Wednesday, 1 July 2015

"The true culprits have literally gotten away with murder"

[Following on from its article of 8 June 2000, The Lockerbie Bombing Trial: Is Libya Being Framed?, the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin published on this date in 2000 Susan Lindauer’s sworn Lockerbie deposition dated 4 December 1998. The following are a few sentences from the end of the document:]

First, the accused Libyans are effectively denied the right to a fair trial where they might bring forth witnesses in their own defense, which could immediately exonerate them of all charges. And secondly, the families are denied the ability to close this terrible wound, and experience the healing that would be gained from discovering the complete truth and facts surrounding this case.

On both accounts, I cannot be silent. I suspect my disclosure will grieve the families with the horrible revelation that US government officials have behaved so cynically and despicably as to withhold evidence in this case. And yet such a cynical and desperate act must be condemned by civilized society. I dare say Libya is entitled to financial compensation for the economic harassment her people have endured because of these blatantly false accusations, and the deliberate efforts to mislead potential judges, and victimize potential witnesses by a policy of aggressive harassment and punishment for speaking out. Meanwhile, the true culprits have literally gotten away with murder.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

"I was not involved in the Lockerbie bombing in any way whatsoever"

[This is the headline over a report published in The Tripoli Post on this date in 2007. It reads as follows:]

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi renewed his assertion that he is innocent after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) said he "may have suffered a miscarriage of justice" based on new evidence.

"I reiterate today what I have been saying since I was first indicted in 1991: I was not involved in the Lockerbie bombing in any way whatsoever," he said in a statement.

The SCCRC referred his case to the Appeal Court in Edinburgh, Scotland's highest court, which could eventually quash his conviction, throwing the case wide open and reviving speculation as to who was behind the bombing.

Megrahi, who applied for the SCCRC review, welcomed the panel's decision, saying through his lawyer that he "shall finally be recognised as an innocent man" once the entire legal process is completed.

Megrahi, now 55, was convicted by a trio of Scottish judges sitting in a special court in the Netherlands of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988 by means of a bomb smuggled on board in a suitcase. He was jailed for a total of 27 years.

Megrahi added there was little he could say to relatives of the victims that risked sounding "insensitive" but said that "their cause is in no way served by the incarceration of an innocent man."

The SCCRC led a three-year international probe starting in 2004, interviewing 45 witnesses -- including Megrahi and Libyan co-accused Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah who was cleared -- during inquiries in Britain, Malta, Libya and Italy.

In a statement summarizing the 800-page review which was not published, the panel said it had identified six grounds where it believed "a miscarriage of justice may have occurred."

It found there was no "reasonable basis" for the original trial court's finding that various items of clothing linked to the bomb suitcase were bought from a shop in Malta on December 7, 1988. Although it had been proved that Megrahi had been in Malta several times that month, evidence at the trial was that December 7 was the only date on which he would have been able to buy the items.

Mohammed al-Zwai, a Libyan official dealing with the Lockerbie issue and former ambassador to Britain and current Libyan ambassador to Morocco, said in a statement: "The decision opens the door of hope regarding the innocence of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi ... This decision will have good consequences."

"This legal decision will have some positive effects on relations between Libya and the European Union," al-Zwai, told AFP. "There will be more flexibility over all the dossiers on hold between the EU and Libya," added Zwai. said the Scottish panel's decision "opens the door of hope for an acquittal".

A previous appeal by Al-Megrahi, who is being held in a jail near Glasgow, western Scotland, was thrown out in 2002.

Jim Swire, a doctor who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing, said the decision opened a "new chapter" in the nearly 19-year search for the truth for the victims' families.

Swire told BBC radio: "I went into that court in Holland thinking I was going to see the trial of those who were responsible for the murder of my daughter.

"I came out thinking he had been framed. I'm very much afraid that we saw steps taken to ensure that a politically-desired result was obtained."

[A long profile of Jim and Jane Swire was published in The Herald on the same date.  It can be read here.]

Monday, 29 June 2015

Flawed trial and appeal proceedings

[What follows is the text of a statement released by Professor Hans Köchler on this date in 2007:]

Vienna, Austria, 29 June 2007/P/HK/20429

Dr Hans Köchler, President of the International Progress Organization (IPO) and Head of the Dept. of Philosophy at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, served from 5 May 2000 until 14 March 2002 as international observer at the Scottish Court in the Netherlands ("Lockerbie Court"). He had been nominated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations,  Mr Kofi Annan, on the basis of Security Council resolution 1192 (1998). Dr Köchler issued two comprehensive analytical reports after the Trial (3 February 2001) and after the Appeal (26 March 2002) respectively, which the International Progress Organization submitted to the United Nations.

In his reports, Dr Köchler was highly critical of the proceedings and questioned the fairness and impartiality of both the trial and appeal courts. In an interview for the BBC on 14 March 2002, he described the dismissal of the appeal as a "spectacular miscarriage of justice" (BBC News World Edition). At the time, the Scottish judicial establishment had tried to dismiss Dr Köchler's conclusion as a misunderstanding of the Scottish judicial system. The decision of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) to refer the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi back to the Scottish High Court of Justiciary has - after additional investigations lasting more than five years - confirmed Dr Köchler's original concerns. In particular, the SCCRC had doubted the credibility of one of the key witnesses, Maltese shop owner Tony Gauci, stating in its News Release of 28 June 2007 "that there is no reasonable basis in the trial court's judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items [clothes that were found in the wreckage of the plane] from Mary's House [in Malta] took place on 7 December 1988." Exactly this point had been stated in some detail by Dr Köchler in his appeal report of 26 March 2002 (!) (paras 10, 15 and 16).

However, in interviews conducted yesterday by representatives of the Scottish, British and German media, Dr Köchler expressed his surprise at the Commission's focus of review and apparent bias in favour of the judicial establishment: "In giving exoneration to the police, prosecutors, and forensic staff, I think they show their lack of independence. No officials to be blamed, simply a Maltese shopkeeper." (The Herald, Glasgow, 29 June 2007)
The decision, announced by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) on 28 June 2007, to refer Mr. Al Megrahi's case back to the High Court of Justiciary has been long overdue and has created the chance for a second legal evaluation by an Appeal Court of five Scottish judges.

It is to be hoped that, in view of the far-reaching political implications and international ramifications of the case, this time the judges will act in full independence and that the proceedings will meet the standards of fair trial under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. If this final chance to put things right and conduct criminal proceedings in a fair and fully transparent manner is missed, irreparable damage will be done to the rule of law in Scotland and to the principle of "devolution" of important areas of public administration from the United Kingdom level to that of Scotland.

The undersigned would like to restate the point he made in his appeal report in 2002, namely that the final arbiter of the fairness of Scottish criminal proceedings (after all means of review in the domestic context have been exhausted) is the European Court of Human Rights (Strasbourg) that exercises its jurisdiction on the basis of the European Human Rights Convention.

Regrettably, the SCCRC has not disclosed all its grounds of referral and, in its news release of 28 June, has basically concentrated on the dubious role of Maltese witness Tony Gauci - while at the same time engaging in a rather strange exercise of "preventive exoneration" of certain people belonging to the British and/or Scottish police and judicial system whose behaviour, as pointed out in the undersigned's reports and confirmed, in the meantime, in several affidavits, has been highly questionable and may have detrimentally affected the fairness of the proceedings (see IPO News Release of 14 October 2005). It is particularly difficult to comprehend why the SCCRC would take great pains to "absolve" Mr Megrahi's defense team during the trial and first appeal from any criticisms in regard to their performance in the interest of their client (Par. 4.1 of the News Release of the SCCRC). The lack of integrity of the defense was obvious to the undersigned during the two years he observed the proceedings at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands and was the object of a conversation of the undersigned with the appellant (Mr Megrahi), arranged, at the latter's request, by the Scottish Court Service at HM Prison Zeist.

In view of the flawed trial and appeal proceedings, now acknowledged, at least in part, by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, and for the sake of transparency, the report of the Commission should be made public in its entirety. The victims' families as well as the international public deserve to know the full truth about the reasons of referral of Mr Al Megrahi's case back to the High Court of Justiciary.

In conformity with the principle of transparency of the proceedings that was guiding United Nations Security Council resolution 1192 (1998) (operative para 6), the proceedings of the Scottish Appeal Court should again be witnessed by international observers.

The undersigned renews his call for a full and independent public inquiry of the Lockerbie case and its handling by the Scottish judiciary as well as the British and US political and intelligence establishments. In order to avoid bias, such an investigation will require the participation of additional legal experts, to be appointed by the United Nations Organization, from countries that are not involved in the Lockerbie dispute.

Those politicians in the United Kingdom and the United States who have proclaimed an international "war on terror" will not be credible in their strategy if they prevent a full investigation into the causes of the explosion of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. All those responsible, without exception,  must be brought to justice.

(signed) Dr Hans Köchler

Sunday, 28 June 2015

"No reasonable basis in the trial court's judgment for its conclusion"

[Eight years ago today the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi back to the High Court of Justiciary. At the time, the only information that came into the public domain was contained in the SCCRC’s press release. That information formed the basis of an article that I wrote a few days later. It reads as follows:]

On 28 June 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi’s conviction of the Lockerbie bombing back to the High Court of Justiciary for a further appeal. The case had been under consideration by the SCCRC since September 2003 and its statement of reasons (available only to Megrahi, to the Crown and to the High Court) extends to over 800 pages, accompanied by thirteen volumes of appendices. The Commission, in the published summary of its findings, rejected submissions on behalf of Megrahi to the effect that evidence led at the trial had been fabricated and that he had been inadequately represented by his then legal team, but went on to indicate that there were six grounds upon which it had concluded that a miscarriage of justice might have occurred. Strangely enough, however, only four of these grounds are enumerated in the summary. They are as follows:

“A number of the submissions made on behalf of the applicant challenged the reasonableness of the trial court's verdict, based on the legal test contained in section 106(3)(b) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. The Commission rejected the vast majority of those submissions. However, in examining one of the grounds, the Commission formed the view that there is no reasonable basis in the trial court's judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items from Mary's House, took place on 7 December 1988. Although it was proved that the applicant was in Malta on several occasions in December 1988, in terms of the evidence 7 December was the only date on which he would have had the opportunity to purchase the items. The finding as to the date of purchase was therefore important to the trial court's conclusion that the applicant was the purchaser. Likewise, the trial court's conclusion that the applicant was the purchaser was important to the verdict against him. Because of these factors the Commission has reached the view that the requirements of the legal test may be satisfied in the applicant's case.

“New evidence not heard at the trial concerned the date on which the Christmas lights were illuminated in thearea of Sliema in which Mary's House is situated. In the Commission's view,taken together with Mr Gauci's evidence at trial and the contents of his police statements, this additional evidence indicates that the purchase of the items took place prior to 6 December 1988. In other words, it indicates that the purchase took place at a time when there was no evidence at trial that the applicant was in Malta.

“Additional evidence, not made available to the defence, which indicates that four days prior to the identification parade at which Mr Gauci picked out the applicant, he saw a photograph of the applicant in a magazine article linking him to the bombing. In the Commission's view evidence of Mr Gauci's exposure to this photograph in such close proximity to the parade undermines the reliability of his identification of the applicant at that time and at the trial itself.

“Other evidence, not made available to the defence, which the Commission believes may further undermine Mr Gauci's identification of the applicant as the purchaser and the trial court's finding as to the date of purchase.”

The implications for the verdict of guilty
The reasons given by the Commission for finding that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in this case are not limited to the effect of new evidence which has become available since the date of the original trial and the non-disclosure by the police and prosecution of evidence helpful to the defence. The prima facie miscarriage of justice identified by the Commission includes the trial court’s finding in fact on the evidence heard at the trial that the clothes which surrounded the bomb were purchased in Malta on 7 December 1988 and that Megrahi was the purchaser. This was the very cornerstone of the Crown’s case against him.   If, as suggested by the Commission, that finding in fact had no reasonable basis in the evidence, then there is no legal justification whatsoever for his conviction by the trial court.

The implications for the Scottish criminal justice system
The present writer has always contended that no reasonable tribunal could have convicted Megrahi on the evidence led at the trial.   Here is just one example of the trial court’s idiosyncratic approach to the evidence. Many more could be provided.

A vitally important issue was the date on which the goods that surrounded the bomb were purchased in a shop in Malta. There were only two live possibilities: 7 December 1988, a date when Megrahi was proved to be on Malta and 23 November 1988 when he was not. In an attempt to establish just which of these dates was the correct one, the weather conditions in Sliema on these two days were explored. The shopkeeper’s evidence was that when the purchaser left his shop it was raining so heavily that his customer thought it advisable to buy an umbrella to protect himself while he went in search of a taxi. The unchallenged meteorological evidence led by the defence established that while it had rained on 23 November at the relevant time, it was unlikely that it had rained at all on 7 December; and if there had been any rain, it would have been at most a few drops, insufficient to wet the ground.  On this material, the judges found in fact that the clothes were purchased on 7 December.

On evidence as weak as this how was it possible for the trial court to find him guilty? And how was it possible for the Criminal Appeal Court to fail to overturn that conviction?   The Criminal Appeal Court dismissed Megrahi’s appeal on the most technical of technical legal grounds: it did not consider the justifiability of the trial court’s factual findings at all (though it is clear from their interventions during the Crown submissions in the appeal that at least some of the judges were only too well aware of how shaky certain crucial findings were and how contrary to the weight of the evidence).

It is submitted that at least part of the answer lies in the history of the Scottish legal and judicial system. For centuries judges have accorded a specially privileged status to the Lord Advocate.   It has been unquestioningly accepted that, though a political appointee and the government’s (now the Scottish Executive’s) chief legal adviser, he (now, of course, she) would at all times, in his capacity as head of the prosecution system, act independently and without concern for political considerations and would always place the public interest in a fair trial above the narrow interest of the prosecution in gaining a conviction. This judicial vision of the role of the Lord Advocate was reinforced by the fact that, until the Scottish Judicial Appointments Board commenced operations in 2002, all Scottish High Court judges (and sheriffs) were nominated for appointment to the Bench by the Lord Advocate of the day. This meant that, in all criminal proceedings, the presiding judge owed his position to the person (or one of his predecessors in office) who was ultimately responsible for bringing the case before him, and for its conduct while in his court.

The behaviour of the Crown in the Lockerbie trial was certainly not beyond criticism -- indeed casts grave doubt on the extent to which the Lord Advocate and Crown Office staff can be relied on always to place the interest of securing a fair trial for the accused above any perceived institutional imperative to obtain a conviction. To illustrate this in the context of the Lockerbie trial it is enough to refer to the saga of CIA cables relating to the star Crown witness, Abdul Majid Giaka, who had been a long-standing CIA asset in Libya and, by the time of the trial, was living in the United States under a witness protection programme.

Giaka’s evidence was ultimately found by the court to be utterly unworthy of belief.  This was largely due to the devastating effectiveness of the cross-examination by defence counsel. Their ability to destroy completely the credibility of the witness stemmed from the contents of cables in which his CIA handlers communicated to headquarters the information that Giaka had provided to them in the course of their secret meetings. Discrepancies between Giaka's evidence-in-chief to the Advocate Depute and the contents of these contemporaneous cables enabled the defence to mount a formidable challenge to the truthfulness and accuracy, or credibility and reliability, of Giaka's testimony.  Had the information contained in these cables not been available to them, the task of attempting to demonstrate to the court that Giaka was an incredible or unreliable witness would have been immensely more difficult and perhaps impossible.

Yet the Crown strove valiantly to prevent the defence obtaining access to these cables.

At the trial, on 22 August 2000, when he was seeking to persuade the Court to deny the defence access to those cables in their unedited or uncensored form, the then Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC,   stated that the members of the prosecution team who were given access to the uncensored CIA cables on 1 June 2000 were fully aware of the obligation incumbent upon them as prosecutors to make available to the defence material relevant to the defence of the accused and, to that end, approached the contents of those cables with certain considerations in mind.

Mr Boyd said: "First of all, they considered whether or not there was any information behind the redactions which would undermine the Crown case in any way. Secondly, they considered whether there was anything which would appear to reflect on the credibility of Mr Majid… On all of these matters, the learned Advocate Depute reached the conclusion that there was nothing within the cables which bore on the defence case, either by undermining the Crown case or by advancing a positive case which was being made or may be made, having regard to the special defence... I emphasise that the redactions have been made on the basis of what is in the interests of the security of a friendly power... Crown counsel was satisfied that there was nothing within the documents which bore upon the defence case in any way."

One of the judges, Lord Coulsfield, then intervened: "Does that include, Lord Advocate ... that Crown counsel, having considered the documents, can say to the Court that there is nothing concealed which could possibly bear on the credibility of this witness?"

The Lord Advocate replied: "Well, I'm just checking with the counsel who made that -- there is nothing within the -- -- there is nothing within these documents which relates to Lockerbie or the bombing of Pan Am 103 which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Mr Majid on these matters."

Notwithstanding the opposition of the Lord Advocate, the court ordered the unedited cables to be made available to the defence, who went on to use their contents to such devastating effect in questioning Giaka that the court held that his evidence had to be disregarded in its entirety. Yet, strangely enough, the judges did not see fit publicly to censure the Crown for its inaccurate assurances that the cables contained nothing that could assist the defence.

Beyond the Lockerbie trial, the failure of the Crown to place the public interest in a fair trial above the interest of the prosecution in obtaining convictions is illustrated by the extent to which the Lord Advocate has recently had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, through the Privy Council in London before making available to the defence material in the prosecution’s possession that no-one could conceivably deny was of relevance and assistance in the accused person’s defence: see Holland v HMA 2005 SCCR 417;   Sinclair v HMA 2005 SCCR 446. So much for the fairness of the trial being the Crown’s primary and predominant motivation!

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (I Corinthians xiii. 11) It is high time for all involved in the Scottish criminal justice system to put away childish things. All of us, judges included, are surely too old to believe any longer in fairy tales. Fairy tales can be convenient and comforting and can bolster our self esteem. But, as in the case of the belief that the Crown can uniformly be relied upon always to act selflessly in the public interest, they can be dangerous and, if acted upon, work terrible injustice.

It is submitted that the Lockerbie case demonstrates just how necessary it is, if public confidence is to be maintained, for the Scottish Executive to institute a high-powered, independent, investigation into all three aspects -- investigation, prosecution and adjudication -- of the Scottish criminal justice system.

[The full text of the SCCRC’s 2007 Statement of Reasons is now in the public domain. It can be read here.]

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Legal expert wants investigation into Crown's actions on disclosure

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

A law expert has called for an investigation into a "culture of unwillingness" at the Crown Office amid concerns over the case of David Gilroy, convicted of murdering his former lover despite no body being found.

Professor Robert Black, QC, one of the architects of the Lockerbie trial, said potential disclosure issues in high profile cases are a public concern and families and legal teams should not have to launch lengthy and costly court actions to access information that could be relevant to their case.

The family of Gilroy, three years into an 18-year life sentence for the murder of his Edinburgh bookkeeper colleague Suzanne Pilley, who was 38, are trying to clear the 52-year-old who was convicted without witness or forensic evidence five years ago.

They are challenging the Crown Office over the disclosure of information including CCTV footage from various locations which they say would give answers that would either prove or disprove their case.

In 2012 a damning SCCRC dossier over the handling of evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial found the Crown failed to disclose seven key items of evidence and that had such information been shared with the defence, the result of the trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi could have been different.

Mr Black, who prepared a live case for the commission for relatives of victims, said it was of concern the Gilroy case raised issues of disclosure practices and non-disclosure of evidence.

He said: "These are two of the items founded upon in the current Megrahi application and indeed were among the grounds of referral accepted by the SCCRC in its 2007 report on the Megrahi case.

"A serious question that arises and needs to be investigated is whether there was, and whether there still is, within the Crown Office a culture of unwillingness to comply with their duty of disclosure to the defence.

"This is not a matter that should be left to be raised in individual cases but should be addressed more generally, perhaps in the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament."

The circumstantial case was enough to convince the majority of a jury that an early morning encounter between the two had ended in married father-of-two Gilroy throttling the woman who spurned him in a jealous rage.

Prosecutors argued that he concealed her body in the basement of the offices where they worked and then the boot of his car before disposing of her remains next day somewhere in the Argyll forest.

Advocate Depute Alex Prentice QC said during his trial that when the individual strands of evidence presented were bound together they formed a cable and the strength of the case.

The Gilroy family have taken their case public because they believe so far the Scottish justice system has let them down.

His case is currently being examined by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission which could lead to a new appeal being heard.

Details of the SCCRC case are confidential, but the Gilroy family have echoed broad concerns over the disclosure of evidence.

A Crown Office spokesman said that "Gilroy was sentenced to life imprisonment having been found guilty by a jury after trial".

"The Crown has a duty of disclosure throughout proceedings, which was fulfilled."

A spokesman for Police Scotland said officers could not comment as the case is subject to SCCRC review.

In Lockerbie case, three of the undisclosed documents related to payments of around $3 million (£1.9m) made by the US Justice Department to Paul and Tony Gauci - key witnesses in the Crown's case who claimed Megrahi bought clothes in his Malta shop, which were later found to be in the suitcase that contained the bomb which killed 270 in December 1988.

Flight from the truth

[This is the headline over an article by John Ashton and Ian Ferguson that was published in The Guardian on this date in 2001.  It reads in part:]

There are two versions of the Lockerbie story. One - told at the trial - is neat, clearcut and, ultimately, reassuring. The other, which we believe is the true story, is far less comfortable. In the official version it was bad guys against good: Muammar Gadafy and his recently convicted henchman Abdel Baset al-Megrahi versus the heroic international investigation led by the tiny Dumfries and Galloway police force. It ends with the triumph of justice over terror. In the alternative version the heroics of the cops are obscured by dirty politics. It ends with a dreadful miscarriage of justice.

The conviction of Megrahi (his co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifah Fhimah, was acquitted) supposedly proved the official version and drew a line under the Lockerbie saga. But the case will not go away: Megrahi is planning an appeal and the relatives of the British passengers are determined to hold the Labour government to their promise, made in opposition, of an independent inquiry. If the relatives get their way, a huge can of worms will be opened for, (...) almost from the night the plane went down, vital evidence was suppressed.

In the official version, of course, nothing of the kind happened. It posits that on December 21 1988 Megrahi placed a bomb in a suitcase, which was loaded, unaccompanied, on to a flight from Malta to Frankfurt, where it was transferred to Pan Am flight 103. It exploded over Lockerbie just after 7pm that night, killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground. The bomb was built into a Toshiba radio-cassette player and fitted with a distinctive timing device supplied to the Libyan intelligence service by a Swiss company, Mebo. The firm's Zurich offices were shared in 1988 with the Libyan company ABH, with which Megrahi was closely involved. He was also alleged to have bought the clothes in the bomb suitcase from the Mary's House shop in Malta on December 7 1988.

During the eight-month trial the prosecution could offer no direct evidence of the bomb being loaded in Malta, and their star witnesses, Abdul Majid Giaka - a former colleague of the two accused - was exposed as a money-motivated fantasist. The court heard that Mebo sold identical timers to the East German Stasi (which armed Middle East terrorist groups), and the evidence of the Mary's House shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, suggested that the man who bought the clothes was considerably older and taller than Megrahi, and that the purchase occurred two weeks earlier, when, it is believed, Megrahi had an alibi. The fact that the judges refused to be swayed by the clouds of doubt hanging over the prosecution case left many observers staggered.

In the alternative version, the real culprits lay not in Libya, but in Iran, Syria and Lebanon. It begins in July 1988, when a US warship accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people. The CIA later revealed that, within days, Iran hired the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) to avenge the incident. The group had close ties to the Lebanese Islamic radicals Hizbullah and in the early 1970s specialised in bombing airliners. Its favoured method was to plant carefully disguised bombs on innocent dupes.

The group's leader, Ahmed Jibril, dispatched his right-hand man, Hafez Dalkamoni, and a bomb-maker, Marwan Khreesat, to West Germany, where Khreesat manufactured at least five barometric bombs designed to blow up aircraft, two - possibly more - of which were built into Toshiba radio-cassette players. Six weeks before Lockerbie, police raided the PFLP-GC gang and found one of the Toshiba bombs. In the official version this put an end to the revenge mission, but there is every reason to doubt this. The PFLP-GC may not have relied solely on Khreesat to make bombs and, in any case, at least four of his devices were unaccounted for. Three were recovered four months after Lockerbie, but the second Toshiba was never found.

Five weeks after the raid, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) warned of the continuing threat of an Iranian reprisal and noted that Middle Eastern terrorist groups active in Germany had the infrastructure to conduct bombings. At around the same time, the US state department circulated a specific warning that radical Palestinians were planning to attack a Pan Am target in Europe.

Three months after the bombing, the transport minister Paul Channon told lobby journalists that the culprits had been identified and charges were imminent. Everyone knew he meant the PFLP-GC. The months passed and nothing happened. A White House leak later revealed that Margaret Thatcher and George Bush had agreed to downplay the investigation for fear of endangering hostages in Lebanon - almost all held by Syrian and Iranian proxy groups. Following the Gulf war, in which Syria became a crucial western ally, the PFLP-GC and their Syrian and Iranian sponsors were officially exonerated, and the blame was shifted to Libya.

The alternative version becomes murkier still when it comes to how Jibril's men got the bomb on to flight 103. Two PFLP-GC insiders and many western intelligence sources claim it was planted in the luggage of Khalid Jaafar, a Lebanese-American mule in a heroin trafficking operation. The whistle-blowing spooks say elements within the CIA were allowing Middle Eastern dealers to ship drugs to America in return for help in locating and releasing US hostages. In allowing the suitcases containing heroin to bypass security procedures, the CIA handed the dealers' terrorist associates a failsafe means of getting the bomb on the plane.

Among the Lockerbie victims was a party of US intelligence specialists, led by Major Charles McKee of the DIA, returning from an aborted hostage-rescue mission in Lebanon. A variety of sources have claimed that McKee, who was fiercely anti-drugs, got wind of the CIA's deals and was returning to Washington to blow the whistle. A few months after Lockerbie, reports emerged from Lebanon that McKee's travel plans had been leaked to the bombers. The implication was that Flight 103 was targeted, in part, because he was on board.

As with the official version, there is no proof of this scenario, but there is a chain of circumstantial evidence. Much of it comes from the army of police officers and volunteers who scoured the vast crash site in the weeks after the bombing. And much of it was either not revealed at the recent trial or, worse, covered up.

One such item was a T-shirt found in Kielder forest, Northumberland, by David Clark, who was later told by police that it was potentially important evidence because it bore the insignia of Hizbullah. The T-shirt has never been officially acknowledged or explained. At least four large quantities of US dollars were also found. No one knows who was carrying the cash, but it has been speculated that McKee's team would have had large amounts to pay Lebanese informants. When the Labour MP Tam Dalyell asked about the cash finds in 1995, the Scottish Office minister, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, replied that nothing other than "what might ordinarily be regarded as personal money" was found.

Also denied was the existence of two large quantities of what appeared to be heroin: one found on Lockerbie golf course and the other in a suitcase discovered by a farmer a couple of miles to the east. The Rev John Mosey, whose 19-year-old daughter Helga died in the bombing, learned about the latter find and assumed the farmer would be questioned at the Lockerbie fatal accident inquiry held in October 1990. But the farmer did not appear, and police witnesses denied that any drugs were found. Mosey raised the issue with a senior police officer, who told him that the farmer would be interviewed. To the best of Mosey's knowledge, this never happened. In 1992 Dalyell wrote to the Scottish lord advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, about the drugs. In his reply, Lord Fraser stated that none had been found, save for a small quantity of cannabis.

Who engineered the cover-up? Almost certainly not anyone in Britain. Police officers and volunteer searchers have spoken of American agents removing items from the crash site. A proper inquiry into these issues could reveal a picture that governments on both sides of the Atlantic dare not face, but without it the echoes of the Lockerbie bomb will be ringing for a long time to come.