Friday, 31 October 2014

Justice for Megrahi petition once more on Justice Committee agenda

At its meeting on Tuesday, 4 November 2014 at 09.30 in Holyrood’s Committee Room 1, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee will again consider Justice for Megrahi’s petition (PE1370) calling on the Scottish Government to institute an independent inquiry into the prosecution, trial and conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi (agenda item 7).  The papers for the meeting can be read here (this is a document of 66 pages, which are not numbered consecutively internally; however, the pages relevant to JFM’s petition are pages 33, 34 and 39 to 42 as indicated by your computer). The papers consist of two letters to the Committee from Justice for Megrahi and a report on a meeting between representatives of JFM and the Police Scotland team investigating JFM's complaints of criminal misconduct in the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and trial. 

The proceedings can be watched on Parliament TV (http://www.scottishparliament.tv/). In respect of timings, the committee staff inform us that the petitions item is likely to be reached at around 11.45

Thursday, 30 October 2014

No need to be a conspiracy theorist to recognise nagging questions gnawing away at Lockerbie case

What follows is an item first posted on this blog on this date five years ago:

Lockerbie questions demand an answer

This is the headline over an article in today's issue of The Times by Magnus Linklater, the newspaper's Scotland Editor (and the editor of The Scotsman in the bygone days when that title was still a serious and responsible journal).

The article reads in part:

'You do not have to be a conspiracy theorist to recognise that nagging questions have gnawed away at the Lockerbie case since the first investigations began. The veteran campaigner, Tam Dalyell, who describes himself as a “professor of Lockerbie studies”, is convinced that neither al-Megrahi nor the Libyan Government had any involvement. He, along with the Rev John Mosey and Dr Jim Swire, who both lost daughters in the atrocity, believe that there has been a spectacular miscarriage of justice.

'They have raised questions about basic evidence in the original case. They have challenged eyewitness accounts offered by the chief prosecution witness, the Maltese shopowner who originally identified Megrahi as a suspect. They have raised doubts about the forensic evidence, and have pointed out that al-Megrahi, a civilised and intelligent man, is a most unlikely terrorist.

'Last weekend, their campaign was given fresh impetus when Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East correspondent, reported that Abu Nidal, the Palestinian terrorist responsible for some of the worst attacks of the 1970s and 1980s, may have been working for the Americans before the invasion of Iraq. Secret documents - the very phrase is a conspiracy idiom - written by Saddam Hussein's security services state that he had been colluding with the Americans trying to find evidence linking Saddam and al-Qaeda. Abu Nidal's alleged suicide in 2002 may have been an execution by the Iraqis for his betrayal.

'From this tenuous connection stems the idea that the US security services may have had previous contacts within Abu Nidal's terrorist organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which many experts have long believed was the real perpetrator of Lockerbie.

'Mr Dalyell, who thinks there may be some weight to this theory, points to incidents such as notices that went up in the US Embassy in Moscow in the days before the bombing, warning diplomats not to travel on Pan Am flights, and how senior South African figures were hauled off the plane before the flight, almost as if there had been advance warning.

'For me, this kind of evidence strays into the territory of “the second gunman theory” that bedevilled the Kennedy assassination. But there is one aspect of the case that I have never understood: why was it that, for the first 18 months of the investigation, Scottish police, US investigators and European security agents were convinced that the perpetrators were Abu Nidal's PFLP? And why was it that, in the run-up to the Gulf War, when good relations with Syria and Iran were important to Western interests, attention switched abruptly from Abu Nidal's terrorists, and on to Libya?

'These matters have never satisfactorily been explained, and in the interests of common justice they should be addressed. For the sake of the Flight 103 victims, for the wider interests of Western security, and for the man now dying in a Scottish prison, there is a need for a proper inquiry. It does not have to be as wideranging as the Warren Commission that examined the Kennedy case, but it does need to be international, and to have US backing. The appeal in Edinburgh next year will examine legal aspects of the case, but it cannot extend to the wider issues that demand resolution.

'Just possibly a new president taking office next January will find in his in-tray persuasive evidence pointing to a reopening of the case. There are powerful moral reasons for dusting it off and asking a basic question: who was responsible for Britain's worst terrorist outrage?'

The full article can be accessed here.

Mr Linklater’s views on the Lockerbie case appear to have changed since he wrote this piece. His contributions over the years can be followed here.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Lockerbie indictment

[Fifteen years ago, on this date in 1999, the indictment for the forthcoming Lockerbie trial was served upon the two Libyans accused of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. The High Court of Justiciary had ordered that the indictment be served by 30 October. The full text of the indictment appears below, but without the appended list of the names and addresses of the 270 victims and the lists of 1,058 prospective witnesses, 1,489 documentary productions and 550 label productions (ie items of physical evidence).]

ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI, born 1 April 1952 and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH, born 1956, Prisoners in the Prison of Zeist, Camp Zeist (Kamp van Zeist), The Netherlands:
You are Indicted at the instance of The Right Honourable THE LORD HARDIE, Her Majesty's Advocate, and the charges against you are that:

(1) between 1 January 1985 and 21 December 1988, both dates inclusive
·        at the premises occupied by you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and by the Libyan Intelligence Services, in Tripoli, Libya
·        at a special forces training area, Sabha, Libya
·        at the premises occupied by the firm MEBO AG
·        at the Novapark Hotel, Zurich, Switzerland
·        at Frankfurt am Main Airport, Federal Republic of Germany
·        at the Holiday Inn, Tigne Street, Sliema
·        at the Libyan People's Bureau, Tower Road, Sliema and Notabile Road, Balzan
·        at the Libyan Cultural Centre, Tower Road, Sliema, all in Malta
·        at the house occupied by you AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH at 3 St John's Flats, Spring Street, Mosta, Malta
·        at Luqa Airport, Malta and at the Libyan People's Bureau, East Berlin, German Democratic Republic, in Prague, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in Libya, Malta, Switzerland, the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere to the Prosecutor unknown
Being members of the Libyan Intelligence Services, and in particular being respectively the head of security of Libyan Arab Airlines and thereafter Director of the Centre for Strategic Studies, Tripoli, Libya and the Station Manager of Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta ...
You did conspire together and with others to further the purposes of the Libyan Intelligence Services by criminal means, namely the use of explosive devices in the commission of acts of terrorism directed against nationals and the interests of other countries and in particular the destruction of a civil passenger aircraft and murder of its occupants ...
And, in pursuance of said conspiracy, while acting in concert together and with others:
(a) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 1985, both dates inclusive, through the hands of Said Rashid and Ezzadin Hinshiri, both also being members of the said Libyan Intelligence Services, and others at the said premises occupied by MEBO AG, in Zurich, aforesaid, at the said premises of said Libyan Intelligence Services, in Tripoli, aforesaid, at the said Libyan People's Bureau, East Berlin aforesaid and elsewhere to the Prosecutor unknown ...
Order, cause to be manufactured and obtain from the said firm of MEBO AG twenty electronic timers capable of detonating explosive devices;
(b) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did between 1 January 1985 and 30 June 1987 both dates inclusive at the said special forces training area at Sabha, Libya or elsewhere in Libya cause the effectiveness of such timers to be tested in conjunction with explosives under the supervision of Nassr Ashur, a member of the said Libyan Intelligence Services;
(c) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did between 1 January 1985 and 21 December 1988, both dates inclusive, within the offices of Libyan Arab Airlines at Luqa Airport, Malta, at the said Libyan Cultural Centre, Sliema aforesaid, the said premises occupied by the said Libyan People's Bureau, Malta, aforesaid, in an area of ground near Ghallis Tower, Malta and elsewhere in Malta have in your possession and under your control quantities of high performance plastic explosive and airline luggage tags;
(d) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI did between 31 July 1987 and 21 December 1988, both dates inclusive, within the said premises occupied by MEBO AG, in Zurich aforesaid establish and maintain along with Badri Hassan, also a member of the Libyan Intelligence Services, a pretended business under the name ABH as a cover for the operations of said Libyan Intelligence Services;
(e) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI did on 22 August 1987 travel from Zurich, Switzerland to Malta, enter Malta and reside at the Holiday Inn, Sliema, aforesaid and on 23 August 1987 depart from Malta and travel from there to Tripoli, Libya using a passport in the false name and using the false identity of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad, all while travelling along with the said Nassr Ashur, who was then using a passport in the false name and using the false identity of Nassr Ahmed Salem;
(f) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI did on 18 October 1987 travel from Tripoli, Libya to Malta and enter Malta and reside between 18 and 20 October 1987, both dates inclusive, at the Holiday Inn, Sliema, aforesaid and on 22 October 1987 depart from Malta and travel from there to Tripoli, Libya using a passport in the false name and using the false identity of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad;
(g) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did between 1 September 1988 and 21 December 1988, both dates inclusive, at Eucharistic Congress Road, Mosta, Malta and elsewhere in Malta and in Prague, Czechoslovakia take steps with others to establish and maintain pretended businesses to be known as and under the name of Med Tours or Medtours Services Limited and as and under the name of Al Khadra Company or Al Khadra Medtours Services respectively as cover for the operations of said Libyan Intelligence Services;
(h) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI did between 8 and 10 October 1988, both dates inclusive, at the premises occupied by Libyan Arab Airlines at Luqa Airport and Valletta, Malta and elsewhere in Malta attempt along with Mohammed Abouagela Masud, also a member of the said Libyan Intelligence Services, and others to the Prosecutor unknown, to travel to Ndjamena, Chad for the purpose of carrying out an operation on behalf of the said Libyan Intelligence Services;
(i) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did on 10 and 11 November 1988 cause the said Nassr Ashur to travel from Tripoli, Libya to Malta on 10 November 1988 and from Luqa Airport aforesaid to Frankfurt am Main Airport aforesaid on 11 November 1988 on Air Malta flight KM 2180 using a passport in the false name and using the false identity of Nassr Ahmed Salem;
(j) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did between 20 November and 20 December 1988, both dates inclusive, at the said premises occupied by MEBO AG, in Zurich aforesaid, at the said premises occupied by you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and by the said Libyan Intelligence Services, in Tripoli aforesaid, and elsewhere in Switzerland and Libya, through the hands of the said Ezzadin Hinshiri and Badri Hassan, order and attempt to obtain delivery of 40 further such timers from the said firm of MEBO AG;
(k) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did between 1 and 21 December 1988, both dates inclusive, at Luqa Airport, Malta without authority remove therefrom airline luggage tags;
(l) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI did on 7 December 1988 in the shop premises known as Mary's House at Tower Road, Sliema, Malta purchase a quantity of clothing and an umbrella;
(m) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did on 20 December 1988 at Luqa Airport, Malta enter Malta while you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI were using a passport in the false name of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad and you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did there and then cause a suitcase to be introduced to Malta;
(n) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI did on 20 and 21 December 1988 reside at the Holiday Inn, Sliema, aforesaid under the false identity of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad;
(o) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did on 21 December 1988 at Luqa Airport, aforesaid place or cause to be placed on board an aircraft of Air Malta flight KM180 to Frankfurt am Main Airport, Federal Republic of Germany said suitcase, or a similar suitcase, containing said clothing and umbrella and an improvised explosive device containing high performance plastic explosive concealed within a Toshiba RT SF 16 "Bombeat" radio cassette recorder and programmed to be detonated by one of said electronic timers, having tagged or caused such suitcase to be tagged so as to be carried by aircraft from Frankfurt am Main Airport aforesaid via London, Heathrow Airport to New York, John F Kennedy Airport, United States of America; and
(p) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI did on 21 December 1988 depart from Malta and travel from there to Tripoli, Libya using a passport in the false name of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad, while travelling with said Mohammed Abouagela Masud;
and such suitcase was thus carried to Frankfurt am Main Airport aforesaid and there placed on board an aircraft of Pan American World Airways flight PA103 and carried to London, Heathrow Airport aforesaid and there, in turn, placed on board an aircraft of Pan American World Airways flight PA103 to New York, John F Kennedy Airport aforesaid;
and said improvised explosive device detonated and exploded on board said aircraft flight PA103 while in flight near to Lockerbie, Scotland whereby the aircraft was destroyed and the wreckage crashed to the ground and the 259 passengers and crew named in Schedule 1 hereof and the 11 residents of Lockerbie aforesaid named in Schedule 2 hereof were killed and you did murder them;
and it will be shown that between 1 January 1985 and 21 December 1988, both dates inclusive, in Tripoli, Libya, at Dakar Airport, Senegal, in Malta and elsewhere the said Libyan Intelligence Services were in possession of said electronic timers, quantities of high performance plastic explosive, detonators and other components of improvised explosive devices and Toshiba RT SF 16 "Bombeat" radio cassette recorders, all for issue to and use by their members, including Mohammed El Marzouk and Mansour Omran Ammar Saber.

OR ALTERNATIVELY
(2) being members of said Libyan Intelligence Services as above libelled and having, while acting in concert with others, formed a criminal purpose to destroy a civil passenger aircraft and murder the occupants in furtherance of the purposes of said Libyan Intelligence Services and having obtained possession of and tested the effectiveness of electronic timers and being in possession of and having under your control quantities of high performance plastic explosive and airline luggage tags and having established and maintained and taken steps to establish and maintain pretended businesses all as above libelled, while acting in concert together and with others ...
(a) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did on 10 and 11 November 1988 cause the said Nassr Ashur, to travel from Tripoli, Libya to Malta on 10 November 1988 and from Luqa Airport aforesaid to Frankfurt am Main Airport aforesaid on 11 November 1988 on Air Malta flight KM 2180 using a passport in the false name and using the false identity of Nassr Ahmed Salem;
(b) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did between 20 November and 20 December 1988, both dates inclusive, at the said premises occupied by MEBO AG, in Zurich aforesaid, at the said premises occupied by you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and by the said Libyan Intelligence Services, in Tripoli aforesaid, and elsewhere in Switzerland and Libya, through the hands of the said Ezzadin Hinshiri and Badri Hassan, order and attempt to obtain delivery of forty further such timers from the said firm of MEBO AG;
(c) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did between 1 and 21 December 1988, both dates inclusive, at Luqa Airport, Malta without authority remove therefrom airline luggage tags;
(d) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI did on 7 December 1988 in the shop premises known as Mary's House at Tower Road, Sliema, Malta purchase a quantity of clothing and an umbrella;
(e) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did on 20 December 1988 at Luqa Airport, Malta enter Malta while you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI were using a passport in the false name of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad and you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did there and then cause a suitcase to be introduced to Malta;
(f) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI did on 20 and 21 December 1988 reside at the Holiday Inn, Sliema, aforesaid using the false identity of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad;
(g) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH did on 21 December 1988 at Luqa Airport, aforesaid place or cause to be placed on board an aircraft of Air Malta flight KM180 to Frankfurt am Main Airport, Federal Republic of Germany said suitcase, or a similar suitcase, containing said clothing and umbrella and an improvised explosive device containing high performance plastic explosive concealed within a Toshiba RT SF 16 "Bombeat" radio cassette recorder and programmed to be detonated by one of said electronic timers, having tagged or caused such suitcase to be tagged so as to be carried by aircraft from Frankfurt am Main Airport aforesaid via London, Heathrow Airport to New York, John F Kennedy Airport, United States of America; and
(h) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI did on 21 December 1988 depart from Malta to Tripoli and travel from there to Libya using a passport in the false name of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad, while travelling with said Mohammed Abouagela Masud;
and such suitcase was thus carried to Frankfurt am Main Airport aforesaid and there placed on board an aircraft of Pan American World Airways flight PA103 and carried to London, Heathrow Airport aforesaid and there, in turn, placed on board an aircraft of Pan American World Airways flight PA103 to New York, John F Kennedy Airport aforesaid;
and said improvised explosive device detonated and exploded on board said aircraft flight PA103 while in flight near to Lockerbie, Scotland whereby the aircraft was destroyed and the wreckage crashed to the ground and the 259 passengers and crew named in Schedule 1 hereof and the 11 residents of Lockerbie aforesaid named in Schedule 2 hereof were killed and you did murder them;
and it will be shown that between 1 January 1985 and 21 December 1988, both dates inclusive, in Tripoli, Libya, at Dakar Airport, Senegal, in Malta and elsewhere the said Libyan Intelligence Services were in possession of said electronic timers, quantities of high performance plastic explosive, detonators and other components of improvised explosive devices and Toshiba RT SF 16 "Bombeat" radio cassette recorders, all for issue to and use by their members, including Mohammed El Marzouk and Mansour Omran Ammar Saber.

OR ALTERNATIVELY
(3) you ABDELBASET ALI MOHMED AL MEGRAHI and AL AMIN KHALIFA FHIMAH being members of said Libyan Intelligence Services and having, while acting in concert with others, formed a criminal purpose to destroy a civil passenger aircraft and murder the occupants and having obtained possession of and tested the effectiveness of electronic timers and being in possession of and having under your control quantities of high performance plastic explosive and airport luggage tags, and having established and maintained and taken steps to establish and maintain pretended businesses all as above libelled, did on and between the dates and at the places in charge 2 above libelled, by the means there libelled, unlawfully and intentionally destroy said aircraft in service and commit on board said aircraft in flight acts of violence which were likely to and did endanger the safety of said aircraft, in respect that you did murder said persons:
and it will be shown that between 1 January 1985 and 21 December 1988, both dates inclusive, in Tripoli, Libya, at Dakar Airport, Senegal, in Malta and elsewhere the said Libyan Intelligence Services were in possession of said electronic timers, quantities of high performance plastic explosive, detonators and other components of improvised explosive devices and Toshiba RT SF 16 "Bombeat" radio cassette recorders, all for issue to and use by their members, including Mohammed El Marzouk and Mansour Omran Ammar Saber.
CONTRARY to the Aviation Security Act 1982, Section 2(1) and (5)

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Abuzed Omar Dorda: an important Libyan figure in securing a Lockerbie trial

The following are excerpts from an item posted on this blog on 28 October 2011:

Ex-intel chief to Gaddafi wounded, raising more questions about handling of detainees

[This is the headline over a report published yesterday in the Checkpoint Washington section of The Washington Post website.  It reads in part:]

The former intelligence chief to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was seriously injured Tuesday while in the custody of the National Transitional Council, fueling concerns about the treatment of loyalists to the deposed government.

The cause of Abuzed Omar Dorda’s injuries are disputed, but a relative of Dorda, a one-time UN envoy, has appealed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council president to intercede with Libyan authorities to protect the former official, saying he had been the target of an assassination attempt by his jailers. (...)

“Mr Dorda survived a murder attempt last night, 25 October, 2011, at the hands of his guards in the building where he was arrested,” Adel Khalifa Dorda, a nephew and son-in-law of the Gaddafi loyalist, wrote on behalf of the Dorda family. “He was thrown off the second floor leading to several broken bones and other serious injuries.”

The nephew said authorities were forced to move Dorda to a hospital in Tripoli, where “as of now he is being held under extremely poor conditions.” (...)

Dorda had long been a high-ranking official in Gaddafi’s government, playing a role during his years at the United Nations in negotiating the deal that ended UN sanctions on Libya imposed after the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and paving the way to a financial payout to relatives of the victims.

[Omar Dorda played a significant part in gaining and maintaining Libyan Government acceptance of and support for my neutral venue proposal for a Lockerbie trial and in resolving difficulties that arose (largely through the intransigence of the then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright) after the United States and the United Kingdom eventually accepted the need for such a solution. Without his quiet diplomacy at the United Nations in New York, I doubt if a Lockerbie trial would ever have taken place.]

Further references to Mr Dorda on this blog can be found here. The last, dated 14 April 2014, relates to the start of his trial (along with other officials from the Gaddafi regime) on charges ranging from corruption to war crimes related to the deaths during the 2011 uprising. A Google search discloses no references to Dorda or to this trial since that date.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Nelson Mandela and the path towards Zeist

On this date in 1997, President Nelson Mandela, who was in Scotland for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, received the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh. His address on that occasion can be read here.  

At a press conference in Edinburgh, President Mandela took the opportunity to express some views on how the Lockerbie impasse between Libya and the United Kingdom might be resolved. He said amongst other things: “I have never thought in dealing with this question that it is correct for any particular country to be the complainant, the prosecutor and the judge at the same time.”

A relevant article in Wikipedia contains the following:

“Upon the indictment of the two Libyan suspects in November 1991, the Libyan government was called upon to extradite them for trial in either the United Kingdom or the United States. Since no bilateral extradition treaty was in force between any of the three countries, Libya refused to hand the men over but did offer to detain them for trial in Libya, as long as all the incriminating evidence was provided. The offer was unacceptable to the US and UK, and there was an impasse for the next three years.

“In November 1994, President Nelson Mandela offered South Africa as a neutral venue for the trial but this was rejected by the then British prime minister, John Major. A further three years elapsed until Mandela's offer was repeated to Major's successor, Tony Blair, when the president visited London in July 1997 and again at the 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Edinburgh in October 1997. At the latter meeting, Mandela warned that "no one nation should be complainant, prosecutor and judge" in the Lockerbie case.

“The eventually agreed compromise solution of a trial in the Netherlands governed by Scots law was engineered by legal academic Professor Robert Black of Edinburgh University and, in accordance with the Labour government's promotion of an "ethical" foreign policy, was given political impetus by the then foreign secretary, Robin Cook. The Scottish Court in the Netherlands, a special High Court of Justiciary, was set up under Scots law in a disused United States Air Force base called Camp Zeist in Utrecht, in the Netherlands.”

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The worst Scottish miscarriage of justice since Oscar Slater

Most of the items posted on this blog record the published views of others on the Lockerbie case and the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi. Here, from this date six years ago, is one of the relatively rare articles written by me:

What should happen now

[My opinions about what should happen to Abdelbaset Megrahi now that he has been diagnosed with late stage prostate cancer are canvassed in a number of Sunday newspapers. What follows are my real views, expressed in my own words.]

Since 31 January 2001 -- the day the guilty verdict against Abdelbaset Megrahi was announced by the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist – I have made no secret of my belief in his innocence. His conviction, on the evidence led at the trial, was nothing short of astonishing. It constitutes, in my view, the worst miscarriage of justice perpetrated by a Scottish criminal court since the conviction of Oscar Slater in 1909 for the murder of Marion Gilchrist.

In this context it is highly relevant to note that one – by far the most important – of the grounds on which the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission held that there might have been a miscarriage of justice in Mr Megrahi’s case was its view that no reasonable court could have reached the conclusion that the Lockerbie court did on a matter absolutely central to its reasons for convicting. The SCCRC said:

“[T]he 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 [which were in the suitcase that also contained the bomb] took place on 7 December 1988. Although it was proved that the applicant was in Malta on several occasions in December 1988, in terms of the evidence 7 December was the only date on which he would have had the opportunity to purchase the items. The finding as to the date of purchase was therefore important to the trial court's conclusion that the applicant was the purchaser. Likewise, the trial court's conclusion that the applicant was the purchaser was important to the verdict against him. Because of these factors the Commission has reached the view that the requirements of the legal test may be satisfied in the applicant's case.”

But even if there were not overwhelming grounds for doubting the justifiability of the court’s verdict, there are other reasons for pressing for his release from prison, given his recent diagnosis of late-stage, untreatable prostate cancer.

The first of these reasons is compassion and humanity. There is a practice -- though not an invariable one -- within the Scottish Prison Service of releasing a prisoner who has only three months to live. We none of us know whether that stage has been reached in the progression of Mr Megrahi’s illness. But is it really necessary for those in whose power the decision lies, to wait until they are certain that that point has arrived? This particular prisoner finds himself incarcerated in a foreign country whose culture is alien to him. His sense of isolation at this time and the psychological strain on him must be greater than what would be suffered by a Scottish prisoner in a Scottish jail. Would it not be both appropriate as well as merciful for this to be recognized by the Scottish authorities?

Secondly, the delay in bringing Mr Megrahi’s current appeal to the hearing stage has been appalling. Had a measure of urgency been shown, it is entirely conceivable that the appeal could have been over before now and the appellant back with his wife and children in his own country, a free man. The SCCRC had his case under consideration for more than three years before referring it back to the High Court. The submission made to them was, admittedly, a long and detailed one. But the issue of the trial court’s unreasonable findings, mentioned above, is a very simple and straightforward one and required virtually no investigation other that a perusal of the relevant portions of the transcript of evidence. If the SCCRC decided early in its deliberations that the case was going to have to be referred back on this ground – and it is difficult to believe that it did not – then delaying taking that step for three years is hard to justify.

Then there is the delay that has occurred after the SCCRC referred the case to the High Court in June 2007.

More than sixteen months have passed since then. More than thirteen months have passed since the first procedural hearing in the new appeal was held. More than ten months have passed since the appellant’s full written grounds of appeal were lodged with the court. Why has no date yet been fixed for the hearing of the appeal? Why does it now seem impossible that the appeal can be heard and a judgement delivered by the twentieth anniversary of the disaster on 21 December 2008?

The answer is simple: because the Crown, in the person of the Lord Advocate, and the United Kingdom Government, in the person of the Advocate General for Scotland, have been resorting to every delaying tactic in the book (and where a particular obstructionist wheeze is not in the book, have been asking the court to rewrite the book to insert it). These tactics include, to name but a few, raising difficulties about allowing the appellant access to productions used at the original trial; seeking to overturn previous appeal court decisions on the scope of the appeal in SCCRC references; and claiming public interest immunity on “national security” grounds in respect of documents which have been in the hands of the Crown for more than twelve years and which have been seen by the SCCRC. The judges on a number of occasions have expressed disquiet at the Crown’s dilatoriness; but have so far done little, if anything, meaningful to curb it.

Abdelbaset Megrahi has been shabbily dealt with by the Scottish criminal justice system. The Scottish Government has an opportunity now to treat him with compassion and dignity. I, for one, hope that it has the moral courage to seize this opportunity.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Incomprehensible verdict that could be reached only through deliberate malpractice

Around this time in October 2009 the Crown Office announced that there would be a review of the evidence in the Lockerbie case with a view to ascertainining whether persons in addition to Abdelbaset Megrahi should stand trial. On 25 October 2009 the following item was published on this blog:

Dr Swire doubts sincerity of Crown Office announcement

[In an article written for Scottish lawyers' magazine The Firm, Dr Jim Swire casts doubt on the sincerity of the Crown Office's announcement of a review of the evidence in the Lockerbie case. He writes:]

Naturally the UK Lockerbie relatives would love to see a fully enabled objective criminal investigation re-examining all the currently available Lockerbie evidence. 

But how can an objective criminal investigation not impinge on the verdict against Megrahi? The Crown Office's case against Megrahi depended on the evidence of identification by Gauci. 

Yet we now know that when the clothing was in fact bought from Gauci's shop, Megrahi was not even on the island of Malta, but Abu Talb was. We also now know that Harry Bell of the investigating Scots police recorded that the Americans wanted to give Gauci $10,000 'up front' with $2,000,000 to follow if conviction was successful. Clearly they must have thought the identification evidence critical.

It was in Talb's flat in Sweden that the Swedish police found further items of clothing from Gauci's shop. The Crown currently has no known explanation for this.

Yet if Talb, not Megrahi, bought the clothing, the verdict against Megrahi would have to be quashed. Are those currently and previously forming the Crown Office, as well as Colin Boyd, (the most implicated Lord Advocate), prepared to see their 'new investigative directions' lead to such an outcome? There is of course no evidence that any of them offered any inducements to Gauci or anyone else, but surely their careers and reputations depend on their past conduct of this case? So would the new criminal investigation be objective, I ask myself? 

I cannot free my mind of the words of Prof Hans Koechler, the UN's appointed special International Observer at the court: he thought the verdict so incomprehensible that it could only have been reached through (his words) 'deliberate malpractice’ by Scotland's Crown Office. 

So what to do? Observers should remember that under current Human Rights legislation and the Inquiries Act 2005, we the relatives have a right to a full and objective enquiry. 

Meanwhile those who swear by the Megrahi verdict might like to visit the London Review of Books website and search for 'Megrahi' they will find a devastating analysis as to the conduct of the trial written by Gareth Peirce, one of England's most noted miscarriage of justice and human rights lawyers. 

Further, if the Crown Office are really to refer matters as alleged (for I personally have no communication from them) to 'forensic experts' it is to be hoped that they will never again try to use the thoroughly discredited Hayes and Feraday. 

[In another article in the magazine, headed 'Cynicism and doubt over latest Crown Office “spoiler”', the following paragraph appears:

"Dr Jim Swire told the Firm that - contrary to their usual practice - the Crown Office have not even contacted him to advise that any new investigation was planned. He said the coincidental timing of the Crown’s announcement had unavoidably distracted attention from the same day announcement by UK Families [Flight] 103 that they had delivered a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to instigate a full independent inquiry into the Lockerbie event under the Inquiries Act 2005. He described the Crown’s act as a “spoiler,” pointing out that any investigation would be useless as long as the Crown refused to quash the outstanding guilty verdict against Megrahi."]