said that Lockerbie remained a live criminal investigation.

The Foreign Office declined to comment.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Lockerbie files: Bombing originally thought to be revenge by Iranian terrorists

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

At the end of an eight-month trial that heard from 230 witnesses and pored over 621 pieces of evidence it took the presiding judge, Lord Cullen, seconds to announce the verdict. [RB: The presiding judge at the Lockerbie trial was Lord Sutherland. Lord Cullen's first involvement was to preside over the first appeal.]

Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, was unanimously found guilty of the bombing in 1988 which led to the deaths of 270 people when Pan Am’s Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie. On January 31, 2001, at a specially convened Scottish court in the Netherlands, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. (...)

The verdict was hailed by the White House and Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, who described the attack as “among the most brutal acts of mass murder” but added “at last those relatives know that in a fair trial, before an open court, justice has been done”.

However, declassified documents seen by The Times reveal that the British and American governments originally believed that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), an Iranian-sponsored terrorist group based in Syria, was behind the atrocity, and that Flight 103 had been destroyed in revenge for the US downing an Iranian Airbus with 290 people on board.

Six weeks before the bombing, a West German anti-terrorist operation raided the Syrian terrorist cell, led by Hafez Dalkamoni, a Palestinian militant. It was to prove valuable to the investigation.

On February 6, 1989, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Margaret Thatcher’s chief legal officer in Scotland, wrote to Douglas Hurd, the home secretary, saying “Evidence has been obtained which has led to the firm conclusion that the bomb was contained in a radio cassette player of Toshiba make.

“A very similar radio cassette player of the same make was discovered by the German police during an operation last October when they raided a flat in Frankfurt occupied by Hafez Kassem Dalkamoni, who is said to be a member of the PFLP-GC. In that flat, plastic explosives were discovered and in his car the police found a Toshiba radio cassette player containing plastic explosive and sophisticated circuitry.”

On July 26, Lord Fraser went further, telling Hurd: “While there is, as yet, no direct evidence of Dalkamoni’s involvement in the Pan Am 103 bombing there is some information and circumstantial evidence of his complicity in its preparation.”

Dalkamoni was in custody at the time of the Lockerbie bombing but one of the five known Toshiba devices created by his cell has never been recovered. He was jailed in Germany, for separate terrorist offences, before being extradited to Syria in 1995.

A secret Ministry of Defence (MoD) briefing paper stated: “Those with the closest interests were the PFLP-GC.”

Some months earlier, on March 29, 1989, details of a meeting with Brent Scowcroft, the US national security adviser, and Lawrence Eagleburger, the deputy US secretary of state, were sent to the UK. It was noted: “Neither Eagleburger nor Scowcroft ruled out action against PFLP-GC bases. I urged them to keep in touch with us before developing ideas too strongly and Scowcroft agreed to do so.”

On May 29, an MoD document detailed the reports of a discussion with Alvin P Adams Jr, deputy director for counterterrorism at the US State Department, noting: “Adams indicated that there were a number of people in Washington who firmly believed that the Iranians had inspired the attack on Pan Am 103 and who wanted action taken against them.

“It was argued that the Iranians knew that they were responsible and that they knew that the Americans had a shrewd idea that this was the case.

“The possibility of military action against the Iranians should not be excluded. For example, a strike against the Iranian navy would have a significant effect on their capabilities.” It noted that Mr Adams also wanted measures to be taken against Syria but cautioned that he reflected “the more hawkish wing of opinion in Washington”.

A letter sent on behalf of William Waldegrave, a Foreign Office minister, hoped America could be persuaded to resist launching reprisals for Lockerbie. It suggested the European view was that Iran had acted in revenge for an “unjustified US attack”.

After the raids in 1988 the West German authorities had warned the British and Americans that radio cassettes could be used to blow up passenger planes. Tom King, the defence minister, feared this would be highlighted if the government agreed to a public inquiry,

In a letter he wrote: “The terms of reference would need to be drawn up with extreme care, so as to avoid the risk of classified matters of high sensitivity becoming disclosed publicly.”

John Major, the foreign secretary who would succeed Mrs Thatcher as prime minister within months, also privately lobbied against a public investigation into the disaster.

The Americans later discounted the Iranian/PFLP-GC connection and instead focused on Libya, whose leader, Colonel Gaddafi, was unabashed over his financial support for global terrorist groups, including the IRA.

The suggestion that the need for a new suspect was prompted by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and subsequent Gulf War, which required the tacit compliance of Iran and Syria, has been strongly rejected by successive British and US administrations.

Lockerbie families: we were spied on by state

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

Relatives of the Lockerbie bomb victims said yesterday that they have been repeatedly bugged by the security services as it emerged that secret government documents suggested the families needed “careful watching”.

Previously classified government files, seen by The Times, reveal that Margaret Thatcher, when she was prime minister, had been warned that the families were becoming increasingly organised and it was suggested to her that they be put under observation.

Speaking about alleged state surveillance for the first time, the Rev John Mosey, a church minister who lost his teenage daughter, Helga, in the bombing, said that after speaking publicly his phone calls were often disrupted and documents relating to the bombing had gone missing from his computer.

Jim Swire, a GP who became the public face of the campaign to secure an independent inquiry into the atrocity, reported similar intrusions and claims that he was grilled by people he now believes were from the security services. (...)

Their stories were corroborated by Hans Koechler, who was appointed by the UN to be an independent observer at the trial of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person to be convicted for the worst act of terrorism in Britain. The academic and humanitarian, based in Vienna, revealed that his computers had been accessed and data removed after he compiled reports into the case.

Dr Swire and Mr Mosey believe that crucial evidence was withheld from Megrahi’s trial and that his conviction may have been wrongful.

The latest Lockerbie files have been released by the British government and sourced from the National Archives.

One of the documents is a letter sent from the Foreign Office on August 10, 1989, to Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Scotland’s most senior law officer, and circulated to Thatcher, which raises concerns about the families. It said: “Another aspect which will need careful watching is the activities of relatives of Pan Am 103 victims. The US relatives have for some time been well organised and vocal. More recently the UK relatives have formed the group ‘UK Families Flight 103’ and have written to various ministers. We must be totally consistent in our responses to them.”

Later documents suggest that the relatives were regarded as a nuisance by the government. Lord Fraser, then lord advocate, wrote: “I have recently received a letter from the UK families expressing a wish for a public inquiry. I have sought to head off this demand of relatives here and in the United States.”

Relatives believe the files finally confirm their long-standing belief that they were spied on.

Dr Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed, said: “I cannot believe that a supposedly decent country could behave in such a way towards grieving people whose only crime was to seek the truth. It is unethical, improper and totally unjustifiable.”

He claimed that his communications had been interfered with for decades after he spoke to two men in 1989 who claimed to be journalists.

“These two guys asked to meet me in the countryside near Cambridge,” he said. “They turned up in a high powered foreign sports car and made me feel quite uneasy, almost scared. They seemed satisfied with what I said, almost as if they discovered I didn’t know as much as they feared I might.”

Dr Swire claims that he deliberately included false information in private correspondence, only for it to appear in the press days later, adding: “It made me suspicious that Cheltenham [home of the spy agency GCHQ] made sure that everything I was doing was known beforehand.”

Mr Mosey, who is based in Lancaster, said: “I could hear little clicks and clunks when I was on the phone and documents regarding Lockerbie were disappearing from my computer.”

Dr Koechler said that the documents and the allegations of surveillance were a cause for deep concern.

“I had similar experiences in the time after the publication of my first report on the Lockerbie trial,” he said. “The state should respect the privacy of communication and should not interfere into lawful activities of civil society. These documents further confirm my doubts about the integrity of the investigation.” (...)

The Foreign Office said: “We will not be commenting on the contents of our archive files.”

[RB: For what it is worth, I also had suspicions about interception of email communications and monitoring of telephone conversations both at my home and at my university office. In telephone conversations Dr Swire and I would sometimes deliberately include misleading information and on other occasions, if clicks and hissing made the apparent monitoring more than usually obvious, Dr Swire would say "Hi, guys!"]

Monday, 26 November 2018

Lockerbie bombing: 30 years of grief

[This is the headline over an article published yesterday on the website of the Daily Express. It reads in part:]

Still the worst terrorist atrocity on British soil, 270 passengers, crew and residents of a small Scottish town died when a bomb in a radio/cassette player packed in a Samsonite suitcase exploded in the cargo hold of Pan Am flight 103 nearly 30 years ago.

To mark the anniversary, Channel 5 documentary Lockerbie: The Unheard Voices, tells the story of 12 victims and survivors - and reveals two warnings were ignored. (...)

But could the horror have been avoided if warnings were heeded? A fortnight before the explosion, a caller rang the US Embassy in Finland to say there was a "plot against a Pan American flight to the US sometime in the next two weeks".

This was passed to the US Federal Aviation Administration but was "ultimately dismissed as a hoax".

A second, less widely known warning, came two days before the ill-fated flight. The UK Department of Transport "sent out a letter" warning a "bomb had been placed in a cassette player", according to the documentary. "The warning was based on detailed information sent out by the German intelligence services."

This was never heeded. It is not known how the brown Samsonite case made its way into cargo hold, but "security checks" failed to pick up anything.

It contained the Toshiba radio/ cassette tape player, in which 450g of Semtex and a timer was hidden. [RB: Dr Morag Kerr's researches have established conclusively that bomb suitcase was already in the luggage container AVE4041 at Heathrow before the aircraft supposedly carrying the case that the Libyans had sent as unaccompanied baggage from Malta arrived in London: Adequately Explained by Stupidity? Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies.] (...)

But the ultimate suspect was Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, Libyan Airlines' security chief, who was convicted in 2001 of the bombing.

He died in May 2012, maintaining his innocence. His family are still trying to appeal his conviction.

Last week, a police probe found no evidence of criminality in relation to the handling of the investigation and prosecution in the case. [RB: The Chief Constable of Police Scotland has stated that the report contains material that is relevant to the Megrahi family's current application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and to any subsequent appeal against Megrahi's conviction.]

The film states: "For many of the families of the 270 victims there are still many unanswered questions."

The unanswered questions…

1 Will al-Megrahi's family get the chance to appeal on his behalf? The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is looking at Megrahi's conviction and if it decides there has been a miscarriage of justice, the case will return to the Court of Appeal. Some believe the truth will finally be brought to light.

2 Why was key evidence overlooked at the original Lockerbie trial? A break-in at the Pan Am baggage department at Heathrow airport before the bombing was never disclosed to the judges. And a $2million reward paid to witness Tony Gauci by the US only emerged years after Megrahi's conviction.

3 How can a discrepancy in forensic evidence be explained? A fragment of bomb timer found in a field near Lockerbie was linked to Libya, as Swiss firm Mebo had sold timers to Colonel Gaddafi's regime. It has since emerged the fragment was made of pure tin, not the lead/tin alloy used by Mebo.

4 If Megrahi did not plant the bomb then who did? Some believe Iran paid Palestinian terror group PFLP-GC to carry out the attack after the US Navy accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner in July 1988, killing 290 people.

5 What were the warnings? German police told British authorities a PFLP-GC cell might plant bombs hidden in tape recorders on passenger planes, while a man with an Arabic accent rang the US Embassy in Helsinki on December 5 to say a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the US would be blown up.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Inquiry findings "have relevance to potential appeal against conviction"

[There are numerous reports in the media today about the conclusion of Police Scotland's Operation Sandwood. What follows is excerpted from the coverage in The Guardian which is based on material provided by the Press Association news agency:]

Police have found no evidence of criminality in relation to the handling of the investigation and prosecution of the Lockerbie bombing case following a long-running investigation.

A team of detectives spent four years examining nine allegations made by the Justice for Megrahi campaign group in an investigation called Operation Sandwood.

Pan Am flight 103 was on its way from London to New York when it exploded above Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, killing 270 people.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001, the only person found guilty of the bombing.

He was jailed for 27 years but died of prostate cancer aged 60 in 2012 after being released on compassionate grounds in 2009.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) announced earlier this year that a full review of the case was to be carried out to decide if a fresh appeal against Megrahi’s conviction could be made.

The allegations against the crown, police and forensic officials who worked on the investigation into the 1988 bombing included perversion of the course of justice and perjury.

Police Scotland’s chief constable, Iain Livingstone, said: “Officers carried out a methodical and rigorous inquiry using our major investigation framework under the direction of an experienced senior investigating officer. I have had oversight of the investigation since its outset.

“The substance of the allegations were diverse in nature and the sheer scale and complexity of the task has resulted in a particularly protracted enquiry which has taken longer than originally thought.

“However, this reflects the hard work and professionalism of the officers involved and their meticulous approach to the inquiry. The findings and conclusions have been validated by a senior Queen’s counsel, entirely unconnected with and acting independently from the Crown Office.

“I have written to the lord advocate to inform him Operation Sandwood is now complete and that there is no evidence of criminality and therefore no basis to submit a standard prosecution report.

“The material collated during the inquiry and the findings and conclusions reached have relevance to both the ongoing live investigation and the potential appeal against conviction lodged on behalf of the late Mr Megrahi.

“The materials have therefore been handed to Crown Office officials.” (...)

Justice for Megrahi campaigners welcomed the report and said the findings would be of importance to many of the issues being considered by the SCCRC.

The group said: “The Operation Sandwood investigation has resulted in a seminal report which has examined many of the controversies which have arisen over the past 30 years.

“We believe that Police Scotland conducted their enquiry with thoroughness and integrity and we thank them for the work they have carried out.

“As the 30th anniversary of this tragedy approaches we feel there is a very real possibility that the truth behind the UK’s worst ever terrorist outrage will finally be revealed.

“We have confidence that the Scottish criminal justice system will welcome this light that has now been shone into the darkness that surrounds Lockerbie and will ensure that the truth is finally revealed to those who lost their loved ones on the 21st December 1988.”

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Sandwood: no prosecutions but material relevant to potential future appeal

[The Operation Sandwood inquiry is now complete and its findings have been communicated to the Lord Advocate. A letter today from Chief Constable Iain Livingstone to Justice for Megrahi contains the following sentences:]

I have written to the Lord Advocate to inform him Operation Sandwood is now complete and that there is no evidence of criminality and therefore no basis to submit a standard prosecution report.

The material collated during the inquiry and the findings and conclusions reached have relevance to both the ongoing live investigation and the potential appeal against conviction lodged on behalf of the late Mr Megrahi. The materials have therefore been handed to Crown Office officials.

[Justice for Megrahi has today issued a press release in the following terms:]

LOCKERBIE REPORT BRINGS HOPE THAT THE TRUTH ABOUT THE UK’S WORST EVER TERRORIST OUTRAGE WILL FINALLY BE TOLD.

In 2012 when JfM made nine criminal allegations in connection with the Lockerbie investigation and trial, related to possible malpractice by Crown Office personnel, police and other prosecution witnesses, our main aim was to shine a light into the darkness that surrounded the investigation and trial related to the UK’s worst ever terrorist outrage.

Some six years later this light has been shone and we welcome Chief Constable Livingstone’s announcement that, while there will be no criminal prosecutions following from the Police Scotland enquiry, the findings of that enquiry will be of importance to many of the issues being considered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) as it carries out a review of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's conviction to decide whether it would be appropriate to refer the matter to the Appeal Court.

We have always believed that it was via the Scottish Appeal Court that the truth would finally emerge and we have faith in the Scottish Justice System to ensure this is done.

The Operation Sandwood investigation has resulted in a seminal report which has examined many of the controversies which have arisen over the past thirty years. We believe that Police Scotland conducted their enquiry with thoroughness and integrity and we thank them for the work they have carried out.

We would also like to thank the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament for their oversight of the criminal investigation and trust that they will continue that oversight until an SCCRC decision is made and the outcome of any appeal is known.

JfM states: “As the 30th anniversary of this tragedy approaches we feel there is a very real possibility that the truth behind the UK’s worst ever terrorist outrage will finally be revealed. We have confidence that the Scottish criminal justice system will welcome this light that has now been shone into the darkness that surrounds Lockerbie and will ensure that the truth is finally revealed to those who lost their loved ones on the 21st December 1988.”

How Megrahi came to be convicted of the Lockerbie bombing

For the first time since 2011 a new item was published yesterday on Adam J Larson (Caustic Logic)'s magnificent blog The Lockerbie Divide. After a short introduction by Caustic Logic there follows a long article by Kevin Bannon entitled How Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi became convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. The principal thesis of the article is that the representation accorded to Megrahi by his legal team at the Zeist trial and at the first appeal was gravely defective and that these deficiencies contributed in no small way to his wrongful conviction and to the failure of his appeal. 

The article consists of copiously-referenced sections headed:  

The bombing 
Identification of al-Megrahi
From indictment to conviction
Supplementary evidence 
A defence laid bare 
The appeal 
Petty cash and big money 
Metamorphosis of testimony 
A miscarriage 
Postscript. 

This is an important contribution that should be read by anyone with an interest in the Lockerbie bombing and the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Monday, 19 November 2018

A long journey in the pursuit for truth and justice

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the Coventry Live website, based on an article originally posted there in August 2017:]

The twisted remains of Pan Am flight 103 lie in a forgotten heap – nearly 30 years after a terrorist bomb sent it crashing into the town of Lockerbie.

The 325 tons of aluminium alloy, including part of the fuselage bearing the identification number N739PA, are fenced off in a scrapyard next to a go-kart track, and cannot be moved until all investigations into the atrocity have been concluded. (...)

The mid section, where the bomb exploded, remains under wraps at the HQ of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch in Farnborough, Hants.

But the rest of the wreckage, including parts of the engines and pieces of the distinctive nose cone of the Boeing 747, was transported to Windleys Salvage in Tattershall, near Boston, Lincs, where it has remained ever since.

In August 2017, the family of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi lodged a new bid to appeal against his conviction, five years after his death.

Lawyer Aamer Anwar joined family members and supporters to hand files to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission in Glasgow. (...)

The commission will now decide whether there are grounds to refer the case to the appeal court.

According to a BBC report in May 2018, a review of al-Megrahi's conviction was to be carried out by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

The commission said it would examine the case to decide whether it would be appropriate to refer the matter for a fresh appeal.

The move has the support of Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, and Rev John Mosey, whose daughter Helga also died.

It is believed the new appeal bid is based on concerns over the evidence that convicted the Libyan, including that given by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, who died last year. (...)

Mr Anwar said: “It has been a long journey in the pursuit for truth and justice.

"When Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, killing 271 people from 21 countries - including al-Megrahi, it still remains the worst terrorist atrocity ever committed in the UK - 28 years later the truth remains elusive.

“The reputation of Scottish law has suffered both at home and internationally because of widespread doubts about the conviction of Mr al-Megrahi.

“It is in the interests of justice and restoring confidence in our criminal justice system that these doubts can be addressed.

“However the only place to determine whether a miscarriage of justice did occur is in the appeal court, where the evidence can be subjected to rigorous scrutiny.”

The son of al-Megrahi has said he is “100% certain” his father was innocent.

Ali Megrahi, 22, said: “When my father returned to Libya, I spent most of my time next to him and had the opportunity to talk to him as much as possible before he passed away.

"I am 100% certain that he was innocent and not the so-called Lockerbie bomber.”

Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora, Rev John Mosey, whose daughter Helga was killed, and Geoff and Ann Mann, who lost her brother John, his wife and their two children, joined Mr Anwar.

Dr Swire said: “As the father of Flora, I still ache for her, what might have been, the grandchildren she would have had, the love she always gave us and the glowing medical career.

“It has always been and remains my intent to see those responsible for her death brought to justice.

“I feel encouraged and optimistic that this may mark the start of another step towards discovering the truth about our families, why they were murdered and in particular why their lives were not protected in all the circumstances.”

Monday, 5 November 2018

Kenneth Roy: 26 March 1945 - 5 November 2018

I am saddened to learn of the death today of Kenneth Roy. As editor of the Scottish Review he wrote many articles about the Lockerbie case and the disgraceful conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, as well as publishing contributions by other Megrahi campaigners, such as Robert Forrester, Morag Kerr, John Ashton, James Robertson and me. A selection of these pieces can be found here. Although the Justice for Megrahi campaign and Ken Roy had occasional spats (he was a prickly character), his support for Megrahi and his advocacy of the case for the conviction to be overturned were unwavering.

At Ken's invitation, I spoke about the Lockerbie case on several occasions in the Young Scotland Programme organised by the Institute of Contemporary Scotland which Ken had set up. And on a memorable occasion in 2011, I shared a platform with him at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. A recording of our conversation, chaired by Iain Anderson, can be found here. Scotland has too few journalists of the calibre of Kenneth Roy. I shall miss him.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Air Malta wins out-of-court settlement over Lockerbie programme

[This is the headline over a report published on this date in 1993 in the Maltese newspaper The Times. It reads as follows:]

Air Malta has won an out-of-court settlement from an independent British television company over a programme it felt implied negligence on its part in the 1988 Lockerbie Pan Am airliner bombing, lawyers for the Maltese carrier said yesterday.

Granada Television agreed to pay Air Malta Company Limited £15,005 to settle the dispute in connection with a dramatised documentary Why Lockerbie? About the bombing of the Pan American World Airways Boeing 747 over Scotland in which 270 people were killed.

The payment was made without any admission of liability, Air Malta’s lawyers said in a statement.

Air Malta had objected to a reconstruction of how the bomb might have been smuggled into the international airline system. The dramatized segment showed an Arab checking the bag on to an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt.

The Pan Am flight from London to New York, carrying some passengers who had travelled from Frankfurt, was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988. Two suspected Libyan intelligence agents have been accused of carrying out the attack but Tripoli has not handed them over for trial.

[RB: Granada was compelled to settle because there was no credible evidence that the bomb started from Luqa Airport in Malta. The judges at the Zeist trial held that it had done so. What follows is my published comment at the time of the verdict:]

The trial judges held it proved that the bomb was contained in a piece of unaccompanied baggage which was transported on Air Malta flight KM 180 from Luqa to Frankfurt on 21 December 1988, and was then carried on a feeder flight to Heathrow where Pan Am flight 103 was loaded from empty. The evidence supporting the finding that there was such a piece of unaccompanied baggage was a computer printout which could be interpreted to indicate that a piece of baggage went through the particular luggage coding station at Frankfurt Airport used for baggage from KM 180, and was routed towards the feeder flight to Heathrow, at a time consistent with its having been offloaded from KM 180. Against this, the evidence from Luqa Airport in Malta (whose baggage reconciliation and security systems were proven to be, by international standards, very effective) was to the effect that there was no unaccompanied bag on that flight to Frankfurt. All luggage on that flight was accounted for. The number of bags loaded into the hold matched the number of bags checked in (and subsequently collected) by the passengers on the aircraft. The court nevertheless held it proved that there had been a piece of unaccompanied baggage on flight KM 180.

[RB: Dr Morag Kerr has since, in her book Adequately Explained by Stupidity? Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies, conclusively established that the bomb suitcase started its fatal progress at Heathrow Airport, not Luqa.]