Wednesday, 28 September 2016

MSP slams Lockerbie investigations in Scotland

[This is a slightly modified version of the headline over a report published on the website of the Maltese newspaper The Times on 29 September 2010. It reads as follows:]

The Scottish [MSP] who has taken Air Malta’s side in the Lockerbie case has now described the investigations being carried out in Scotland as “little more than a device to avoid police disclosing a range of controversial material related to the case under Freedom of Information laws”.

In a statement, Christine Grahame said: “Correspondence I have received from the Chief Constable of Dumfries and Galloway Police has confirmed that only one full-time police officer is currently working on the case.

“The bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 previously resulted in the biggest police investigation ever carried out in the UK and I think this revelation simply confirms that the “open” nature of the investigation is little more than a device to avoid the authorities disclosing additional uncomfortable facts which undermine the prosecution case.

“I wrote to Dumfries and Galloway Police back in August to determine what progress had been made in the investigation over the past 12 months, but they are unable to say if they have any new leads.

“I also asked the Chief Constable to confirm whether the Iranian backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command were no longer suspects in the case.

“I posed this question because the former Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser, recently told journalists that he was unhappy about the manner in which the police investigation failed to thoroughly pursue the links to the PFLP-GC.

“Lord Fraser implied it was reasonable to conclude that members of that terrorist organisation were in fact US intelligence assets and this was the reason that end of the investigation was not followed through and the suspects released before Scottish police investigators were able to interrogate them.

“Dumfries and Galloway Police have not been able to confirm or deny that the Iranian sponsored PFLP-GC remain suspects in this case.

“It is increasingly apparent that only a full and thorough public inquiry will address the outstanding concerns about the safety of the conviction and publicly reveal all the known facts related to this case, including the reasons why key suspects in the PFLP-GC were not properly investigated.

“The fact Dumfries and Galloway Police only have one full time officer working on the case poses some significant questions about how keen they are to pursue all avenues,” she said.

Malta has always denied any involvement in the act but a shop owner had said in the original trial that he believed Al Megrahi purchased clothes from his shop, providing the prosecution with grounds to argue that the bomb had left from Malta and then transferred to the fateful flight.

Malta had provided ample evidence to support its contention that there was no unaccompanied luggage on Air Malta flight KM180 on December 21, 1988. But its defence was trumped by Mr Gauci’s testimony.

The Maltese shopkeeper

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer that was published on this date in 2008 on the OhmyNews International website. It reads as follows:]

Edward Gauci owns a small store Mary's House, at 63 Tower Road, Sliema in Malta. His sons, Paul and Tony, run the business. On Sept 22 1988, Paul ordered a few Babygros. The investigator of the bombing of Pan Am 103 discovered that the IED had been surrounded by clothes bought from the Gauci store. According to the US State Department, the clothes were bought on, or about, Dec 7, 1988.

In September 2003, Megrahi, the only person convicted of the bombing of Pan Am 103, applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission [SCCRC] for a legal review of his conviction. His request was based on the legal test contained in section 106(3)(b) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.

The provision states that an appeal may be made against "any alleged miscarriage of justice, which may include such a miscarriage based on ... the jury's having returned a verdict which no reasonable jury, properly directed, could have returned."

In June 2007, the SCCRC decided to grant Megrahi a second appeal and to refer his case to the High Court. An impressive 800-page-long document, stating the reasons for the decision, has been sent to the High Court, the applicant, his solicitor, and Crown Office. Although the document is not available to the public, the Commission has decided "to provide a fuller news release than normal."

Based on new evidence not heard at the trial, as well as additional and other evidence not made available to the defence, the Commission formed the view "that there is no reasonable basis in the trial court's judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items from Mary's House, took place on Dec 7, 1988."

The conviction of Megrahi relies heavily, in fact almost entirely, on the fact that the bomb was wrapped in clothes that he personally bought in Malta. The prosecutor established that Megrahi was indeed in Malta on Dec 7, 1988 and Tony Gauci, the shopkeeper of the clothes store Mary's House, testified that he had sold the clothes to a man who resembles Megrahi.

New evidence, concerning the date on which the Christmas lights were illuminated in the area of Sliema in which Mary's House is situated, combined with Gauci's testimony and police statements, led the Commission to conclude that the items must have been bought prior to Dec 6, that is at a time where there is no evidence that Megrahi was on the island.

Additional evidence completely undermines the identification of Megrahi by Gauci. Just days before he picked him in an identification parade, Gauci had seen Megrahi's picture in a magazine.

In fact, the judgment (§69) recognizes that Gauci never positively identified Megrahi. On Feb 15, 1991, Gauci was shown 12 photos, among them a picture of Megrahi 1986 passport.

"Number 8 [The photo of Megrahi] is similar to the man who bought the clothing. The hair is perhaps a bit long. The eyebrows are the same. The nose is the same. And his chin and shape of face are the same. The man in the photograph number 8 is in my opinion in his 30 years."

"He would perhaps have to look about 10 years, or more, older and he would look like the man who bought the clothes. It's been a long time now, and I can only say that this photograph 8 resembles the man who bought the clothing, but it is younger," Gauci said.

The US Department Fact Sheet accompanying the indictment does not say that Gauci had identified Megrahi as the buyer of the clothes. The text merely states that "in February 1991, Megrahi was described as the Libyan who had purchased the clothes."

The Commission did not comment on what may constitute other evidence. "Other evidence, not made available to the defence, which the Commission believes may further undermine Mr. Gauci's identification of the applicant as the purchaser," the press release says.

There is however much reasons to suspect that Tony Gauci is not a reliable witness. Lord Fraser is the former lord advocate who issued the arrest warrant against Megrahi.

On Oct 23, 2005, Lord Fraser told the Times Online that he was not entirely happy with the evidence brought against Megrahi.

"Gauci was not quite the full shilling. I think even his family would say (that he) was an apple short of a picnic. He was quite a tricky guy, I don't think he was deliberately lying but if you asked him the same question three times he would just get irritated and refuse to answer," Fraser said.

"You do have to worry, he's a slightly simple chap, are you putting words in his mouth even if you don't intend to?"

According to The Observer, Gauci was interviewed 17 times by the police and his statements are grossly inconsistent.

"A key witness who could be proven to be so unreliable is more than sufficient to collapse any trial. Plus there was evidence of leading questions put to Gauci, a practice then known to distort evidence," a legal source argues.

According to the verdict, Megrahi bought from the Gaucis several clothes including the "cloth" in which the fragment of the infamous MST-13 timer was "discovered" by Dr Hayes. At first sight, the "cloth" appears to be part of a Slalom shirt, indeed sold in Mary's House.

However, upon closer examination, the "cloth" raises a series of issues. Firstly, the colour of the label is incorrect. A blue Slalom shirt label should have blue writing, not brown.

Secondly, the breast pocket size corresponds to a child shirt, not a 16½ sized allegedly bought by Megrahi, for the pocket would have been 2 cm wider.

Thirdly, German records show the shirt with most of the breast pocket intact while the evidence shown at Zeist has a deep triangular tear extending inside the pocket.

Fourthly, last but certainly not least, the storekeeper initially told the investigators he never sold such shirts to whoever visited him a few weeks before the Lockerbie tragedy.

On Jan 30, 1990, Gauci stated: "That time when the man came, I am sure I did not sell him a shirt." Then, on Sept 10, 1990, he told the investigators that: "I now remember that the man who bought the clothing also bought a 'Slalom' shirt." And to make things worse, two of his testimonies have disappeared.

According to the verdict, Megrahi bought the clothes on Dec 7, 1989. Gauci remembered that his brother had gone home earlier to watch an evening football game (Rome vs Dresden), that the man came just before closing time (7 pm), that it was raining (the man bought an umbrella) and that the Christmas lights were on.

The game allows for only two dates: Nov 23 or Dec 7. The issue is critical for there is no indication that Megrahi was in Malta on Nov 23 but is known to have been on the island on December 7th.

Malta airport chief meteorologist testified that it was raining on Nov 23 but not on Dec 7. Yet the judges determined the date as Dec 7. This rather absurd conclusion from the judges raises two other issues.

The game Rome-Dresden on Dec 7 was played at 1 pm, not in the evening. What is more, Gauci had previously testified that the Christmas lights were not up, meaning that the date had to be Nov 23.

On Sept 19, 1989, Gauci stated that "the [Christmas] decorations were not up when the man bought the clothing." Then, at the Lockerbie trial, Gauci told the Judges that the decoration lights were on. "Yes, they were ... up."

In early October, OMNI reported that huge amounts of money were offered by US officials to at least three key witnesses (see "Lockerbie Investigator Disputes Story"). The defense was never told that the CIA had offered millions of dollars to their star witnesses. Both the FBI and CIA denied ever having offered money to any of the witnesses.

"I cannot speak for the CIA but I believe they had no access to witnesses. But [speaking for the FBI] I can say that no one was ever offered any money for testimony. The FBI does not operate that way," Marquise, the former FBI leading investigator, told me.

"This issue came up at trial and I spoke with the defense lawyers about it in Edinburgh in 1999 -- before trial. No one was promised or even told that they could get money for saying anything. Every FBI agent was under specific orders not to mention money to any potential witness."

In response to a query, a CIA spokesperson ridiculed a witness's accusations that it offered or paid him anything. "It may disappoint the conspiracy buffs, but the CIA doesn't belong in your story," a CIA spokesperson said, insisting on anonymity. The witness is none other than Edwin Bollier whose company is accused of having sold the timer that detonated the bomb on Pan Am 103.

An FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, has confirmed that the bureau met with Bollier in Washington in 1991. Marquise told me that he attended the meeting. But both marquise and the official denied Bollier was offered anything to implicate Libya.

In a formal statement, FBI spokesman Richard Kolko emphatically rejected any suggestions of a payoff. "Any accusations that any witness was paid to lie are complete fabrications and these ridiculous statements should be immediately discounted as the untruths they are," Kolko said. "That is not the way the FBI operates."

However, a source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Jeff Stein, the national security editor of the Congressional Quarterly Web site, CQ Politics, that Tony Gauci and his brother Paul were paid somewhere between $3 to $4 million each for providing information leading to the conviction of Megrahi.

The US State Department has acknowledged that rewards were paid. "A reward was paid out in the Lockerbie Pan Am 103 case," a spokesperson there said on condition of anonymity, "but due to operational and security concerns we are not disclosing details regarding specific amounts, sources or types of assistance the sources provided."

In the weeks preceding the visit of [US Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice to Tripoli, the name of Megrahi has been mysteriously removed from the Rewards for Justice US Web site.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Justice for Megrahi petition kept open by Justice Committee

At its meeting held this morning the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee, now under the convenership of Margaret Mitchell MSP (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party), unanimously agreed to keep Justice for Megrahi’s petition (PE1370) open. The proceedings in the committee can be viewed here, with the consideration of PE1370 commencing 1 hour 31 minutes in.

The Official Report (Hansard) of the proceedings is now available here.

Deception over Lockerbie

[This is the headline over a long article by Maidhc Ó'Cathail published on this date in 2009 on the Canadian Global Research website. It reads in part:]

The scenes of flag-waving Libyans welcoming home Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the man known as the Lockerbie bomber, further discredited Muslims in the minds of many. For those whose knowledge of the story is derived mainly from TV news, it appeared to be a callous celebration of mass murder, lending credence to the belief that “Islam” and “terrorism” are virtually synonymous. A closer look at the facts surrounding the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, however, reveals a pattern of deception by those who have most to gain from making Muslims look bad.
While the news reports dutifully recorded the protestations of outrage by Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and others at what appeared to be an unseemly hero’s welcome for a convicted terrorist, they neglected to mention that Libyans were celebrating the release of a countryman whom they believe had been wrongfully imprisoned for eight years. Also omitted from the reports was any indication that informed observers of Megrahi’s case in Britain and elsewhere are likewise convinced of his innocence.
Robert Black, the University of Edinburgh law professor who was the architect of the trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, says that “no reasonable tribunal could have convicted Megrahi on the evidence led,” and calls his 2001 conviction “an absolute and utter outrage.” Prof Black likens the Scottish trial judges to the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass who “believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Hans Köchler, a UN-appointed observer at the trial, states that “there is not one single piece of material evidence linking the two accused to the crime,” and condemns the court’s verdict as a “spectacular miscarriage of justice.” And Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was one of the 270 killed on December 21, 1988, dismisses the prosecution’s case against Megrahi and fellow Libyan Lamin Khalifa F’hima as “a cock and bull story.”
According to that “cock and bull story,” Megrahi, the head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), conspired with Lamin Khalifa F’hima, the station manager for LAA in Malta (who was acquitted), to put a suitcase bomb on a flight from Malta to Frankfurt. At Frankfurt, the lethal suitcase had to be transferred to another flight bound for London Heathrow. Then in Heathrow Airport, it would have to be transferred for a second time onto the ill-fated Flight 103 destined for New York.
But for that rather implausible scenario to be true, the Libyans would have to have had an inordinate faith in the reliability of baggage handlers in two of Europe’s busiest airports at one of the busiest times of the year. Less optimistic would-be bombers would surely have slipped the bomb-laden suitcase on board in London. Fueling suspicions that this is indeed what happened, investigating police were told by a security guard at Heathrow that the Pan Am baggage storage area had been broken into on the night of the bombing.
The reported break-in at Heathrow was part of 600 pages of new and deliberately suppressed evidence that Megrahi’s defense could present at an appeal, which in 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, after a three-year investigation, recommended he be granted.
But before that appeal could be heard, the compassionate release of Megrahi, suffering from terminal prostate cancer, conveniently spared the potential embarrassment of all those involved in his dubious conviction. More significantly, it also averted awkward questions being raised, in the likely event of the Libyan being acquitted, about who actually planted the bomb, and why.
Many of those who doubt Libya’s  responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, perhaps not surprisingly in the current climate, tend to suspect other Muslim countries of involvement. The most popular theory is that Iran hired the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) led by Ahmed Gibril to avenge the “accidental” shooting down by the USS Vincennes on July 3, 1988 of Iran Air Flight 655, which killed all 288 civilians on board.
Others believe that Abu Nidal, the founder of the infamous Black September terrorist group, may have been involved. If they’re right, it raises disturbing questions about who was ultimately responsible for the Lockerbie atrocity. In his fine biography of Nidal, A Gun for Hire, British journalist Patrick Seale confirms long-held suspicions that many in the Middle East have had about the “Palestinian terrorist” who did more than anyone to discredit the Palestinian cause. “Abu Nidal was undoubtedly a Mossad agent,” Seale asserts. “Practically every job he did benefited Israel.” (...)
Writing in the Guardian just before the trial of the two Libyans, veteran American journalist Russell Warren Howe, in an excellent article titled “What if they are innocent?” analyses whether the Iranian government, Palestinian terrorists or Israeli intelligence were more likely perpetrators. Howe concludes, “Even if Megrahi and F’hima are found guilty of the most serious charges, there would still be a need for a new investigation: to decide what was Israel’s possibly major role in mass murder and deception of its main benefactor, the US.” Howe is suggesting that even if the Libyans, or other Arabs, had actually planted the bomb, they may still have been duped into doing so by Israeli agents.
Intriguingly, Howe cites a reference in Gordon Thomas’s book on Mossad, Gideon’s Spies, to a Mossad officer stationed in London who showed up in Lockerbie the morning after the crash to arrange for the removal of a suitcase from the crime scene. The suitcase, said to belong to Captain Charles McKee, a DIA officer who was killed on the flight, was later returned “empty and undamaged.”
Moreover, the idea of Libyan responsibility, Howe notes, seems to have originated in Israel. Again, he quotes Thomas, who says that a source at LAP, Mossad’s psychological warfare unit, informed him that “within hours of the crash, staff at LAP were working the phones to their media contacts urging them to publicise that here was ‘incontrovertible proof’ that Libya, through its intelligence service, Jamahirya, was culpable.”
It may also have been Mossad disinformation, Howe suspects, that induced the US government to believe the Libyans were guilty. The day after the Lockerbie bombing, US intelligence intercepted a radio message from Tripoli to a Libyan government office in Berlin that effectively said, “mission accomplished.”

Monday, 26 September 2016

Reminder of Justice Committee meeting

A reminder that Justice for Megrahi’s petition (PE1370) seeking an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and trial features on the agenda for the meeting of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee’s meeting to be held tomorrow, Tuesday, 27 September 2016 in Holyrood Committee Room 2, beginning at 10.00. It is unlikely that this agenda item will be reached before 11.00. Further details can be found here. The proceedings will be televised on Parliament TV.

Defector Giaka in witness box at Zeist

[On this date in 2000 Abdul Majid Giaka entered the witness box at the Lockerbie trial. His evidence extended over three days. What follows is the text of the report on the BBC News website of the first day:]

A former Libyan spy has told the Lockerbie trial he saw the accused with a suitcase similar to the one alleged to have contained the bomb.

Abdul Majid Giaka, a key prosecution witness, has been giving details of his role as a Libyan secret service officer at Luqa Airport in Malta.

The prosecution alleges that the two Libyans placed a bomb in a brown Samsonite suitcase and routed it onto Pan Am Flight 103 from Malta.

Giaka told the court he saw Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah with such a suitcase shortly before the bombing in December 1988.

Mr Giaka has been living in the US for 10 years under CIA protection after defecting from Libya.

He was escorted to the special Scottish court at Camp Zeist, Holland, by 30 US marshals.

Speaking in Arabic from behind a screen and with his voice distorted to protect his identity, Mr Giaka told the court he was recruited to the JSO (the Libyan security service) after graduating from university.

He told prosecutor Alastair Campbell QC that he started working for the Libyan security service in 1984 and in 1986 he moved to become assistant station manager in Malta.

This posting, based at Luqa Airport, was part of the intelligence service's airline security section, to protect aircraft, passengers and crew of Libyan Arab Airlines.

The two defendants also worked at the airport for the Libyan airline and were also allegedly members of the Libyan security service.

In court he identified Abdelbasset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi as the head of the airline security section and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhima as the station boss.

BBC Scotland correspondent Reevel Alderson, who is in court, said this was the first time in the trial that Fhima had been identified by a witness.

Giaka described how, shortly before the bombing in 1988, he saw the two accused arrive from Tripoli. They were carrying a brown Samsonite suitcase.

He also said that, two years before the bombing, Fahima had showed him two bricks of what he said was the explosive TNT.

The TNT was in the drawer of a desk in the office they shared.

He said: "Fahima told me he had had 10 kg of TNT delivered by Abdel Basset (Megrahi).

"He opened the drawer and there were two boxes which contained a yellowish material."

Mr Giaka went on to outline the role of the JSO in terrorism and assassinating dissidents outside Libya and said his concerns led him in 1988 to contact the American Embassy.

He became a double agent, providing information about Libyan intelligence and people suspected of involvement in terrorism.

Defence lawyer Bill Taylor QC complained that much of what he had to say was "mere tittle-tattle and gossip," and reminded the court that hearsay can be inadmissible in a Scottish murder trial.

Giaka's appearance in court came after weeks of wrangling between the prosecution and defence.

At the heart of the objections has been the issue of the availability of notes of interviews held between Mr Giaka and his CIA handlers in America.

These papers - or cables - have been trickling out with varying degrees of censorship.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that very few relatives of the victims are watching the trial on closed-circuit TV at four sites in the US and Britain.

Virtually no-one has been to the site in Dumfries, while even in New York there is usually only eight to 10 people watching.

[RB: A verbatim transcript of Giaka’s evidence can be found here, starting at page 2095.]

Sunday, 25 September 2016

UK authorities have known for 20 years Megrahi was innocent

On this date in 2009 former ambassador Craig Murray wrote this on his blog:

“As I have previously stated, I can affirm that the FCO and MI6 knew that al-Megrahi was not the Lockerbie bomber.

“I strongly recommend that you read this devastating article by the great lawyer Gareth Peirce, in the London Review of Books. Virtually every paragraph provides information which in itself demolishes the conviction. The totality of the information Peirce gives is a quite stunning picture of not accidental but deliberate miscarriage of justice.”

He then quotes at length from Gareth Peirce’s The Framing of al-Megrahi.

What follows is from another of Mr Murray’s blogposts:

The information on Lockerbie published in today’s Daily Mail from an Iranian defector, matches precisely what I was shown in a secret intelligence report in the FCO just around the time of the first Iraq war – that a Syrian terrorist group was responsible acting on behalf of Iran.  It was decided that this would be kept under wraps because the West needed Iran and Syria’s quiescence in the attack on Iraq.

“I was at the time Head of Maritime Section in the FCO’s Aviation and Maritime Department. I was shown the report by the Head of the Aviation Section, who was deeply troubled by it.

“The UK authorities have known for over 20 years that Megrahi was innocent. The key witness, a Maltese shopkeeper named Tony Gauci, was paid a total of US $7 million for his evidence by the CIA, and was able to adopt a life of luxury that continues to this day. The initial $2 million payment has become public knowledge but that was only the first instalment.  This was not an over-eagerness to convict the man the CIA believed responsible; this was a deliberate perversion of justice to move the spotlight from Iran and Syria to clear the way diplomatically for war in Iraq.

“It will of course be argued, probably correctly, that now Syria and Iran are the western targets, it is in the interests of the CIA for the true story to come out,  (minus of course their involvement in perverting the course of justice).  That is why we now hear it was Syria and Iran.  But it so happens that is in fact the truth.  Even the security services and government can tell the truth, when the moment comes that the truth rather than a deceit happens to be a tactical advantage to them.”

Saturday, 24 September 2016

New legal team for Megrahi and Fhima

[On this date in 1998 there were media reports about a change in the Libyan legal team representing the Lockerbie accused, Megrahi and Fhima. What follows is taken from Asharq al-Awsat:]

Dr Ibrahim al-Ghuwayl [Legwell] lawyer of 'Abd-al-Basit al-Miqrahi and al-Amin Khalifah Fahimah, the two Libyans accused in connection with the Lockerbie case, has refused to join a new team formed by the Libyan Government to defend the two Libyans suspected of blowing up a PanAm plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.  In a statement to Al-Sharq al-Awsat yesterday Al-Ghuwayl attributed his refusal to disagreements over "strategy."

Dr al-Ghuwayl added that the new team is headed by Kamil Maqhur, a former foreign minister, and includes lawyers from a number of law practices in Libya.

Asked about the reasons for this official Libyan action, al-Ghuwayl said:  "I do not know the reasons; you should ask those who made the decision."  Dr al-Ghuwayl stressed that it was al-Miqrahi and Fahimah who chose him as a lawyer to defend them, "and I am still safeguarding their interests and will continue to do so until they decide otherwise." Al-Ghuwayl had objected to the US-British initiative for his clients to stand trial in the Netherlands.

[RB: A few days later a letter from me was published in The Scotsman in response to that newspaper’s report on the matter. The letter reads as follows:]

Your report  ("Lockerbie suspects' lawyers sacked", 24 September)  claims the new Libyan defence team had been appointed by the Libyan Government (or by Colonel Gaddafi). What evidence is there for this?

I met five members of the team in Tripoli last Monday. The chairman, Kamel Hassan Maghur, said he and his colleagues (who include the present President of the Tripoli Bar Association and the most senior past-President) had been appointed by the two suspects themselves; that their sole concern was with representing the interests of their clients;  that those interests did not necessarily coincide with the wishes or interests of the Libyan Government; and that if the Government sought to interfere in their work or to influence in any way the advice which the lawyers might render to their clients, they would not hesitate to publicise this fact in the international media.

Mr Maghur (who as well as being a former Foreign Minister, is also a retired Libyan Supreme Court judge) said nothing to indicate that his team wished to dispense with the services of Alistair Duff, the Edinburgh solicitor who for many years has represented the two suspects in Scotland: indeed, quite the reverse.

If, as you state, Dr Ibrahim Legwell is claiming (a) still to represent the suspects and (b) that the new team has been foisted on them without their consent, then this conflict should be speedily resolved by direct consultation with the accused themselves. I was deeply impressed by the professionalism, commitment and independence of the Libyan lawyers. If they do indeed now represent the suspects, I am convinced that their interests are in capable hands.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Justice Committee to resume consideration of Megrahi petition

[Justice for Megrahi’s petition (PE1370) seeking an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and trial features on the agenda for the meeting of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee’s meeting to be held on Tuesday, 27 September 2016 in Holyrood Committee Room 2, beginning at 10.00. The committee clerk’s note on this item reads as follows:]

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

Recent background to the petition in Session 4
Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
17. On 5 November 2015, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) announced that: “it is not in the interests of justice‖ to continue with a review of the conviction of the late Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi. Consequently, the application has been refused.” In a news release published that day the Commission‘s Chairman, Jean Couper said:

“A great deal of public money and time was expended on the Commission‟s original review of Mr Megrahi‟s case which resulted, in 2007, in him being given the opportunity to challenge his conviction before the High Court by way of a second appeal. In 2009, along with his legal team, Mr Megrahi decided to abandon that appeal. Before agreeing to spend further public money on a fresh review the Commission required to consider the reasons why he chose to do so. It is extremely frustrating that the relevant papers, which the Commission believes are currently with the late Mr Megrahi‟s solicitors, Messrs Taylor and Kelly, and with the Megrahi family, have not been forthcoming despite repeated requests from the Commission. Therefore, and with some regret, we have decided to end the current review. It remains open in the future for the matter to be considered again by the Commission, but it is unlikely that any future application will be accepted for review unless it is accompanied with the appropriate defence papers. This will require the cooperation of the late Mr Megrahi’s solicitors and his family.”

Operation Sandwood
18. Operation Sandwood is the operational name for Police Scotland‘s investigation into the nine allegations of criminality levelled at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, police and forensic officials involved in the investigation and legal processes relating to Megrahi‘s conviction. The allegations range from perverting of the course of justice to perjury. Police Scotland‘s report of this operation is expected to be completed before the end of the year. The S4 Committee received a number of updates from JFM asking that an “independent prosecutor” be appointed to assess the findings of Operation Sandwood.

19. The S4 Committee wrote to the Lord Advocate seeking his views on the appointment of an “independent prosecutor” as proposed by JFM. His response outlined arrangements made by COPFS to employ independent Crown Counsel not involved in the Lockerbie case to deal with the matter. JFM rejected the involvement of independent Crown Counsel as they consider it does not represent an “independent, unbiased and constitutionally sound approach”. The S4 Committee sought further information regarding the appointment of an independent prosecutor in September 2015 to which the Lord Advocate reiterated his earlier response.

20. On 5 January 2016, the S4 Committee wrote again to the Lord Advocate, asking him to respond to JFM‘s most recent submission which questioned the Lord Advocate‘s intention to appoint Catherine Dyer, the Crown Agent, as the Crown Office official responsible for co-ordinating matters with the “independent counsel”. (Ms Dyer has since retired from the COPFS.)

21. On 29 February 2016 the S4 Committee received a response from the Crown Agent setting out the steps which will be taken by COPFS to ensure that the police investigation into allegations of criminality by JFM in connection with the Lockerbie case, known as Operation Sandwood, are dealt with appropriately. The Crown Agent attached copies of previous correspondence from 26 June 2013 setting out the specific arrangements which pertain to Operation Sandwood and from 25 February 2013 and 25 March 2013 which include general details of how COPFS deals with allegations of criminal conduct by prosecutors or former prosecutors.

Session 4 Legacy Report
22. The S4 Justice Committee last considered the petition on 1 March 2016. It agreed to seek further information about the progress of Operation Sandwood and to keep the petition open. In its Legacy Report in respect of PE1370 the S4 Committee stated—

PE1370 lodged by Justice for Megrahi (JfM) in November 2010 calling for an independent inquiry into the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1998. Much of the Committee‟s recent activity has focused on receiving progress updates on Police Scotland’s “Operation Sandwood‟. This operation is its investigation into JfM‟s nine allegations of criminality levelled at the COPFS, the police, and forensic officials involved in the investigation and legal processes around Megrahi‟s conviction. In addition, the Committee has been examining the process for the COPFS appointing independent counsel to examine the findings of Operation Sandwood when available. We requested a final update on progress with Police Scotland‟s investigation in March 2016 for consideration by our successor committee.

Latest information available
23. The most recent response from Police Scotland was received on 11 March 2016 and can be found in Annexe E. It states that the Deputy Chief Constable expected to receive a detailed report by mid May. This report and its findings would then require be scrutinised and assessed by the independent Queens Counsel appointed by Police Scotland. Police Scotland confirmed that a definitive timetable to complete the process could not be provided at this stage. There has been no public statement since then, of which the clerks are aware, indicating whether this process has proceeded as indicated in the 11 March letter.

24. On 2 June, the issue of comments about the Megrahi case made in a recent book by former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, were raised during First Minister‘s Questions. The First Minister stated that "it is not for me, for any First Minister or for any member of the government to decide that a conviction is unsafe. That is a matter for the courts of the land. That is the case in this case and it is the case in any other criminal matter." She added that it remained open for Megrahi's close relatives to ask the SCCRC to refer the case to the appeal court: “Ministers have repeatedly made clear that they would be comfortable if that was to happen but that is the process that must be undertaken if this case is to be looked at by the appeal court."

25. In September there were press reports that Mr Megrahi‘s eldest son Khalid al-Megrahi intends to come to Scotland to resurrect the appeal against conviction which his father had dropped on his return to Libya in August 2009. The petitioner‘s response (Annexe F) refers to this and confirms they have no information as to the truth or otherwise of these reports.
26. The Petitioner for PE1370 has provided a written submission which can be found in Annexe F.

Options for action on petition PE1370
27. The Committee is asked to consider and agree what, if any, action it wishes to take in relation to the petition (see paragraph 6* for possible options).

28. As ever, there is the option of closing the petition. If the Committee wished to keep the petition open, it might wish to consider writing to Police Scotland seeking confirmation the Operation Sandwood report has been received and trying again to seek clarity on the future timetable for completion of the process.

*Options available to Committees considering petitions
6. Once a petition has been referred to a subject Committee it is for the Committee to decide how, or if, it wishes to take the petitions forward. Some examples of how this can be done are set out below although the list is not exhaustive. The Committee can choose to:  
  • Keep the petition open and write to the Scottish Government or other stakeholders seeking their views on what the petition is calling for, or views on further information to have emerged over the course of considering the petition;
  • Keep the petition open and take oral evidence from the petitioner and / or stakeholders;  
  • Keep the petition open and await the outcome of a specific piece of work, such as a consultation or piece of legislation;  
  • Close the petition on the grounds that the Scottish Government has made its position clear or that the Scottish Government has made some or all of the changes requested by the petition, or that the Committee, after due consideration, has decided it does not support the petition;  
  • Close the petition on the grounds that a current consultation, call for evidence or inquiry gives the petitioner the opportunity to contribute to the policy process.

[RB: The various Annexes referred to in the clerk’s note, including the submission from Justice for Megrahi, can be read here.]