Thursday, 22 November 2018

Inquiry findings "have relevance to potential appeal against conviction"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Sandwood: no prosecutions but material relevant to potential future appeal

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

How Megrahi came to be convicted of the Lockerbie bombing

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

The article consists of copiously-referenced sections headed:  

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

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

Monday, 19 November 2018

A long journey in the pursuit for truth and justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 5 November 2018

Kenneth Roy: 26 March 1945 - 5 November 2018

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

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

Friday, 2 November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Lockerbie: Three decades on but still a tragic lack of justice

[This is the headline over an article by Campbell Gunn published yesterday on the website of The Press and Journal. It reads in part:]

Only one person, Abdelbaset al Megrahi, has ever been convicted of taking part in the bombing. He was later released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Government and has since died. Many involved in the investigation believe that even if he was involved it was in a minor role. The result is that there has been no justice for those killed and no closure for the relatives of the victims.

I have a personal interest in the case. On the night of the bombing, I was the newly-appointed chief reporter of a newspaper office in Edinburgh. When word came through that a plane had crashed in the Borders – that was the original belief – I rounded up two colleagues, and the three of us headed for the incident.

I have to confess that we used some subterfuge to get near the town, as the motorway was closed and there were long tail-backs on the approach roads. Even from a few miles distant, however, the smell of burning fuel was heavy in the air, and in the distance, we could see a glow in the sky. Police officers were obviously tied up in the town, and it was left to an AA man to direct traffic away from the motorway. I showed him my press card and lied to him that the police had told us to come this way. He waved us onto the motorway with a warning, “Drive south on the northbound carriageway. There shouldn’t be anything coming the other way, but put on full beam just in case…”

The result was that a few minutes later we were standing gazing into what looked like the bowels of hell, on the edge of the huge crater at the side of the motorway where the fuel-laden wings had landed, exploded and were still burning. The rest of the night was spent speaking to witnesses, attending press conferences in the town and sending regular updates to head office from a telephone box – no mobiles in those days, remember – before heading home at seven in the morning.

Lockerbie then became a major part of my journalistic life, as I followed the events of the subsequent years. I attended the press conference where the then Lord Advocate announced the charges against Megrahi and his co-accused Khalifa Fhimah, I was at Camp Zeist in Holland when the two accused flew in for trial, and I was at Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s press conference when he announced he was to release Megrahi.

In between these events were a number of interesting asides. I knew the late MP Tam Dalyell, who campaigned long and vociferously that Megrahi was innocent. On one occasion, after there were reports in the American media containing details of documents relevant to the inquiry which were available under US freedom of information, but which we were unable to see in Scotland, I asked Tam if there was anyone he knew who could help. “Why don’t you call the US embassy and ask for John Doe,” he said. Even at this distance in time I’m reluctant to disclose the real name he gave me. I asked who this was. “His official title is First Secretary at the US embassy. His real job is head of the CIA in Europe. No-one knows more about the Lockerbie bombing investigation.”

I called the embassy, was put through to the man in question and he asked to see me before answering any questions. Next day I was in London facing the head of the CIA for Europe. He obviously wanted to check out that I was a real journalist and that my interest in Lockerbie was genuine. After a long chat he agreed to arrange for all these documents to be forwarded to me from the US State Department. They were the source of a number of stories in the subsequent weeks.

Additionally, it appears I was also put on a US Government list of “interested journalists”, as every time a documentary on Lockerbie was due to be screened on TV, I would receive a press release from Washington rebutting the claims the programme was expected to make.

When the Lockerbie media storm begins again in a few weeks, I’ll be able to reflect on my own coverage of the event and its consequences. Most importantly, I’ll reflect on the fact that not one of the main players in the attack, whether in Iran, Syria or Libya, has ever been brought to justice. Nor at this distance in time are they ever likely to face a criminal court in Scotland.

And that is a tragedy for the Scottish, UK and American justice systems.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Lockerbie cited in proposal for international court in Khashoggi case

[The following are excerpts from an article by Geoffrey Robertson QC headlined Only an international court can bring Khashoggi’s killers to justice published in today's edition of The Guardian:]

The slaying of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a barbaric act, ordered and carried out by barbarians. It cried out for justice – which means, inevitably, a trial. Yet all the British government is demanding is an “investigation” – by the same Saudi state that spent 17 days lying about its responsibility and is still offering unbelievable excuses for the murder. Any Saudi investigation would, at most, offer up a few scapegoats who would be subjected to a secretive procedure and in reality punished for their incompetence rather than their guilt.

But this was an international crime that took place in breach of United Nations conventions in the precincts of a consulate enjoying inviolability under international law. It involved the silencing of a US-based journalist for exercising the right of freedom of speech – a right also belonging to all his potential readers, and guaranteed under every international human rights convention. It was an action by a UN member state that threatens peace and security and it should be taken up by the UN security council, which has acted before to set up tribunals to deal with similar atrocities – the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, for example, and the Lockerbie bombing. (...)

[RB: The Lockerbie court was a Scottish, not an international, court; nor was it "set up" by the UN Security Council, though that body instructed all UN members to cooperate with it.  The court was set up by a treaty between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.]

There are enough precedents for the security council, under its chapter VII power, to act so as to avoid international conflict, to set up a court to research and punish the carefully planned assassination of a journalist in a member state by agents of another member state. There are plenty of experienced judges available who have dealt with atrocities in the Balkans, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, and prosecutors well qualified for mounting cases of international crimes. The Turkish authorities have ample evidence against the immediate perpetrators and western and Israeli intelligence agencies can undoubtedly supplement what is already known about the Saudi chain of command. 

[RB: I am highly sceptical about the legality of resorting to Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression) to deal with criminal acts committed by states against individuals. If Libya's World Court actions against the UK and the USA had not been abandoned after the Lockerbie trial, this issue might have been ventilated under the powers of judicial review of the legality of Security Council acts that the World Court looked likely to assume.]

Continuing pressure from the security council and orders by the court, backed by sanctions against powerful Saudis (preventing them from travelling to Europe or using schools and health services), trade boycotts and sanctions, and threats of diplomatic isolation, could force the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to send suspects to The Hague, as it forced Gaddafi to cooperate over Lockerbie, and to disclose evidence that, when analysed together with other evidence, might lead a chief prosecutor to include him in the charge sheet – at least as an “unindicted co-conspirator”. Only an international legal process can establish with any credibility whether Bin Salman actually gave the lethal order, or perhaps said in the manner of King Henry II: “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”

Monday, 22 October 2018

Pik's Lockerbie mystery

[This is the headline over an article published on 20 October 2018 in South Africa's Saturday Star newspaper by retired Kwazulu-Natal High Court judge Chris Nicholson. The following are excerpts:]

On January 11, 1989 [South African foreign minister Pik] Botha travelled to Stockholm in Sweden with other foreign dignitaries – including UN Secretary-general Javier Pérez de Cuéllar – for the funeral of the UN’S Commissioner for South-west Africa, Bernt Carlsson. Botha was interviewed by Sue Macgregor on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, and alleged that he and a 22-strong South African delegation, who were booked to fly from London to New York on December 21, 1988, had been targeted by the ANC. However, having been alerted to these ANC plans to kill him, Botha said he managed to outsmart them by taking the earlier Pan Am Flight 101 from Heathrow to JFK Airport, New York.

Despite having the knowledge, the question remains why he did not tell the airline security and alert the other passengers that their deaths were going to follow in a few minutes. Is there any other conclusion but that Botha was happy for them to go to their deaths?

The notion that Botha was warned is bolstered by statements made by Oswald Le Winter, who worked for the CIA from 1968 to 1985, and Tiny Rowland in the 1994 film The Maltese Double Cross. This film was made by Allan Francovich, who later died under suspicious circumstances.

In the film Le Winter quotes Rowland as disclosing that Botha had told him he and 22 South African delegates were going to New York for the Namibian Independence Ratification Ceremony and were all booked on the Pan Am Flight 103. They were given a warning from a source which could not be ignored and changed flights. The source revealed by Le Winter is the SA Bureau for State Security (BOSS), which he claims had close contacts with Israeli intelligence and the CIA.

The grave misgivings of the public about this tragedy persuaded a relative of a victim to write to retired South African MP Colin Eglin of the Democratic Party, asking him to make enquiries on the South African side. On June 5, 1996, Eglin asked Justice Minister Dullah Omar in Parliament if Pik Botha and his entourage “had any plans to travel on this flight (Pan Am Flight 103) or had reservations for this flight; if so, why were the plans changed?” In reply on June 12, 1996, Omar stated he had been informed by Botha that shortly before finalising their booking arrangements for travel from Heathrow to New York, they learnt of an earlier flight from London to New York, namely, Pan Am Flight 101. They were booked and travelled on this flight to New York.

Eglin wrote back on July 18, 1996, and added: “Since then I have done some more informal prodding. This has led me to the person who made the reservations on behalf of the South African foreign minister Pik Botha and his entourage. This person assures me that he and no one else was responsible for the reservations, and the reservation made in South Africa for the South African group was originally made on PA 101, departing London at 11:00 on 21 December 1988. It was never made on PA 103 and consequently was never changed. He made the reservation on PA 101 because it was the most convenient flight connecting with South African Airways Flight SA 234 arriving at Heathrow at 07:20 on 21 December 1988.”

Eglin gave the victim’s family the assurance that he had “every reason to trust the person referred to” as he had been given a copy of “rough working notes and extracts from his personal diary of those days”. In his letter Eglin wrote: “In the circumstances, I have to accept that an assertion that the reservations of the South African group were either made or changed as a result of warnings that might have been received is not correct.”

Could the “rough working notes” and the “personal diary of those days” have been fabricated to save Pik Botha’s skin from a most embarrassing and possibly criminal act? Two years before Eglin asked the questions in Parliament, Botha was contacted by the press and his replies were reported on a Reuters Textline of November 12, 1994, under the heading “South African Minister denies knowing of Lockerbie Bomb”.

The article said: “Former foreign minister Pik Botha denied on Saturday he had been aware in advance of a bomb on board Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. The minister confirmed through his spokesman that he and his party had been booked on the ill-fated airliner but switched flights after arriving early in London from Johannesburg.”

There is further confirmation of the fabrication from other sources. On November 12, 1994, Botha’s spokesperson, Gerrit Pretorius, told Reuters that Botha and 22 South African negotiators, including Defence Minister Magnus Malan and Foreign Affairs director Neil van Heerden, had been booked on Pan Am Flight 103. He said “the flight from Johannesburg arrived early in London and the embassy got us on to an earlier flight. Had we been on Pan Am Flight 103 the impact on South Africa and the region would have been massive. It happened on the eve of the signing of the tripartite agreements,” said Pretorius, referring to pacts signed at the UN headquarters on December 22, 1988, which ended South African and Cuban involvement in Angola, and which led to Namibian independence.

Another statement by Pretorius was in appallingly bad taste: “The minister is flattered by the allegation of near-omniscience.” Pretorius goes on to explain again how the change had come about. “But we… got to London an hour early and the embassy got us on an earlier flight. When we got to JFK (airport) a contemporary of mine said, ‘Thank God you weren’t on 103. It crashed over Lockerbie’.”

There is further confirmation of the change of flight from another spokesperson for Pik Botha. “Had he known of the bomb, no force on Earth would have stopped him from seeing to it that Flight 103 with its deadly cargo would not have left the airport,” his spokesperson Roland Darroll told Reuters after consulting the minister.

Theresa Papenfus has written a hagiography of Botha and his times, which gives a further version of the events of that fateful night. Papenfus says: “A former member of staff related that there had been a hitch in the travel arrangements. The SAA flight took off from Johannesburg for London on 20 December 1988… I was concerned with the travel arrangements to New York. Because Pik preferred Frankfurt Airport to Heathrow, the party was booked on (Pan Am) Flight 103 from Frankfurt via London to New York.”

This conflicts diametrically with the statement that there never was a booking on Flight 103. Papenfus goes on to say: “It was the third scheduled daily transatlantic flight from London to John F Kennedy Airport in New York. But this schedule would have interfered with affairs of the heart. The official had a fiancée in London and he simply had to see her. He arranged for the delegation to take an earlier flight, from Johannesburg to London and then from London to New York.”

The official who changed the bookings was clearly with Botha. Papenfus says: “Once they arrived at New York the official had to attend to the usual administrative duties of ministerial staff. While the ministers were being whisked away from the airport in cars their baggage had to be collected and their passports stamped. Through the glass panels he could see people showing signs of hysteria. Some were crying, others screaming and a few were lying on the ground. ‘Americans!’ he muttered to himself. Then he was told by a member of the secret service that the Boeing on Pan Am Flight 103 had crashed. This was the flight on which the South African delegation had originally been booked.”

Papenfus admits a further intriguing detail: “In response to enquiries the Department of Foreign Affairs initially officially denied that seats had ever been booked for the ministerial party on Pan Am Flight 103. They said that the bookings had been on Flight 101 right from the beginning.” Papenfus concludes: “The tragedy claimed the life of the UN’S Commissioner for South West Africa, Mr Bernt Carlsson of Sweden. He was supposed to have been present at the signing of the agreements.”

The question remains whether he was not the real target of those who put the bomb on Pan Am 103.

[RB: Further treatment on this blog of the Pik Botha story can be found here.] 

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Lockerbie trial was a parody of justice

[This is the headline over a letter from Dr Jim Swire published in today's Scottish edition of the Mail on Sunday. It reads as follows:]

Thank you for publishing Douglas Boyd’s analysis of the Lockerbie case last week.

I am the father of Flora Swire, who was murdered on the aircraft in 1988, and I attended the subsequent trial of Libyan Abdelbaset Al Megrahi.

By the end I was convinced that we had witnessed a parody of justice. There were many deficiencies in the evidence, and those of us who have sought the truth have been further frustrated by the Government and Scottish High Court.

It has become clear to us that the trial was designed not to convict those responsible, but to further the wishes of the US and UK governments.

We agree with Douglas Boyd that the available evidence points to an Iranian decision to get revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian plane with 290 souls aboard.

In our sad search we have also uncovered material showing that the Government of the day had ample accurate warnings in advance of what was about to happen, but raised not a finger to prevent it happening.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Compensation could be sought for Megrahi's imprisonment

[What follows is excerpted from a report headlined Lockerbie Convict's Family Demands Acquittal Following New Evidence in Case that was published today on the website of the Saudi-owned Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat:]

The family of Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi demanded compensation for the period he spent in prison after new claims emerged that Iran may have been behind the 1988 downing of the US airplane in Lockerbie. [RB: (a) These are not new claims, but have been common currency for very many years; (b) the only evidence at the Zeist trial that Megrahi was an intelligence officer came from the CIA asset Majid Giaka whose testimony, except on this one point, was dismissed by the judges as utterly incredible.]

The Daily Mail published excerpts of a book by US author Douglas Boyd where he charged that Iran was behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. (...)

[Megrahi] was released from jail in 2009 on compassionate grounds after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in 2012.

Lawyer Ghada Abdelbaset al-Megrahi demanded on behalf of her family compensation for each hour her father spent in British prisons.

Ahmad Hamza, of Libya's National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), said Boyd's book may have leaked facts and information that acquit Libya’s former regime and condemn Iran. [RB: The articles that have so far appeared have produced no new facts or information. Whether the book itself does so will be seen only once it is published later this month.]

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Iranian regime adopts policies and practices that target the safety and stability of the West, United States and Arab countries. 

He said that the Libyan authorities can seek compensation from the international judiciary for the damage caused to the country over the Lockerbie case.

The official authorities in Libya had yet to comment on Boyd’s allegations, but many political and judicial circles have been demanding that the truth be revealed in the case.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Lockerbie has dealt with the atrocity with grace and dignity

[What follows is the text of a speech made by Christine Grahame MSP during the debate in the Scottish Parliament on 2 October 2018 on the motion Cycle to Syracuse to mark the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster:]

I declare an interest as a member of the Justice for Megrahi campaign. I congratulate Oliver Mundell on securing the debate and welcome his so-called Syracuse team to the gallery.

It is important to recall that dreadful night nearly 30 years ago, with the deaths of so many people. They included the young students who will be commemorated on the cycle journey. Their lives ended tragically, but now the cyclists are taking the journey to the destination that those students never reached. We are also reminded of the 11 Lockerbie residents who died that night, and the actions of the professionals who, through their sensitivity and kindness, then and over the years, have created a bond across the ocean between the families of those who were killed that night.

Lockerbie, like Aberfan before it and Dunblane, never wanted to be in the headlines for being a graveyard for so many, but it has dealt with the atrocity with grace and dignity. It should not have been Lockerbie, of course. The delay to flight 103 meant that the bomb, which was probably intended to detonate over the sea without evidential trace, did so over acres of bleak winter Scottish countryside.

Although I have nothing but admiration for the Lockerbie community, I feel that no line can be drawn under that night until the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is finally and fully tried on a last appeal. Members will recall that a second appeal on a referral from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission was abandoned by Megrahi. In my view, that was to secure his transfer from Greenock to Libya to be with his family as he succumbed to terminal cancer. The evidence has not been heard to this day.

I met him three times, and he made it clear at our last meeting that it was not for himself but for his family that he wished his name to be cleared. He did not want the name “Megrahi” to forever be part of the Lockerbie atrocity. At this moment, a third application for review, which has been lodged by his family, is in process with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. I have been told by the SCCRC that the application has passed stage 1; in other words, the commission has accepted his reasons for abandoning the second appeal—in other words, because he thought that would help to secure his release. The process is now at stage 2; that is, the substance of the grounds for a new appeal are being considered. The commission hopes to report by summer 2019.

In the meantime, yet to be completed and sent to the Crown Office is the separate police-led Sandwood inquiry into the actions at the time of police, prosecutors and forensic officials. The inquiry, which is investigating claims of attempts to pervert the course of justice prior to the Camp Zeist trial, started in 2014. Pronouncements have been made on its imminent conclusion, which has been much postponed. Although the SCCRC could conclude its findings without that report, I have no doubt that it would be difficult for it to fully conclude without it. Sandwood’s—to be kind—slow progress is cause for concern, because 30 years on, justice delayed is justice denied for the people of Lockerbie, the Syracuse students, every other one of the 270 who died and their families and friends—and, perhaps, even the Megrahi family.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

How the whole world was sold a monstrous lie over Lockerbie

[This is part of the headline over a long article published in today's edition of the Mail on Sunday. The article, which advances the familiar proposition that responsibility for the Lockerbie atrocity rests with the PFLP-GC acting on behalf of Iran, is condensed from a forthcoming book Lockerbie: The Truth by Douglas Boyd which is due to be published on 11 October 2018. The following are a few paragraphs from the Mail on Sunday article:]

With a loss of 259 lives on board and 11 more on the ground, the destruction of Maid of the Seas, blown up by a terrorist bomb on December 21, 1988, was the worst civil aviation disaster in British history. Yet 30 years later, we still do not officially know who is responsible for mass murder high in the air above a small Scottish market town preparing for Christmas.

There was, of course, a fall guy. Eleven years after the atrocity, a 47-year-old Libyan Arab Airlines security officer called Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted on a tissue of lies which centred on the evidence of a Maltese shopkeeper who claimed to remember him buying clothes similar to those that may have been in the suitcase with the bomb that would rip through the fuselage.

A low-level Libyan CIA ‘asset’ called Abdul Majid Giaka said he recalled seeing al-Megrahi collect a brown Samsonite suitcase from the Arrivals carousel in Malta’s Luqa airport on December 20, 1988. On the following morning, he alleged, the unaccompanied suitcase was loaded on to a flight to Frankfurt, from where it would be transferred to London on a Pan Am ‘feeder flight’ and loaded aboard Flight 103 – before then exploding.

A further 11 years later, al-Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment at an extraordinary trial held in a disused American air base near Utrecht, Holland.

After years investigating the Lockerbie disaster and its background, I have found that little of the evidence against him can be taken at face value. Instead, a very different story has emerged from the morass of lies, one that should have been apparent from the very start.

It is a story of incompetence, vengeance, political expediency and then a cover-up orchestrated from the very highest levels in London and in Washington – where the real bomber is said to live today, under the cover of an American witness protection scheme.

[RB: The "real bomber" is said by the author to be Basel Bushnaq, alias Abu Elias. This is not by any means a new claim. Indeed Bushnaq was named by Christine Grahame MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 2 September 2009 (Official Report, columns 19051 to 19053). There is lots about him to be found here on The Lockerbie Divide website.]

Monday, 24 September 2018

Salisbury Incident — Skripal case investigators could learn from the Lockerbie affair

[This is the headline over an article published today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website, to which resort should be made for important accompanying references and links. The article reads in part:]

“The men and women at Bletchley had no idea that in the Napoleonic Wars we had broken the French ciphers, any more than those people knew how ciphers had been cracked when we faced the threat from the Armada.

There was absolutely no question of learning from experience. This repeats itself more in intelligence than in any other area because the experience is less well known, and much of it classified. That is why you get major policymakers whose abilities are adequate in other ways who do so badly in matters of intelligence.

There is no profession that know so little about its own history as the intelligence community does.”

Professor Christopher Andrew — Emeritus Professor of Modern and Contemporary History

There is no do doubt whatsoever that Intelligence professionals should have a much better knowledge of their history as, now and then, they could use a few hints from past cases. (...)

The comments from Professor Andrew are not without irony. Ten years ago, I wrote to a British scholar who specializes in the history of MI5. I strongly suggested to this professor that it was urgent to save all information regarding the Lockerbie Affair. The reply was direct. “There is no need for that. Nobody, absolutely nobody, cares about this old story.”

Well, never mind that the SCCRC has decided last year to conduct a full review of the Lockerbie case. A new trial is widely expected to quash the infamous Zeist verdict.

Today, although I am certainly not an expert in the Skripals investigation, I would like to tell you about two striking similarities between this case and the Lockerbie affair. (...)

The Smell Test

LOCKERBIE — For many months, a Germany-based terrorist cell was the prime focus of the Lockerbie investigators. Marwan Khreesat — the bomb maker of this organisation — had built five explosive devices. One was hidden inside a Toshiba cassette-recorder similar to the one that allegedly destroyed Pan Am 103.

According to Intelligence reports, Khreesat, Dalkamoni — the leader of the cell in Germany — and Ahmed Jibril — the head of the PFLP-GC — had repeated discussions about various methods to cover the smell of SEMTEX, the explosive used in these five radio-bombs as well as in the attack of Pan Am 103.

These events occurred in October 1988 and Pan Am 103 was downed on December 21 1988. At that time, only one company produced SEMTEX and terrorists like it very much because it was odourless. Chemicals were added after 1991 to give SEMTEX a distinct smell.

One of the first questions addressed to Dalkamoni after his arrest by the German police at the end of October 1988 was if he knew what SEMTEX smells like. He was quite surprised. “Who do you take me for? I am an explosive professional. I know everything about explosives. Of course, SEMTEX is odourless.”

Today, we know that Khreesat was a CIA mole. Why did he made up all these stories about the smell of SEMTEX? Thirty years later, we still do not know.

SALISBURY — According to UK media, Charlie Rowley mentioned that the perfume that killed his girlfriend had an odd ammonia-type smell. Again, Novichok, like all nerve agents, is both tasteless and odourless.

And if you try to spin the story, you quickly run into troubles. Sure, ingredients could have been added. But, we have been told all along that the samples match exactly the Russian ‘secret’ formula.

The Mystery of the Residue Analysis

SALISBURY — According to the official press release:

“On 4 May 2018, tests were carried out in the hotel room where the suspects had stayed. A number of samples were tested at DSTL at Porton Down. Two swabs showed contamination of Novichok at levels below that which would cause concern for public health.

A decision was made to take further samples from the room as a precautionary measure, including in the same areas originally tested, and all results came back negative. We believe the first process of taking swabs removed the contamination, so low were the traces of Novichok in the room.”

So, we must accept that residues of Novichok were present in the hotel room for two months, and then disappeared because of a couple of swabs? How often do they clean a hotel room in East London, where the “suspects” stayed before travelling to Salisbury?

LOCKERBIE — The Lockerbie trial statistics are impressive. The trial amassed 10,232 pages of evidence amounting to more than 3m words. The court was shown 2,488 pieces of evidence and heard 229 prosecution witnesses. The trial cost £60m.

One would therefore safely conclude that the evidence of SEMTEX in the bombing of Pan Am 103 is well established. One would be wrong! None of the important fragments — radio, timer and pieces of clothing surrounding the device — were actually tested for explosive residues.

Only one piece of debris (a beam from the luggage container) — out of 4 million pieces collected — indicated the presence of SEMTEX. When I first saw these data, I immediately understood that something was badly wrong.

The spectrum indicated that all kinds of explosive residues were present in the swabs. This is clearly nonsense as some of these explosives, such as TNT and SEMTEX components, do not mix. Obviously, this was a case of contamination.

Years later, we learned that the laboratory that had conducted these measurements was indeed totally contaminated. One could find explosive residues in the offices, in the library, in the restaurant, anywhere. Over the years, that laboratory has been renamed many times: RARDE, DERA, DSTL. Many names, but it is the same damn place.

It was contamination in the Lockerbie Affair. And I would not rule out contamination in the Salisbury Case. If there is something we learn from history, it is that some people never learn from history.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Lockerbie's 30th anniversary commemoration plan revealed

[What follows is the text of a report published today on the DnG24 website:]

A plan to honour the 270 people who lost their lives in the Lockerbie air disaster has been revealed.

This year marks 30 years since the December 21 attack in 1988.

And this week Lockerbie Community Council announced their chosen tribute.

Helping them reach their decision was a a survey, conducted by the Annandale Herald in conjunction with the town council, which netted over 500 responses.

The online survey asked two questions: firstly, if locals thought the anniversary should be marked, with 86 per cent of respondents voting yes.

A second question asked how the date should be honoured, listing five options: a minute’s silence the in town, ceremony at the cemetery, civic reception, no event, or another idea.

Coming out top was the option of a ceremony at the cemetery, preferred by 47 per cent of people.

Meanwhile, the second preferred option, with 21 per cent of the vote, was a minute’s silence.

As well as the survey, locals were strongly encouraged to contact the community group to let their suggestions on how best to mark the anniversary be known.

Speaking this week, Jan Andrews, chairwoman of Lockerbie Community Council, said: “We consulted with the town from January this year.

“We had an online survey and, not forgetting those who do not use computers, we also urged locals to come to our meetings or contact us in anyway to let their thoughts, wishes and ideas be known.

“Following consultation, we have listened to the public and they do not want a repeat of the 25th anniversary events. Instead they want an entirely more subtle tribute to remember and respect all those involved in the disaster.”

As a result, a wreath laying ceremony will take place at Lockerbie Garden of Remembrance at 12 noon on Friday December 21.

It will include speeches and be conducted by Lord Lieutenant Fiona Armstrong.

Lockerbie RBL [Royal British Legion] Pipe Band will be in attendance, as well as a host of local groups wishing to lay wreaths, and townsfolk are strongly encouraged to attend.

Any group wishing to be involved should contact Lockerbie Community Council, care of Lockerbie Town Hall, or speak to Jan Andrews for further information.