Sunday, 26 April 2015

"I've lost faith in the Scottish criminal justice system"

[What follows is an item posted on this blog on this date in 2009:]

New witness casts doubt on Lockerbie bomb conviction


[The following are excerpts from an article under this headline in today's edition of The Independent on Sunday. The full article can be read here.]

A new witness is expected this week to undermine thoroughly the case against the only person to be convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. New testimony will call into question evidence linking the Libyan Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi to the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, his lawyers claim. (...)

[Note by RB: In the first session of the appeal, which starts on Tuesday [28 April 2009] and runs until 22 May, there will be no new witnesses, just legal argument. Any new witnesses, if the Appeal Court allows them to be heard -- and the rules about fresh evidence in appeals are very restrictive -- will only feature in later sessions.]

Appeal hearings are due to begin on Tuesday, and Megrahi's lawyers insisted this weekend they will go ahead as planned, despite speculation that he may be returned to Libya under the terms of a controversial prisoner transfer agreement, due to be ratified tomorrow.

"We are turning up next week," said Tony Kelly, his solicitor. "We are seeking that the court upholds his appeal, admit that there has been a miscarriage of justice, and grant him his liberty. Whatever remedies come after that is for after the appeal."

Appeal documents seen by The Independent on Sunday reveal that testimony from a new witness is expected to undermine the evidence of a key prosecution witness, Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper. His testimony was vital in connecting Megrahi to the bombing at the trial in 2001.

Mr Gauci identified Megrahi as the person who bought the tweed suit, baby sleepsuit and umbrella found among the remnants of the suitcase that contained the bomb on board.

The new witness, not named in the documents, will provide an account the defence claims is "startling in its consistency with Mr Gauci's account of the purchase, but adds considerable doubt to the date the key items were purchased and identification of Megrahi as the purchaser".

All of this may be academic, as 56-year-old Megrahi, who was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in October 2008, has been reported as having less than a year to live and the appeal could take two years.

Increasingly, however, it seems likely that the Lockerbie suspect will spend his last days in Libya. This month, officials wrote to the families of victims of the bombing explaining the prisoner transfer programme, interpreted as a tacit agreement that Megrahi may be returned to Libya. Under the terms of the deal, if Megrahi participates in the transfer scheme, he will forfeit his right to appeal.

"If he goes back to Libya, it will be a bitter pill to swallow, as an appeal would reveal the fallacies in the prosecution case," said Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed on Flight 103. Dr Swire is a member of UK Families Flight 103, which wants a public inquiry into the crash. "I've lost faith in the Scottish criminal justice system, but if the appeal is heard, there is not a snowball's chance in hell that the prosecution case will survive."

Saturday, 25 April 2015

The public has a right to know the truth

[What follows is the text of a press release from this date in 2002:]

London, 25 April 2002/P/RE/17666c-is
The President of the International Progress Organization, Professor Hans Koechler, earlier today held a meeting at the House of Commons in London with Mr Tam Dalyell, MP, “Father of the House” (the longest-serving member of the British Parliament), and Mr Ross Cranston, MP, former Solicitor-General of the United Kingdom. He briefed the members of the British Parliament on his report on the Lockerbie appeal proceedings which he had submitted earlier last month to the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council, to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

In his capacity as international observer of the Lockerbie trial, appointed by the UN Secretary-General, Professor Koechler discussed with Mr Tam Dalyell basic issues of the fairness of the Lockerbie trial and appeal proceedings. In a statement made at the adjournment (Easter) session of the House of Commons on 26 March 2002, Mr Dalyell had raised serious doubts about the handling of the Lockerbie case by Scottish judicial authorities. In his report on the Lockerbie appeal proceedings, Prof Koechler had expressed reservations about the fairness of the trial and had further explained his position that the proceedings were not in conformity with the requirements of the European Human Rights Convention.

Prof Koechler agreed with Mr Dalyell that the Lockerbie case should be further investigated and that the public has a right to know the truth. He reiterated his suggestion that the British Parliament should undertake a comprehensive investigation into the Lockerbie affair – particularly in regard to the detrimental role played by international power politics. Prof Koechler stated that the Lockerbie case is of exemplary nature in regard to the future development of international criminal justice and that the independence of the judiciary has been at stake in the highly politicized context of the trial. He explained that, for this reason, he considers a comprehensive public inquiry into the background of the Lockerbie case and into its handling by the Scottish judicial authorities of utmost importance.

[RB: It was exactly two years earlier, on 25 April 2000, that Professor Koechler was appointed by Kofi Annan as one of the UN observers.]

Friday, 24 April 2015

Death of Allan Francovich in 1997

[What follows is the text of a report in The Herald on this date in 1997:]

US film-maker Allan Francovich, whose controversial documentary challenged the official British and American view that the Lockerbie bombing was solely the work of two Libyan agents, has died. A friend said Mr Francovich collapsed on April 17 at Houston airport, Texas.

He was pronounced dead at hospital where the cause was given as a heart attack. Mr David Ben-Aryeah, a friend, said Mr Francovich would be cremated in San Antonio, and that his ashes would later be brought to Skye for a ''service of celebration''.

Mr Francovich, who was in his early 50s [RB: He was 56], had written a script while on Skye and had also visited the island with bereaved Lockerbie parent, Dr Jim Swire, while making the Lockerbie documentary The Maltese Double Cross. Mr Ben-Aryeah said: ''While he was there he came to love the island, its tranquillity, its scenery and its people.''

The American made several other controversial documentaries, mostly concerning the work of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Maltese Double Cross, which was shown to MPs in the Commons before being screened publicly in 1995, challenged the official US and British version of how a bomb brought down the New York-bound Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.

Last night Linlithgow Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who collaborated with Mr Francovich in making the documentary, said he was ''very upset'' by news of his death. The MP described him as ''one of the most persistent seekers-of-truth'' he had ever met, ''an exceedingly brave man''.

Dr Swire, whose daughter died in the disaster, said he would be ''very much missed'' by those who considered that the truth on the Lockerbie disaster had yet to be told.

The 90-minute documentary, directed by Mr Francovich, claimed a huge cover-up had taken place. The film maintained that Iran and Syria plotted to bring down the aircraft as revenge for the US shooting down an Iranian Airbus months before the Lockerbie tragedy. It argued that the authorities knew the plane was going to be bombed, but did nothing to prevent it for fear of exposing a US-sponsored drug-smuggling operation.

Scotland's top law officer at the time, the Lord Advocate, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, criticised the screening by Channel 4. He said he deprecated all attempts to give a version of the atrocity ''from whatever angle'' while criminal proceedings were pending.

However, relatives of the 270 people who died welcomed the showing of the documentary saying people should be allowed ''to make up their own minds''.

Mr Dalyell said: ''It was my privilege to be Allan Francovich's collaborator in making the film, The Maltese Double Cross, which I believe exposed the truth that the Libyans were not responsible for the Lockerbie crime. ''I could not criticise the American and British governments more strongly for their refusal to address properly the explanations of Lockerbie.''

Dr Swire said: ''Speaking personally we view the loss of Allan as the loss of a close friend whose humour and determination was much appreciated and will be greatly missed.

[RB: Tam Dalyell’s obituary of Allan Francovich in The Independent can be read here.]

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Official Report of consideration of Megrahi petition

[What follows is the text of the Official Report (Hansard) of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee’s consideration of Justice for Megrahi’s petition on Tuesday, 21 April 2015:]

The Convener (Christine Grahame, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, SNP): PE1370 calls for an independent inquiry into the Megrahi conviction. We have received an update from Justice for Megrahi on its latest meeting with Police Scotland—the update is available at annex B of paper J/S4/15/12/1. Justice for Megrahi asks us to consider the principle of appointing an independent prosecutor to consider the forthcoming Police Scotland report. Separately, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has asked the High Court for a ruling on the legal status of the victims’ relatives, to enable it to decide whether they can pursue an appeal on Megrahi’s behalf. A date for a full hearing is yet to be fixed. Do members have any comments on those developments?

I declare that I am a member of the Justice for Megrahi campaign.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): The request is entirely reasonable, and I would hope that the committee would throw its weight behind it. There is an independent Queen’s counsel who is assisting with the on-going police investigation. The reports that we have received are very encouraging. Certainly, Justice for Megrahi seems to have “full confidence” in Police Scotland, which is welcome. Police Scotland has said that it will act as an honest broker and thoroughly investigate the incidents that have been alleged in good faith. Of course, it is what happens thereafter that is the challenge. However, I suggest that there is precedent in the system, given that an independent QC is assisting with the police inquiry.

Roderick Campbell (North East Fife) (SNP): I have a couple of points. On the procedural hearings to determine whether a reference to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission can go ahead, we have to wait and watch. That is a very good reason for keeping the petition open. On an independent prosecutor, we should not take a decision without specifically referring the matter to the Crown Office and asking for its comments.

The Convener: My concern is whether it would be competent for the committee to appoint an independent prosecutor. I concur with Roddy Campbell on asking the Crown Office for its comments. I see that John Finnie wants to come back in. I am just giving my views—I am not summing up. I also suggest that we ask the Government for its views on competence in relation to the appointment of an independent prosecutor.

John Finnie: For the avoidance of doubt, I was not saying that that is in the committee’s gift; I was saying that we should lend our support to Justice for Megrahi’s calls for such an appointment to be made. Clearly, there will be a role for the statutory prosecuting office, which is the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Roddy Campbell’s point about the SCCRC is interesting, but it is a separate issue altogether.

The Convener: It is indeed. That is not a problem for us because, with regard to that part of the process, we must wait and see what happens at any full hearing The issue of the roles of the Crown Office and the police throughout is a separate matter.

I take the view that we need to find out the position on who would investigate the Crown Office. How would one go about that? I do not know whether that has ever happened. I am looking around for guidance.

John Finnie: Should we not assume that that is part of the on-going police inquiry? In some respects, the issue is more that, when the police come to submit their report, they are, as things stand, submitting it to someone who has already prejudged the situation with intemperate remarks.

The Convener: Does anyone else want in? I see that Roderick Campbell is shaking his head.

Roderick Campbell: No—I just think that it is premature.

The Convener: That is because we are waiting for the police report.
Do members want me to write to find out whether, in principle, an independent prosecutor could be considered?

John Finnie: It would be interesting to hear the Lord Advocate’s views on that.

The Convener: Okay.

John Finnie: It is clear that, given his prior involvement in the case, he will not be able to have any direct hands-on role anyway in any report that is received.

The Convener: Yes. Frankly, some of the Lord Advocate’s comments during hearings on the petition were not helpful. That may in some ways colour one’s feeling of being content that there is—I hesitate to say—an independence of spirit. What are we going to do? Will we continue the petition? Who will we write to? I seek members’ guidance.

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con): Is the key issue not that we should wait until the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has reported on the victims’ status?

The Convener: Well, there are two issues. The issue that you raise is not a problem—it is fine; we will just wait for the full hearing. We will keep the petition open for that reason. The question is whether we should take any action in relation to an independent prosecutor.

John Finnie: I suggest that we write to the Lord Advocate to ask for his views on that question. Alternatively, we could ask how, given his prior personal involvement, he would envisage being able to take forward a report that was presented to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service by Police Scotland.

The Convener: Do you want us to refer to some of the comments that have already been made by the Crown Office? Do you want to be as pointed as that?

Roderick Campbell: I would prefer the request to be neutral. The committee can relay the petitioners’ position and comments, but without expressing a view on the matter.

The Convener: What we have already heard and said is on the record. We will write a fairly neutral letter. Are members agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener: Thank you. We will keep the petition open.

"Exceptionally meritorious conduct" by USS Vincennes officers

[What follows is the text of a report published in The Washington Post twenty-five years ago today:]
The Navy has awarded special commendation medals for "meritorious service" to two of the top officers who were serving on the USS Vincennes at the time the cruiser shot down an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf with 290 people aboard.
The citations for the special commendations to former Vincennes skipper Capt Will Rogers III and Lt Cmdr Scott E Lustig, who was the ship's weapons and combat systems officer, do not mention the downing of the aircraft on July 3, 1988, an error that took the lives of the plane's passengers and crew.
The medals were awarded to the two men early last year.
Instead, the Navy citation to Rogers states, "The president of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Legion of Merit" -- the armed forces' second highest peacetime award -- "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989."
After describing the Vincennes' skirmish with seven Iranian boats minutes before it shot down the civilian aircraft, the medal citation states, "Captain Rogers's dynamic leadership, logical judgment and unexcelled devotion to duty reflected great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the US Naval Service."
Lustig, the Vincennes's weapons officer on that day, was given two Navy commendation medals -- one for his four years of service on the Aegis cruiser, the other for his role in the surface skirmish.
The Navy praised Lustig for "heroic achievement" in connection with firing on the seven Iranian boats and lauded his "meritorious service" as weapons and combat systems officer from 1984-88.
Navy officials said this week that while Rogers and some of his officers made mistakes in connection with the shooting, the commendations were awarded for their "contributions to the USS Vincennes over their entire tour on board."
The Navy, in its official report on the jet's downing, did not discipline any of the officers involved but blamed the shooting on a series of human errors that snowballed in the chaos of the ship's Combat Information Center, where Rogers and Lustig were positioned.
"Mistakes were made on board Vincennes," retired admiral William J Crowe Jr, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in his review of the incident, adding, "This regrettable accident, a byproduct of the Iran-Iraq war, was not the result of culpable conduct aboard Vincennes."
But the skipper of another ship that was on the scene of the July 3 incident wrote in the September 1989 issue of the US Naval Institute Proceedings that the Vincennes had gained a reputation for being an overly aggressive "robo-cruiser" and "likely provoked the sea battle with the Iranian gunboats that preceded the shootdown."
"Having watched the performance of the Vincennes for a month before the incident, my impression was clearly that an atmosphere of restraint was not her long suit," wrote Cmdr David R Carlson, skipper of the frigate USS Sides, which monitored the jet's downing. Carlson added, "My guess was that the crew of the Vincennes felt a need to prove the viability of Aegis (the highly sophisticated anti-aircraft system on the cruiser) in the Persian Gulf, and that they hankered for an opportunity to show their stuff."
Both decorated men remain in the Navy: Rogers is commanding officer of a Navy unit that trains senior officers in military tactics; Lustig is executive officer of another Navy cruiser, the Navy said.
[RB: Less than six months after the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655 with the loss of 290 lives, Pan Am flight 103 was destroyed over Lockerbie with the loss of 270.]

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A case of gross prosecutorial misconduct

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Robert Parry entitled The US Hand in Libya’s Tragedy published yesterday on the Consortium News website which he edits:]

The mainstream US news media is lambasting the Europeans for failing to stop the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean Sea as desperate Libyans flee their war-torn country in overloaded boats that are sinking as hundreds drown. But the MSM forgets how this Libyan crisis began, including its own key role along with that of “liberal interventionists” such as Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power.

In 2011, it was all the rage in Official Washington to boast about the noble “responsibility to protect” the people of eastern Libya who supposedly were threatened with extermination by the “mad man” Muammar Gaddafi. We also were told endlessly that, back in 1988, Gaddafi’s agents had blown Pan Am 103 out of the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The R2Pers, led by then-National Security Council aide Power with the backing of Secretary of State Clinton, convinced President Barack Obama that a “humanitarian intervention” was needed to prevent Gaddafi from slaughtering people whom he claimed were Islamic terrorists.

As this US-orchestrated bombing campaign was about to begin in late March 2011, Power told a New York City audience that the failure to act would have been “extremely chilling, deadly and indeed a stain on our collective conscience.” Power was credited with steeling Obama’s spine to press ahead with the military operation.

Under a United Nations resolution, the intervention was supposed to be limited to establishing no-fly zones to prevent the slaughter of civilians. But the operation quickly morphed into a “regime change” war with the NATO-led bombing devastating Gaddafi’s soldiers who were blown to bits when caught on desert roadways.

Yet, the biggest concern in Official Washington was a quote from an Obama’s aide that the President was “leading from behind” – with European warplanes out front in the air war – when America’s war hawks said the United States should be leading from the front.

At the time, there were a few of us who raised red flags about the Libyan war “group think.” Though no one felt much sympathy for Gaddafi, he wasn’t wrong when he warned that Islamic terrorists were transforming the Benghazi region into a stronghold. Yes, his rhetoric about exterminating rats was over the top, but there was a real danger from these extremists.

And, the Pan Am 103 case, which was repeatedly cited as the indisputable proof of Gaddafi’s depravity, likely was falsely pinned on Libya. Anyone who dispassionately examined the 2001 conviction of Libyan agent Ali al-Megrahi by a special Scottish court would realize that the case was based on highly dubious evidence and bought-and-paid-for testimony.

Megrahi was put away more as a political compromise (with a Libyan co-defendant acquitted) than because his guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed, by 2009, the conviction was falling apart. Even a Scottish appeals court expressed concern about a grave miscarriage of justice. [RB: I suspect this refers to the findings of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and not to an appeal court.] But Megrahi’s appeal was short-circuited by his release to Libya on compassionate grounds because he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer.

Yet the US mainstream media routinely called him “the Lockerbie bomber” and noted that the Libyan government had taken “responsibility” for the bombing, which was true but only because it was the only way to get punitive sanctions lifted. The government, like Megrahi, continued to proclaim innocence.

During those heady days of bombing Libya in 2011, it also was common for the MSM to smirk at the notion that Megrahi was truly suffering from advanced prostate cancer since he hadn’t died as quickly as some doctors thought he might. Then, after Gaddafi’s regime fell in September 2011, Megrahi’s family invited the BBC and other news organizations to see Megrahi struggling to breathe in his sick bed.

His son, Khaled al-Megrahi, said, “I know my father is innocent and one day his innocence will come out.” Asked about the people who died in the Pan Am bombing, the son said: “We feel sorry about all the people who died. We want to know who did this bad thing. We want to know the truth as well.”

But it was only after Megrahi died on May 20, 2012, that some elements of the MSM acknowledged grudgingly that they were aware of the many doubts about his conviction all along. The New York Times obituary carried a detailed account of the evidentiary gaps that were ignored both during the trial in 2001 and during the bombing of Libya in 2011.

The Times noted that “even some world leaders” saw Megrahi “as a victim of injustice whose trial, 12 years after the bombing, had been riddled with political overtones, memory gaps and flawed evidence. … Investigators, while they had no direct proof, believed that the suitcase with the bomb had been fitted with routing tags for baggage handlers, put on a plane at Malta and flown to Frankfurt, where it was loaded onto a Boeing 727 feeder flight that connected to Flight 103 at London, then transferred to the doomed jetliner.”

Besides the lack of proof supporting that hypothesis was the sheer implausibility that a terrorist would assume that an unattended suitcase could make such an unlikely trip without being detected, especially when it would have been much easier to sneak the suitcase with the bomb onto Pan Am 103 through the lax security at Heathrow Airport outside London.

The Times’ obit also noted that during the 85-day trial, “None of the witnesses connected the suspects directly to the bomb. But one, Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who sold the clothing that forensic experts had linked to the bomb, identified Mr Megrahi as the buyer, although Mr Gauci seemed doubtful and had picked others in photo displays. …

“The bomb’s timer was traced to a Zurich manufacturer, Mebo, whose owner, Edwin Bollier, testified that such devices had been sold to Libya. A fragment from the crash site was identified by a Mebo employee, Ulrich Lumpert. Neither defendant testified. But a turncoat Libyan agent testified that plastic explosives had been stored in [Megrahi’s co-defendant’s] desk in Malta, that Mr Megrahi had brought a brown suitcase, and that both men were at the Malta airport on the day the bomb was sent on its way.”

In finding Megrahi guilty, the Scottish court admitted that the case was “circumstantial, the evidence incomplete and some witnesses unreliable,” but concluded that “there is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt” of Megrahi.

However, the evidence later came under increasing doubt. The Times wrote: “It emerged that Mr Gauci had repeatedly failed to identify Mr Megrahi before the trial and had selected him only after seeing his photograph in a magazine and being shown the same photo in court. The date of the clothing sale was also in doubt.” Scottish authorities learned, too, that the US Justice Department paid Gauci $2 million for his testimony.

As for the bomb’s timer, The Times noted that the court called Bollier “untruthful and unreliable” and “In 2007, Mr Lumpert admitted that he had lied at the trial, stolen a timer and given it to a Lockerbie investigator. Moreover, the fragment he identified was never tested for residue of explosives, although it was the only evidence of possible Libyan involvement.

“The court’s inference that the bomb had been transferred from the Frankfurt feeder flight was also cast into doubt when a Heathrow security guard revealed that Pan Am’s baggage area had been broken into 17 hours before the bombing, a circumstance never explored. Hans K√∂chler, a United Nations observer, called the trial ‘a spectacular miscarriage of justice,’ words echoed by [South African President Nelson] Mandela.”

In other words, Megrahi’s conviction looked to have been a case of gross prosecutorial misconduct, relying on testimony from perjurers and failing to pursue promising leads (like the possibility that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow, not transferred from plane to plane to plane). And those problems were known prior to Megrahi’s return to Libya in 2009 and prior to the US-supported air war against Gaddafi in 2011.

Yet, Andrea Mitchell at MSNBC and pretty much everyone else in the MSM repeated endlessly that Megrahi was “the Lockerbie bomber” and that Libya was responsible for the atrocity, thus further justifying the “humanitarian intervention” that slaughtered Gaddafi’s soldiers and enabled rebel militias to capture Tripoli in summer 2011.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Today's session of the Justice Committee

At this morning’s meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee it was decided (1) to keep open Justice for Megrahi’s petition (PE1370) calling for an independent inquiry into the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi; and (2) to write to the Lord Advocate enquiring how the Crown Office proposes to deal with the forthcoming Police Scotland report on JFM’s allegations of criminal misconduct on the part of police officers, prosecutors and Crown forensic scientists in the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and trial. This arises out of the suggestion made on this blog that a special prosecutor or independent counsel might be required, in the light of the Lord Advocate’s publicly expressed views about the merits of JFM’s allegations and the character of JFM members.

A video recording of the Justice Committee session is now available here.

Libyan agreement to neutral venue trial confirmed

[What follows is an article headlined Lockerbie trial agreement published in The Herald on this date in 1998:]

The two men suspected of causing the Lockerbie bombing could soon be handed over for trial in a neutral country, reports claimed yesterday after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi met British representatives, writes Ron MacKenna.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was among the 270 who died in the disaster a decade ago, and Professor Robert Black, from Edinburgh University, had a 40-minute meeting with the Libyan leader in Tripoli on Monday. They said the talks were "of some substance" but refused to elaborate. However, Egypt's Middle East News Agency quoted Ibrahim el-Ghoweily [RB: normally anglicised as “Legwell”], a lawyer for the suspects, as saying the two sides had agreed "to hold the trial in a third country with a panel of judges headed by a Scottish judge and in light of Scottish law".

The talks indicate movement towards ending the seemingly intractable problems over having the two men accused of the outrage tried. Both Britain and the United States both want to try the men but Libya has so far refused to surrender them to either country, saying they will not get a fair trial. El-Ghoweily said Dr Swire and other representatives of British relatives will "work to convince" Britain and the United States "that the trial should be held in a third country".

Libyan officials have apparently indicated they are prepared to compromise, allowing a trial before an international panel headed by a Scottish judge. British relatives would prefer the trial to be held in Scotland but many have indicated they would agree to it being held in a neutral country, possibly the Netherlands. El-Ghoweily said both sides had agreed on Monday on "the importance of avoiding prejudiced jurors and any country in which the media or other factors would influence the trial", and wanted the hearing to take place "as soon as possible".

The British and American governments argue that the accused men should not be allowed to dictate conditions for their trial and they are concerned that there will be no jury.

[A press release issued at the end of the visit to Libya by Dr Swire and me between 18 and 20 April 1998 reads as follows:]

A meeting to discuss issues arising out of the Lockerbie bombing was held in the premises of the Libyan Foreign Office in Tripoli on the evening of Saturday 18 April 1998.  Present were Mr Abdul Ati Obeidi, Under-Secretary of the Libyan foreign Office; Mr Mohammed Belqassem Zuwiy, Secretary of Justice of Libya; Mr Abuzaid Omar Dorda, Permanent Representative of Libya to the United Nations; Dr Ibrahim Legwell, head of the defence team representing the two Libyan citizens suspected of the bombing; Dr Jim Swire, spokesman for the British relatives group UK Families-Flight 103; and Professor Robert Black QC, Professor of Scots Law in the University of Edinburgh and currently a visiting professor in the Faculty of Law of the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

At the meeting discussion focused upon the plan which had been formulated in January 1994 by Professor Black for the establishment of a court to try the suspects which would:
* operate under the criminal law and procedure of Scotland
* have in place of a jury an international panel of judges presided over by a senior Scottish judge
* sit not in Scotland but in a neutral country such as The Netherlands.

Among the issues discussed were possible methods of appointment of  the international panel of judges, and possible arrangements for the transfer of the suspects from Libya for trial and for ensuring their safety and security pending and during the trial.

Dr Legwell confirmed, as he had previously done in January 1994, that his clients agreed to stand trial before such a court if it were established.  The representatives of the Libyan Government stated, as they had done in 1994 and on numerous occasions since then, that they would welcome the setting up of such a court and that if it were instituted they would permit their two citizens to stand trial before it and would co-operate in facilitating arrangements for that purpose.

Dr Swire and Professor Black undertook to persist in their efforts to persuade the Government of the United Kingdom to join Libya in accepting this proposal.

On Sunday 19 April 1998, Professor Black met the South African ambassador to Libya and Tunisia, His Excellency Ebrahim M Saley, and discussed with him current developments regarding the Lockerbie bombing.  He also took the opportunity to inform the ambassador of how much President Mandela's comments on the Lockerbie affair at the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October 1997 in Edinburgh had been appreciated.

On Monday 20 April, Dr Swire and Professor Black had a meeting a lasting some 40 minutes with the Leader of the Revolution, Muammar al-Qaddafi.  Also present were the Libyan Foreign Secretary, Mr Omar al-Montasser, and Mr Dorda.  The Leader was informed of the substance of the discussions held on Saturday 18 April, and expressed his full support for the conclusions reached.