Thursday, 9 May 2019

Release of Lockerbie bomber focused world’s attention on Holyrood

[This is the headline over a report published in The Scotsman today in its Scottish Parliament at 20 series. It reads in part:]

The controversial release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi saw Holyrood scrutinised like never before, writes Chris McCall

The decision to release from prison the only man ever convicted of the 1989 Lockerbie bombing remains perhaps the single most controversial moment in the Scottish Parliament’s first two decades.

Then justice minister Kenny MacAskill told MSPs on August 20, 2009, that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi would the next day be released on compassionate grounds from HM Prison Greenock after serving just eight-and-a-half-years of a life sentence.

The release prompted a furious response from many opposition politicians across the UK. David Mundell, then shadow Scottish secretary, described it as “a mistake of international proportions”.

But the biggest reaction came from the United States. Of the 270 victims of the Lockerbie bombing, 190 were American citizens.

No decision taken by a Scottish minister had ever been scrutinised by the world’s media in such a way before. Events at Holyrood were not normally condemned by the US Government.

MacAskill informed the parliament that al-Megrahi would be freed on compassionate grounds and allowed to return home to Libya after being diagnosed the previous year with prostate cancer.

“I am conscious that there are deeply held feelings, and that many will disagree whatever my decision,” he said.

“However, Mr Al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.”

Many in Scotland and across the UK had long harboured doubts regarding al-Megrahi’s conviction in 2001 by a special Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands. The decision to release him was only the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle which began on that fateful night in December 1989 [sic].

But those doubts were never shared by the majority of victims’ families in the US.

“I don’t know what his political future will be, but the name ‘MacAskill’ will go down in history for his role in a miscarriage of justice,” said Frank Duggan, a US lawyer who chaired the Victims of Flight 103 group.

There was considerable anger at the nature of al-Megrahi’s release on compassionate grounds. The Libyan had always denied his involvement in the bombing, which some interpreted as a refusal to acknowledge his crimes.

Susan Cohen, whose daughter Theodora was one of many students killed on the flight, said: “This has been despicable. He was convicted of mass murder, but you’ve let him out on the most sickening grounds possible.”

Then US President Barack Obama condemned the decision at the time and doubled-down on his comments almost a year later when David Cameron first visited the White House as prime minister. (...)

Al-Megrahi was convicted following one of the most complex trials ever staged. He was sentenced to 27 years, while his co-accused was cleared. His lawyers then successfully applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and the case was referred back to the Court of Appeal in 2007.

Over a year later he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. By the time his second appeal got under way, his condition had deteriorated.

A few weeks later an application to have him transferred to serve the rest of his sentence in Libya was lodged, and at the same time al-Megrahi applied to be freed on compassionate grounds because of his health.

He died in 2012, maintaining his innocence until the last.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Lockerbie case: campaigner and lawyer hit out at 'withheld' evidence

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

A prominent figure in the fight to prove the innocence of Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing has said keeping the contents of a 1991 telegram to then prime minister John Major secret until at least 2032 is not in Scotland’s – or any other nation’s – public interest.

Dr Jim Swire was speaking to The National after the claim about the document resurfaced. Its contents have been in the public domain for more than three years.

It was said to have been written by the late King Hussein of Jordan, who said the group originally suspected of carrying out the December 1988 atrocity – the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) – was responsible.

And Aamer Anwar, the Scottish lawyer who is leading the Megrahi family’s bid to clear his name, told The National it was a “vital piece of evidence” that had been withheld from Megrahi’s defence.

That view is shared by Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing. He said: “I can’t make out why it should be in the public interest of the Scots or any other nation for this to remain under public interest immunity (PII) after this long – unless you believe it is in Scotland’s interest to continue to conceal the failure of her biggest international criminal investigation of recent years.

“It was the concealment of items such as this which led Professor Hans Koechler [UN observer to the Camp Zeist trial] to describe the proceedings as not representing justice, largely because of the Crown Office’s failure to share evidently significant material with the defence.

“The King of Jordan’s communication had been made available to the Crown Office for years before [then foreign secretary] David Miliband placed the PII certificate on it, at the Crown Office’s request. [RB: The Crown Office did not oppose release of the communication. It was the Advocate General for Scotland, acting on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that did so.] I think it is in the Scottish public’s interest to know how Whitehall connived with the Crown Office to ensure that justice was not done at Zeist.

He added: “It was Lady Thatcher who originally forbade an inquiry. Could it have been in part because her then recently privatised Heathrow was the showpiece of her privatisation programme?”

Anwar said the Megrahi family case was still with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) which he expected to report by the end of summer, when he hoped to return to the Appeal Court.

He said: “What is incredibly frustrating is the fact that the British government, the authorities, seem to still be maintaining attempts to continue what would be seen as a cover-up and deny critical information to the defence, because we remain the defence lawyers for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi posthumously.

All of this information which would go to proving his innocence continues to be denied us. The finger of blame as always pointed at the PFLP-GC.

“It is ... shocking behaviour, whether it be from the Crown Office or others in authority who seem to be conducting themselves in this manner.”

Meanwhile, The Telegraph yesterday named four members of the PFLP-GC – allegedly hired by Iran to bring down Pan Am flight 103 as revenge for a US naval attack on an Iranian Airbus in July 1988. They were: Ahmed Jibril, its potential mastermind; Hafez Dalkamoni, his right-hand man; Jordanian-born bomb-maker Marwan Khreesat, who possibly made the Lockerbie device; and Mohammed Abu Talb, who could have delivered it. [RB: I cannot find this Telegraph article. But the newspaper did publish an article naming these four men on 10 March 2014. It can be read here.]

The Crown Office said the PFLP-GC link was considered and rejected at the original trial. A spokesperson added: “The court concluded that the conception, planning and execution of the plot which led to the bombing was of Libyan origin. The only appropriate forum for the determination of guilt or innocence is the criminal court, and Mr Megrahi was convicted unanimously by three senior judges.

“His conviction was upheld unanimously by five judges, in an Appeal Court presided over by the Lord Justice General, Scotland’s most senior judge. As the investigation remains live, it would not be appropriate to offer further comment.” [RB: My commentary on the grave shortcomings of the trial verdict and the appeal can be read here.]

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Reaction to sealing of 1991 Lockerbie telegram to John Major

[A letter from Dr Jim Swire is published in today's edition of The Times. It reads as follows:]

 As the father of Flora Swire, a victim of the 1988 Lockerbie disaster, may I congratulate The Times on its brave attempt to obtain the contents of a telegram sent to John Major as prime minister from an unnamed overseas government (“Lockerbie telegram must remain sealed until 2032”, Scotland edition, Apr 10). It has long been apparent that there are many fatal flaws in the evidence brought to the Zeist court in 2000-01, and used to convict the Libyan Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi of being a key perpetrator.

Lockerbie remains the worst single terrorist outrage to occur in the UK since the Second World War, yet there has been no inquiry. Those who value the independence of judicial systems from political interference must, like us relatives, be concerned about the reluctance of successive UK governments to allow relevant matters to become public. By 2032 I will be 96, and probably leaning on a cromach to listen.

[RB: As submitted, the letter read as follows:]

As the father of Flora Swire, a victim the 1988 Lockerbie disaster may I congratulate The Times on its brave attempt to obtain the contents of a telegram sent to Sir John Major as PM, from an overseas kingdom.

It has long been apparent that there are many fatal flaws in the evidence brought to the Zeist court in 2000/1, and used to convict the Libyan, Baset Al-Megrahi of being a key perpetrator.

During the second appeal by Mr Megrahi against conviction, Scotland's Advocate-General of the day was sent post-haste to confer with then UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband who was persuaded immediately to  issue a PII certificate to protect a communication received by Sir John from access by the public or the defence team.

When a distinguished Scottish newspaper, having discovered the contents was about to publish, it was threatened with draconian measures to disrupt its editions

This communication to Sir John  had been in the possession of the Megrahi  prosecution team for years, but denied to Megrahi's defence. Megrahi's second appeal was on the cusp of reaching parts of the evidence in which it might have been highly relevant.

At that point Mr Megrahi was offered compassionate release and his appeal was stopped.

Lockerbie remains the worst single terrorist outrage to occur in the UK since WWII, yet there has been no inquiry.

Those who value the independence of judicial systems from political interference must, like us relatives, be concerned about the reluctance of successive UK Governments to allow relevant matters to become public for so long.

By 2032 I will be 94 years old, and probably leaning on a cromach to listen.

[RB: An article published in today's edition of The National reads in part:]

A decision to keep under wraps a telegram sent to them prime minister John Major three years after the Lockerbie bombing “adds insult to injury” for the families and friends of those who died in the atrocity, according to a campaigner who believes in the innocence of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted for it.

The Cabinet Office claimed the contents of the telegram to Major in 1991 were against the national interest – despite the fact that former Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill put them into the public domain almost three years ago in his book The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice.

Officials refused a Freedom of Information (FoI) request from The Times newspaper, which means the document will be kept secret at the UK National Archives, at Kew in London, until at least 2032.

Their response read: “In this instance, we believe the release of the information received in confidence would harm UK relations with the country which provided the information.

“This would be detrimental to the operation of government and would not be in the UK’s interest.

“In light of the potential harm to UK relations with the country concerned, and UK interests there, it is judged that release of the material would not be in the public interest.”

The material is covered by a controversial public interest immunity (PII) certificate, which was signed in 2008 by then foreign secretary David Miliband.

It was identified as important to the defence of Megrahi by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which granted his appeal after the Crown failed to disclose details at his 2002 trial.

In his book, MacAskill said the telegram to Major, above, was from the late King Hussein of Jordan and blamed the bombing on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), the group originally suspected of carrying it out.

Records at the National Archives confirm that Major received a telegram relating to the bombing on November 15, 1991 – the day after the British and US governments announced they were bringing charges against Megrahi and his co-accused Lamin Khalifah Fhimah.

Iain McKie, from the Justice for Megrahi (JfM) group, which is campaigning to clear the Libyan’s name, said: “It beggars belief that the UK government, after 30 years of widespread and well-founded doubts about various aspects of the Lockerbie investigation and trial, continues in its efforts to hide the truth about the tragedy.

“That it should claim to be protecting the public interest only adds insult to injury for the family and friends of the 270 souls who perished.

“Why would they claim it was in the public interest in keeping this material quiet until 2032?

“In some ways it heightens – not lessens – suspicion.

“Here in Scotland we’re awaiting the SCCRC decision on the submission from the Megrahi family – and there is a big story to be told internationally.”

MacAskill told The National there was “no good reason” to keep the contents secret, given that Hussein is dead. He said: “It can hardly exacerbate the situation in Jordan.

“Besides, the Crown has always been happy for it to be released as they think it just adds to the conspiracy theories when there’s a good explanation about it and it doesn’t exculpate Libya or Megrahi.” (...) [RB: The failure to disclose the document to Megrahi's legal team before or during the Lockerbie trial is one of the six reasons given by the SCCRC for finding that Megrahi's conviction might have amounted to a miscarriage of justice. It is accordingly difficult to accept the Crown's contention, as reported here by Mr MacAskill, that it does not exculpate Libya or Megrahi, or at least seriously undermine the case against them.]

Professor Robert Black QC, the architect of the Lockerbie trial in the Netherlands, who believes there was a miscarriage of justice, said: “It is extremely difficult to understand how a document dating from Nov-ember 15, 1991, could still in 2019 adversely affect the national interests of the UK or its relations with the country of origin.”

“Much more likely is that the contents of the documents would embarrass the UK by showing just how tenuous is the case for Libyan responsibility for the Lockerbie tragedy.”

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Lockerbie telegram must remain sealed until 2032

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

Ministers have refused to disclose the contents of a telegram sent to the prime minister three years after the Lockerbie bombing, claiming it would be harmful to Britain.

A message sent to John Major in 1991, containing information about the atrocity from an unnamed overseas government, is held at the UK National Archives at Kew, west London.

An application made by The Times to view it has been rejected on the basis that it would be damaging to national interests.

The cabinet office’s dismissal of the freedom of information request means the document will remain closed to the public until 2032 at the earliest. It has fuelled suggestions from campaigners that evidence relating to Britain’s worst terrorist atrocity is being concealed.

National Archive records confirm that Mr Major received a telegram relating to the Lockerbie bombing on November 15, 1991. [RB: Significantly, this is the day following the announcement by the UK and US governments that they were bringing charges against Abdelbaset Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah: 
http://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2010/11/nineteenth-anniversary-of-megrahi.html]

Freedom of information requests are meant to be ruled on within 20 working days. It took almost six months before ministers finally decided that the telegram could not be brought into the public domain.

A response to the request says: “In this instance, we believe the release of the information received in confidence would harm UK relations with the country which provided the information. This would be detrimental to the operation of government and would not be in the UK’s interest.

“In light of the potential harm to UK relations with the country concerned, and UK interests there, it is judged that release of the material would not be in the public interest." (...)

Robert Black, a legal expert who helped to establish the Lockerbie trial, has raised concerns about a lack of transparency from successive UK governments.

The professor emeritus of Scots law at the University of Edinburgh, who is convinced a miscarriage of justice took place, said: “It is extremely difficult to understand how a document dating from November 15, 1991, could still in 2019 adversely affect the national interests of the UK or its relations with the country of origin. Much more likely is that the contents of the documents would embarrass the UK by showing just how tenuous is the case for Libyan responsibility for the Lockerbie tragedy.”

Iain McKie, of the Justice for Megrahi group, said: “It beggars belief that the UK government, after 30 years of widespread and well-founded doubts about various aspects of the Lockerbie investigation and trial, continues in its efforts to hide the truth about the tragedy.

“That they should claim to be protecting the public interest only adds insult to injury for the family and friends of the 270 souls who perished.”

More than 50 government files relating to the bombing on December 21, 1988, are held at the archives.

Late last year a file containing records from the prime minister’s office relating to the “Pan Am 747 air crash” was declassified and listed in records as available to view.

When The Times asked to see it, reporters were told that it had been retained by the government on an indefinite basis.

Dozens of other files, listed under “Aviation security: destruction of Pam Am, Flight 103”, have been closed until 2032. Applications to view them are met with a notice saying that they are “closed and retained”.

[RB: I suspect that the document in question is, or is related to, the one from King Hussein of Jordan in respect of which then Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued a public interest immunity (PII) certificate barring disclosure to Megrahi's legal team in the run-up to his second appeal: https://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2016/06/bombshell-book.html.  

The sorry saga of the UK government's PII claim, as it unfolded in Megrahi's 2008 appeal following the SCCRC's reference of his conviction back to the High Court of Justiciary, can be followed here: https://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2014/01/uk-and-us-geopolitical-interests-could.html.]

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Lockerbie has no Stasi link: we need a proper inquiry

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Jim Swire in today's edition of The Times. It reads as follows:]

Since December 1988 when my beloved daughter, Flora, was murdered at Lockerbie I have searched diligently for the truth as to why the warnings that Pan Am was to be attacked had not been heeded.

A detailed warning from West Germany in October 1988 told our government that improvised bombs had been recovered near Frankfurt which, though stable on the ground, if put anywhere aboard a plane would automatically sense take-off and explode 35 to 40 minutes later.

My daughter’s doomed flight flew for 38 minutes before exploding over Lockerbie. None of the families knew of the warnings received beforehand. Yet the US’s Moscow embassy had given permission to staff to abandon Pan Am 103. The 747 was only two thirds full that night.

Margaret Thatcher forbade an inquiry and no subsequent prime minister has allowed one, often on the basis that “there is an ongoing criminal investigation” now alleged to involve the Stasi. At the trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands that convicted Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi a piece of timer circuitboard was produced by Scottish police as evidence. It seemed to implicate a Swiss maker of digital timers. These had been supplied not only to Libya but to the Stasi. Since 2012 we have known that whatever its origin, the metallurgy on that fragment cannot be matched to that in use in Switzerland. This link between the Stasi and Lockerbie does not exist.

Before he died, a key leader of the Scottish police investigation told the world that “he would like to wring the neck of anyone who disagrees with the police findings”.

We have met many important people who tried to help. Nelson Mandela warned us that “no one country should be complainant prosecutor and judge”. Douglas Hurd, the Tory home and foreign secretary, referred to us in cabinet as responsible people who should be kept informed. Cecil Parkinson, the transport secretary, protected me from acquiring a criminal record when I demonstrated post hoc that Heathrow’s security had still not improved, by attempting to board an aircraft with a fake bomb, and Robin Cook, the Labour foreign secretary, talked to the families and seemed to favour an inquiry.

What have we done to deserve this extra burden of unknowing, piled upon that terrible bereavement?

Dr Jim Swire has been campaigning for justice for the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, in which his daughter died

Friday, 22 March 2019

Thatcher warned US of reprisals years before Lockerbie bombing

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

Margaret Thatcher privately begged President Reagan two years before the Lockerbie bombing not to attack Libya, warning it would unleash a bloody “cycle of revenge and counter-revenge”.

In 1986 Britain took the controversial decision to allow the US to use RAF bases to launch a raid on Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. However, secret documents newly released and placed in the National Archives in Kew, show the prime minister was deeply troubled by the plan and outlined her concerns in a series of frank “Dear Ron” letters.

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in 1988 and Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan national, was convicted for the atrocity in 2001.

It was confirmed yesterday that prosecutors from Scotland had interviewed five retired Stasi agents in Germany over their possible involvement in the bombing, which killed 270 people, including 190 US and 43 UK citizens. Investigators do not believe al-Megrahi acted alone, while campaigners insist he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. According to reports in Germany, the ex-agents were in their 70s and 80s, and were interviewed over the past nine months.

Days before ordering airstrikes against Libya, which led to the deaths of more than 70 people in April 1986, the US president requested assistance from his ally. He confirmed it was a response to an attack on a nightclub used by US servicemen, writing: “Because the evidence we have on direct Libyan involvement in the Berlin bombing is so convincing, and our information on their future plans is so threatening, I have reluctantly taken the decision to use US forces to exact a response.”

Thatcher responded: “Dear Ron . . . as you know my instinct is always to stand beside the United States, but what you say in your message causes me very considerable anxiety. My worry is that this risks getting us into a cycle of revenge and counter-revenge in which many more innocent lives will be lost.

“Given all we know of Gaddafi’s nature, a military attack on Libya seems all too likely to lead him to step up terrorist attacks against civilian targets, resulting in the death of more innocent victims — some of them yours and some of them mine.” Referring to the conflict in Northern Ireland, she added: “I have to live with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic across which terrorists come daily. We have lost 2,500 of our people in the last ten years, but we have never crossed that border to exact revenge.”

Reagan appealed to her sense of loyalty, writing: “You should not underestimate the profound effect on the American people if our actions to put a halt to these crimes continue to receive only lukewarm support, or no support at all, from our closest allies whom we have committed ourselves to defend.”

She responded: “You can count on our unqualified support for action directed against specific Libyan targets demonstrably involved in the conduct and support of terrorist activities.”

US F-111 jets launched raids on Tripoli and Benghazi from RAF bases in Suffolk and Oxfordshire. The actions caused an international outcry.

[RB: If Libya was responsible for Lockerbie, President Reagan's 1986 attack on Tripoli and Benghazi is normally regarded as supplying the motivation. The competing view, of course, is that Pan Am 103 was destroyed by the PFLP-GC at the instigation of Iran in revenge for the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655 by the USS Vincennes on 3 July 1988.]

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Crown investigation separate from SCCRC's

[Press reports today confirm, as I hinted yesterday, that the investigation currently being conducted by Scottish police and prosecutors into possible involvement by the East German Stasi in the Lockerbie bombing is quite separate from the investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission into whether Abdelbaset Megrahi's conviction might have amounted to a miscarriage of justice. The SCCRC on 13 March 2019 obtained a European Investigation Order addressed to the Federal German authorities, but this appears to be independent of the Crown investigations disclosed yesterday and today, which stemmed from assistance requests submitted to the German authorities months earlier. What follows is excerpted from today's edition of The Guardian:]

According to a report in the German tabloid Bild, Scotland’s solicitor general, Alison Di Rollo QC, is said to have about 20 former Stasi officers in her sights.

The Crown Office, the Scottish prosecution service, confirmed to the tabloid that an investigation involving the Stasi was ongoing, but said it did not want to detail particular aspects that might hinder the work of what it said was “an ongoing investigation”.

But several state prosecutors across eastern Germany, including in Berlin, Cottbus, Frankfurt an der Oder, Zwickau, Potsdam and Neuruppin confirmed to the newspaper that Di Rollo had approached them asking for “legal assistance”.

The focus is said to be on the states of Brandenburg and Berlin, where most of the former agents, now in their late 70s and 80s, live. Bild said as many as 15 former Stasi agents were being approached for “concrete questioning”.

In Scotland a team of nine prosecutors is involved in investigating whether East German agents were actively involved with the regime of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Crown Office lawyers have also been searching for new evidence in Libya.

Those prosecutors are acting independently of a separate investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which has been running its second inquiry into whether Megrahi’s conviction was a miscarriage of justice. (...)

Megrahi’s family has since reinvigorated their quest for the conviction to be overturned, instructing lawyers in Scotland to submit a fresh appeal with the SCCRC.

There has long been suspicion of collaboration between the Stasi and Gaddafi’s secret service, but many critics of Megrahi’s prosecution believe the Lockerbie bombing was carried out by Palestinian terrorists on behalf of Iran, in retaliation for the US downing of an Iranian passenger jet in 1988.

Some relatives of the dead, including the Lockerbie campaigner Dr Jim Swire, believe the bomb was planted at Heathrow airport and not sent via feeder flights from Malta, as the US and UK claim.

A cell belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command) had been operating in West Germany in the months before the Pan Am bombing.

[RB: Further reports appear today in The Scotsman, The Times and The Telegraph.]

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Lockerbie detectives plan to question retired East German Stasi officers

[This is part of the headline over a report published today on the Mail Online website. It reads in part:]

Scottish investigators want to speak to nearly 20 former East German secret police officers over alleged links to the Lockerbie bombing, it has been claimed. 

Seven retired Stasi agents, now in their 70s and 80s, have reportedly been interrogated already, more than 30 years after the crash which killed 270.  

Detectives are said to believe that the Stasi could have helped to supply the timer on the bomb, which brought down Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town in 1988. 

The secret police could also have provided ‘logistical support’ for the attack, German newspaper Bild reported.  

Scottish detectives have reportedly sent dozens of requests to authorities in former East Germany to speak to retired agents.

Seven who live near Frankfurt/Oder are said to have been handed over and questioned already, with investigators from Edinburgh present.  

Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found guilty of murdering the 270 crash victims in 2001. 

It has long been suggested that then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ordered the bombing, although he denied it. 

However Libya could have had help from East Berlin, where the Stasi are known to have supported terror groups.  

At the Lockerbie trial in 2000 the court heard that the Swiss businessman whose company supplied the timer had links to the Stasi. 

The Stasi are known to have given assistance to members of the Red Army Faction, a far-left terrorist network active in West Germany in the 1970s. 

Former left-wing terrorists were given shelter in East Germany and given new identities, according to the government of reunified Germany. 

Stasi agents were also linked to a 1986 disco bombing in West Berlin, which was also connected to Libya. 

The Stasi – short for Ministry of State Security – kept watch over the population of socialist East Germany until its collapse in 1990. (...)

Many believe the Lockerbie atrocity was committed in revenge for the downing of an Iran Air passenger flight by a US missile cruiser earlier in 1988.     

Megrahi was released from prison on ‘compassionate grounds’ in 2009 and died in Tripoli in 2012. 

However Megrahi’s family are still pursuing a possible appeal against his conviction. 

[RB: I do not know what connection, if any, this has to the European Investigation Order obtained by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission on 13 March 2019.

The suggestion (far-fetched, in my estimation) that the Stasi assisted Libya in carrying out the bombing of Pan Am 103 is of considerable vintage. See, for example, this article in The Baltimore Sun of 27 November 1991: Former E German secret police tied to Libyans, 1988 Lockerbie bombing.]

Friday, 15 March 2019

European Investigation Order granted to SCCRC relating to Lockerbie case

On Wednesday 13 March 2019 an application by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission in relation to the Lockerbie case was heard by three judges of the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh. The SCCRC sought and was granted a European Investigation Order addressed to the Federal Republic of Germany. The Order granted by the court reads as follows:

In the application by the SCCRC under section 194IA of the Criminal
Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 seeking a European Investigation Order.

The Court, on the motion of the Advocate depute, being satisfied that an
order was necessary and that it was in the interests of justice that it be made
to secure possible future criminal proceedings, made an order prohibiting the
publication in any form of the information discussed in respect of the
application by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, heard before
the court this morning; withholding from publication material, namely (a) the
name of the person referred to in paragraph 3 of the application and
elsewhere in that application and any information calculated to disclose his
identity or his present whereabouts (b) any reference to, or any detail of or
pertaining to the involvement, actual or alleged, of that person in the
bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 and (c) the other incident referred to
in paragraph 3 or elsewhere in the application; along with making that order
at common law, withholding that information from the public domain, the
court made an Order in terms of section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act
1981, prohibiting publication of all of that information, as set out in the first
part of the Order and made that a final Order, effective from now; having
heard counsel for the applicant, Grants the application and authorises the
issue of a European Investigation Order, together with the schedule of
documents conform to separate order and schedule attached hereto, to the
Federal Republic of Germany to obtain the evidence specified therein.

Friday, 8 March 2019

"... the FBI was put in charge of the crime scene in Lockerbie"

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the website of North Carolina's Bladen Journal:]

The former FBI investigator, [John Kelso] who led the probe in the 1988 bombing of Pam Am Flight 103, was the guest speaker for the Bladen Leadership Luncheon, a fundraiser for the Cape Fear Council Boy Scouts of America. (...) [RB: Until today John Kelso's name has not once appeared on this blog during its (almost) twelve year existence. The head of the FBI's Lockerbie investigation team is usually given as Richard Marquise.]

On a topic that could be discussed or presented over many sittings, the skilled orator explained how the FBI was put in charge of the crime scene in Lockerbie, Scotland, how it went about determining suspects and what has happened in the 30-plus years since. [RB: Is it really the case that the FBI, and not the Scottish police, were in charge of the crime scene? If true, this might explain a lot. But I am reluctant to believe that it is true.]

The plane with 200,000 pounds of fuel carrying 259 people was at 31,000 feet flying 500 mph. When a Semtex device of about 1 pound exploded, all aboard and 11 on the ground were killed.

The crime scene was scattered over 845 square miles, which is roughly just smaller than Bladen County.

“We initially had three theories,” said Kelso, who retired in 2002. “One was a suicide bomber, someone knowingly checked in the device. The second was a mule, which is a situation, for example, of boyfriend and girlfriend. Someone says if you take some of my luggage, I’ll join you later. The mule is the one who takes the luggage.

“And then the third was an inside job, which is what happened.”

The agency’s investigation had a lucky break and a mystery letter, elements that seem to often accompany movie thrillers and good books. The break was two-fold, that the airplane didn’t take off on time and the explosive device was a straight timer as opposed to a barometric device.

Had the plane been on time, the explosion would not have happened over land, and all the evidence would have been on an ocean floor. [RB: Dr Morag Kerr has debunked the claim that the aircraft was late in leaving Heathrow. It left its stance within two or three minutes of the scheduled time.]

The anonymous letter was written and left at a US embassy in Vienna within weeks of the bombing, yet left pretty well out of the three-year probe. When a suspect connected to the timer was fingered, his conversation with the FBI uncovered his authorship of the letter. [RB: The strange story of the letter written by Edwin Bollier on a Spanish-keyboard typewriter is discussed in the trial court's judgement at paragraph 47.]

Kelso told the group he’s met with families of those killed. The meetings were emotionally draining.

At Syracuse University, which had several students onboard, an anniversary is held each year. Kelso and his wife have stayed in touch with one family, connected as parents of twins.

“One was a student at Syracuse, one at Rensler — both on the same flight and were killed,” Kelso said of the parents’ sons. “They both keep hoping, as do I, that there will be a stable government in Libya to help us get to the bottom of this. We indicted two, and convicted one, but we know there is more to this.

“For us who worked the case, and the families grieving, that’s what they’d like to see. If they could have some closure, charges against other Libyan officials, that would make things better.”

Sunday, 24 February 2019

"... it became clear that there wasn't going to be any survivors"

[What follows is excerpted from a report headlined Witnessing Lockerbie tragedy was calling from God says Largs chaplain published today on the website of the Largs & Millport Weekly News:]

A Largs chaplain who witnessed the horrors of the Lockerbie bombing says he believes the tragedy was God preparing him for life as a minister.

Pastor Gordon Weir, 51, told the News how he is still haunted by the horrific scenes in the town straight after the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.

He was living in Dumfries and working as clerk for the health service, delivering equipment and ensuring the region's hospitals and GP's were well stocked.

Gordon, of Brisbane Evangelical Church, said: "The night it happened I had just got home from work when the phone rang.

"It was my boss telling me he had called me a taxi and I had to get back in to work. I thought he was joking, but right enough there was a taxi outside my door.

"I got the story on the way in, that a jet had fallen from the sky and crashed in Lockerbie and that we had to set the hospital up for any emergencies coming in.

"Five people came in who had been on the ground and been hit with flying debris and we helped them. We were waiting for people from the plane, but as the night went on it became clear that there wasn't going to be any survivors.

"The next day myself and another worker were asked to take x-ray equipment to Lockerbie.

"They were going to use it to identify bodies in the wreckage.

"I will never forget driving in to the site, with the police combing the fields for bodies while in the main street it was packed with camera crews from across the world. Within 12 hours the whole world had arrived in the little town.

"I will never forget it. I saw some horrific things, there were still bodies lying and police were still trying to identify them.

"I think in a weird way, although I didn't know it at the time, seeing those people dealing with real trauma, was God preparing me."

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Death of Senior Investigating Officer of Lockerbie atrocity

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the website of the Edinburgh Evening News:]

Heartfelt tributes have been paid to one of the Capital’s “outstanding” police officers.

Former Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Henderson MBE headed up the Lockerbie investigation and helped bring some of Scotland’s most notorious killers to justice.

He died, aged 78, after an illness on January 31 with a funeral at Warriston Crematorium later this month.

Former Lothian and Borders Police deputy chief constable Tom Wood rose through the ranks under DCS Henderson.

The pair worked in CID together and the major investigations unit for 20 years – helping bring killers Robert Black and Angus Sinclair to justice.

“Stuart was a friend of mine and we worked together for many years. He was an outstanding man with unbounded enthusiasm,” said Mr Wood. (...)

“He was committed to the job, most latterly as senior investigating officer of Lockerbie. It was an enormous job and would’ve crushed most men – but not Stuart. I was very, very sad to hear of his death at a relatively young age. He was super physically fit – an incredible character.

“He did nothing in half measures. Everything he did was 100 per cent, that’s the kind of guy he was and everybody who worked with him would recognise that.

“He was one of the outstanding police officers of his generation and a first class detective.”

Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone last night praised Mr Henderson for remaining close to families affected by Lockerbie.

Mr Livingstone said: “He performed his public service with skill and commitment and will be sorely missed.”

[Stuart Henderson's name has featured frequently on this blog. His conduct as Lockerbie SIO, and especially his Lockerbie-related interventions in the years following, have been subjected here to strong and, I would contend, entirely justified, criticism.

What follows is excerpted from the obituary of Mr Henderson that appeared in The Scotsman on 13 February 2019:]

Henderson went on (...)  to forge a career in CID that ultimately saw him take charge of the biggest mass murder inquiry in Scottish criminal history – the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in December 1988.

On the night of December 21, 1988 he was the most ­senior Lothian and Borders police officer on duty in Edinburgh and went immediately to the site of the Lockerbie disaster, likening it to a war zone.

For two years he was deputy senior investigating officer for Strathclyde Police’s John Orr on the case which involved the murders of 259 passengers and crew on the plane and 11 residents on the ground. Then, in 1990, when John Orr became deputy chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway, he took complete charge of the hunt for the culprits – a role that completely dominated the latter years of his police career and saw him visit 47 countries.

By now a detective chief superintendent, he worked closely with the FBI agent Richard Marquise, who was in charge of the United States’ task force. Henderson’s work earned him the MBE in the New Years honours of 1992 and he retired that same year after delivering a report to the Procurator Fiscal naming two men allegedly involved in the bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Al-amin Khalifa Fhimah.

The latter was acquitted after a trial in the Netherlands but Megrahi was ­convicted in 2001. In 2009, suffering from cancer, he was released from jail in Scotland on ­compassionate grounds, a move Henderson vehemently opposed. Both he and ­Marquise wrote to the then Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, urging him not to release the convicted mass murderer.

Henderson, who had marked the 10th and 25th anniversaries of the tragedy at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia where there is a red sandstone Lockerbie cairn memorial, felt it was a naive move and rejected any suggestion Megrahi had been framed as an insult to the police.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Eighteen years of injustice

It was eighteen years ago today that the judges of the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist delivered their verdict of Guilty against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi (and Not Guilty against Lamin Fhima) for the murder of 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. The Opinion of the Court justifying the verdicts can be read here. In the version originally issued on 31 January 2001, in the very first sentence, their Lordships mis-stated the date of the disaster. This is symptomatic of the quality of the Opinion as a whole.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Did Kenyan minister feature in Lockerbie bombing saga?

[What follows is excerpted from an interesting, if not always wholly accurate, article in today's edition of the Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation:]

In the early years of his rule, when he was youthful and bubbling with energy, President Daniel arap Moi was always on the road at home, or in the skies visiting some foreign country. (...)

... on November 14, 1988 he left for a four-day State visit to Iran.

The No 2 passenger in the manifest of the presidential jet was Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko.

Media reports at the time showed the Kenyan President was thrown a red carpet welcome by his Iranian counterpart and visiting factories outside the capital Tehran.

On returning home, President Moi said Kenya would be selling more tea to the Middle-East country and would support the Palestinian cause.

Never mind within weeks of the visit, Kenya resumed diplomatic ties with Israel which had been “severed” 15 years earlier.

Nothing else was said about the Iran visit by the Kenyan President.

Then Lockerbie happened. At seven in the evening London time, Pan-Am passenger airliner Boeing 747 flew out of the Heathrow Airport en route to New York.

Undetected in the luggage compartment was a suitcase containing a cassette-player.

Inside the gadget was an odourless plastic explosive with an atmospheric timer.

In about 40 minutes, the flight climbed to the trigger height — 31,000 feet above sea level — over a village near Lockerbie town in Scotland. Then hell rained.

The bomb exploded, breaking the plane into a thousand pieces that scattered over a kilometre radius.

The intact part of the fuselage hit the ground with such a force it created a medium-sized crater. Two hundred and seventy lives were lost.

A month after the tragedy, the British periodical well-known for juicy leaks, the Private Eye reported that among the passengers in the ill-fated US airliner were officers from the US Intelligence outfit, the CIA, who had been in Iran to negotiate a secret deal to release American and other western foreigners held hostage in Iran and Lebanon.

The report went further to say that during the visit to Iran by President Moi a month before the Lockerbie tragedy, it had been agreed with Iranian authorities that Dr Ouko be one of the go-betweens in the Iran/US secret negotiations.

The rationale was that Dr Ouko could be trusted as an honest broker by both Iranian and US diplomats with whom he had struck friendship in his role as Kenya’s foremost diplomat.

Neither Kenya or the US confirmed or denied the story carried in the British publication. Both conveniently assumed they never read or heard about it. (...)

In the Lebanon hostage crisis, [President Ronald Reagan] started circumventing the law that restricted arms sales to Iran.

He did so by having the CIA secretly sell arms to Iran and divert part of the proceeds to fund anti-communist rebels in then rogue Central American country of Nicaragua in what was called the Iran/Contra affair.

From the story in the British publication, the Private Eye, it would appear President Reagan also had other spanners in work in the Lebanon hostage crisis and where Kenya was looped in.

Dr Robert Ouko would mysteriously disappear, only to be found murdered slightly over a year after the Lockerbie tragedy.

Incidentally, he had just come from a trip in the US with the President [Moi] when he vanished.

Libya would be accused of having masterminded the Lockerbie terrorist bombing of the US jetliner and forced to surrender, after long drawn pressure, two of her citizens for trial in Scotland, and also to compensate victims of the plane explosion.

The story was that Libya did so to revenge the bombing of her cities of Tripoli and Benghazi ordered by President Reagan two years before Lockerbie tragedy.

But five years ago, a former Iranian intelligence officer disclosed that it was Iran, working with Syria, that organised the Lockerbie bombing to revenge what was called “accidental” downing of an Iranian civilian jet by a US warship, killing 290 people five months before the Lockerbie tragedy.

All in all, nothing has ever came out clearly on who did what and why in the Lockerbie matter — least of all Kenya that was at some point looped in the murky affairs of the powder keg that is the Middle-East.