Tuesday, 6 October 2015

FBI offered me $4m: Lockerbie bomb witness

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

A witness in the Lockerbie case has claimed he was offered $4 million (£2 million) by American investigators to lie to the trial judges.

Edwin Bollier, head of the Swiss company MEBO that was said to have manufactured the timer used to detonate the Pan Am bomb, claims he was offered the money by the FBI at its Washington HQ in exchange for making a statement that supported the main line of inquiry - that Libya was responsible for the bombing.

He has told Dr Hans Koechler, who was a UN observer during the trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi in the Netherlands, that he was offered a "new life" in the United States if he testified that the timer found in the plane wreckage had been supplied to Libya.

"I rejected this and said this could not possibly be the case," he said. He added that there was a "loud dispute" after he rejected the offer.

The claim follows news that the Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, whose evidence led to Megrahi's conviction, was offered $2 million by the CIA.

[2. On this date in 2012 a letter from the late Jock Thomson QC headed Career prosecutors as law officers have destroyed criminal justice system was published in The Herald. It reads in part:]

History will show that the genesis of the destruction of our criminal justice system was the appointment of career prosecutors as law officers: beginning with (now) Dame Elish Angiolini QC as Solicitor General and continuing with a succession of senior members of Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) since who have become and will remain Lord Advocate and Solicitor General for the foreseeable future.

This has led to the unholy, unhealthy alliance of law officers and law makers: Kenny MacAskill and Frank Mulholland, in the same bed. There is no separation of powers. Constitutionally the system now is morally and mortally flawed.

The fall-out from Cadder led to the knee-jerk Cadder Reforms. Ms Angiolini's furore about lack of convictions in rape cases, many of which should never have been raised in the first place, led Mr MacAskill to appoint Lord Carloway to consider whether the law should be amended to abolish the need for corroboration. The current Lord Advocate wants to do away with the accused's right to silence and the logical follow-on from that will be to make the accused a compellable witness. Will the next inexorable draconian step be the replacement of the presumption of innocence with that of a presumption of guilt? It's beginning to look that way. And by that time there may be little or no Criminal Legal Aid.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Angiolini succeeds Boyd as Lord Advocate

[On this date in 2006 the Scottish Parliament approved the nomination of Elish Angiolini as Lord Advocate, in succession to Lord Boyd of Duncansby QC (Colin Boyd). What follows is excerpted from a report on the BBC News website:]

MSPs have approved the appointment of Elish Angiolini as Scotland's first female lord advocate.

Ms Angiolini was nominated as Scotland's new senior law officer by First Minister Jack McConnell after Colin Boyd's sudden resignation.

Her nomination was broadly welcomed by MSPs at Holyrood but the Scottish Conservatives raised concerns about judicial independence. (...)

Scottish National Party Holyrood group leader Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the appointment but questioned the post's dual role.

Tory Leader Annabel Goldie also voiced "real concerns" about the chief legal adviser to the Scottish Cabinet being the country's leading prosecutor.

She said: "There is a real and visible conflict of interest."

Ms Goldie proposed a commission to examine the "proper separation of powers, responsibilities and duties" in relation to the post.

The Scottish Tory leader also questioned whether Ms Angiolini had the "breadth of legal experience" for the job and said she opposed John Beckett QC as the new solicitor general, because he was a Labour member. (...)

She [Ms Angiolini] said her appointment [in 2001] as the first female solicitor general had been "a huge leap of faith".

"It has been a privilege over the past five years to serve along with Colin Boyd as lord advocate," she said."He is a man of great integrity and has been a quiet revolutionary in setting about the way in which the prosecution has gone about its business.

"It has transformed over the past five years but that transformation is something which is a work in progress."

Announcing his intention at a press conference in Edinburgh, Mr McConnell praised Ms Angiolini's performance as solicitor general.

"Five years on, I have no doubt whatever that the appointment of Elish Angiolini as solicitor general is one of the best decisions I have made as first minister of Scotland," he said.

"Our prosecution services today are admired, not ridiculed.

"Victims and witnesses see justice implemented in the system, not delays or chaos."

[On the occasion of the appointment of Ms Angiolini’s successor, Frank Mulholland, in 2011, I wrote the following:]

This appointment is not unexpected, but it is to be regretted. Virtually the whole of Frank Mulholland's career has been spent as a Crown Office civil servant. This is not, in my view, the right background for the incumbent of the office of Lord Advocate, one of whose functions has traditionally been to bring an outsider's perspective to the operations and policy-making of the department. Sir Humphrey Appleby was an outstanding civil servant of a particular kind, but his role was an entirely different one from that of Jim Hacker and no-one would have regarded it as appropriate that he should be translated from Permanent Secretary of the Department of Administrative Affairs to Minister (or, indeed, from Secretary of the Cabinet to Prime Minister).

The appointment by the previous Labour administration in Scotland of Elish Angiolini as Solicitor General and then as Lord Advocate was a mistake, both constitutionally and practically, as was her retention as Lord Advocate by the SNP minority government (though the political reasons for her re-appointment were understandable). It is sad that the new majority SNP Government has not taken the opportunity to return to the wholly desirable convention of appointing an advocate or solicitor from private practice to fill the office of Lord Advocate. The much-needed casting of a beady eye over the operations of the Crown Office is not to be expected from this appointee. This is deeply regrettable since such scrutiny is long overdue.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

'Linking Megrahi to a new Lockerbie bombing suspect won't work ... he was innocent and his conviction is a stain on Scottish justice'

[This is the headline over an article by John Ashton published in today’s edition of the Sunday Herald. It reads as follows:]

Fifteen years ago, three Scottish law lords found Abdelbaset al-Megrahi guilty of the Lockerbie bombing. For many observers, including the majority of the relatives of the attack’s 270 victims, it was an unsatisfactory verdict. Megrahi’s co-accused, Lamin Fhimah, had been acquitted and there seemed little prospect of Megrahi’s alleged Libyan superiors being brought to trial.
For others, myself included, it was unsatisfactory for another reason –– the case against Megrahi was simply not credible. It relied on the claim that he had bought the clothes that were packed into the bomb suitcase from a shop in Malta. The shopkeeper consistently described a clothes buyer who looked nothing like Megrahi, and the evidence suggested that the purchase took place when he was not on the island.
In 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case back to the appeal court on no fewer than six grounds, among them that the trial court’s judgment was unreasonable. The terminally ill Megrahi abandoned the appeal two years later in order to aid his application for compassionate release, but the prosecution’s narrative has been on a life-support machine ever since.
Now it has been breathed new life by a three-part documentary for the US Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline series. Trailed by a lengthy article in The New Yorker, the film suggests that Megrahi was, after all, involved in the bombing as an accomplice to a man called Abu Agila Mas’ud. I was a paid consultant during the early stages of the film’s production, but I disagree with its conclusions.
It reveals that Mas’ud was named by a German judge as the technician responsible for the bomb that destroyed the La Belle nightclub in Berlin two-and-a-half-years before Lockerbie, killing three people, including two American servicemen. That attack prompted US air raids on Libya ten days later, for which Lockerbie was supposedly revenge.
Megrahi was on the same flight as Mas’ud on at least three occasions prior to Lockerbie, including on the morning of the bombing when they flew from Malta to Libya. It was in Malta that Megrahi was alleged to have put the bomb onto an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, which was supposedly transferred to a feeder flight to Heathrow and again at Heathrow to Pan Am 103. Megrahi and numerous other Libyan witnesses denied knowing Mas’ud, but the film suggests that Mas'ud was in the car that greeted Megrahi on his return to Libya. Earlier this year a Libyan court convicted Mas’ud of making booby-trapped car bombs during the country’s 2011 revolution.
So far, so convincing. Clearly there is a prima facie case against Mas’ud, just as there was against Megrahi. Now that his whereabouts are known, we must hope that he can be brought to trial and the new evidence tested in a Scottish court.
However, if that happens, the prosecution will face far greater difficulties than they did in trying Megrahi. The first is the lack of proof of Mas’ud’s involvement in the La Belle bombing. The main witness to implicate him, Libyan Musbah Eter, who was himself convicted of the bombing, was an extremely tricky customer. A 1998 German TV investigation revealed him to be an asset of the US Central Intelligence Agency — a crucial detail in light of the fact that, at the time of La Belle, the CIA was running a massive covert campaign against Libya in which disinformation was central.
Eter has reportedly now implicated both Mas’ud and Megrahi in the Lockerbie bombing and claims to have heard Mas’ud speak of travelling to Malta to prepare for the attack. It’s easy to imagine what a defence advocate would do with him in cross-examination. “Why did you wait 20 years before volunteering this information Mr Eter?” would be the obvious opening question.
The La Belle prosecution also relied on information held in the archives of the former East German security service, the Stasi. While these files showed that some of the Stasi's Arab informants corroborated Eter's account, they also revealed that non-Libyan terrorists were involved in the plot, some of whom were also believed to be connected to the CIA. One of them even claimed to the German TV producers that he had a relationship with the CIA’s close ally, the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.
The US government claimed that intercepted messages sent to and from Libya's East Berlin Embassy around the time of the bombing proved Libyan involvement. However, former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky claimed in his 1994 memoir The Other Side of Deception that the intercepted messages had in fact been broadcast by an undercover Mossad team in Libya. Mossad never denied the claim, but the German prosecutor responsible for the La Belle case never interviewed Ostrovsky.
Proving the Lockerbie bomb came from Malta would present the Crown with an even bigger problem. The claim relies on documentary evidence from Frankfurt airport that appeared to show that a rogue bag had been transferred from an incoming Air Malta flight to the feeder flight to Heathrow. Megrahi’s prosecutors claimed the bag was further transferred at Heathrow to PA103, but there is no proof that it was. Furthermore, the trial heard that Air Malta employed unusually strict baggage procedures that required the head loader to physically count the hold luggage to ensure the total matched the number checked in. Documents from the flight to Frankfurt on to which the Libyans supposedly smuggled the bomb, showed that the number tallied with the number of legitimate check-in bags. More worryingly for the Crown, since Megrahi's trial a meticulous investigation by Scottish researcher Dr Morag Kerr has effectively proved that the bomb originated from Heathrow.
The forensic case against Libya is also in tatters. Central to it was a fragment of circuit board, allegedly from the bomb's timer, which was said at trial to match circuit boards used in timers supplied to Libya. Evidence uncovered shortly before Megrahi's return to Libya in 2009 showed that it did not in fact match — there was a crucial metallurgical difference that ruled out the fragment originating from one of the Libyan timers.
The dire security situation in Libya would probably make it impossible for prosecutors to gather evidence there. Even if the county was stable, it would likely be a fruitless mission, as nothing has emerged publicly to suggest that Libya was behind the bombing. At the start of the revolution in 2011 the former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that he had proof that Colonel Gaddafi was behind the bombing, but the best he could offer by way of evidence was the fact that the government had funded Megrahi's legal case. He later claimed that Expressen had misquoted him.
The most persuasive aspect of Frontline's case against Mas’ud is the denial by Megrahi and other Libyans of his existence. Clearly they calculated that it would be damaging to Megrahi and Fhimah's prospects if they were to be linked to a man named as a bomb-maker in the indictment against those accused of the La Belle bombing. However, lies do not prove guilt. In fear-governed societies like Gaddafi's Libya they are the lingua franca.
If Mas’ud received a fair trial for the Lockerbie bombing on the basis of Frontline's evidence, then he could not be convicted. However, in view of Megrahi's experience, that's a big ‘if’, because, as we now know, vital exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defence and the court was misled on a number of key points. The scandal has been worsened by the Scottish government's refusal to order an inquiry in to the Crown's conduct. The refusal prompted the Justice for Megrahi campaign group to make formal allegations of criminal misconduct against various Crown officials. No sooner had the allegations been made, than the Crown Office issued a statement declaring them to be “defamatory and entirely unfounded”. Unfortunately for the Crown Office, Police Scotland took them very seriously. Proving criminal intent will be a tall order, but the fact that a major investigation, known as Operation Sandwood, has been running for over 18 months seems to run contrary to claims that the allegations are baseless.
The fear is that the Frontline film’s claims will provide the Crown Office with a smokescreen, from behind which it can brief that Megrahi was guilty all along and that its failures were therefore immaterial. They were anything but and, until it is held to account for them, they will remain a terrible stain on Scottish justice.

Colin Boyd resigns as Lord Advocate

[On this date in 2006, Lord Boyd of Duncansby QC (Colin Boyd) resigned as Lord Advocate, an office he had held since 24 February 2000, some seven weeks before the Lockerbie trial started at Camp Zeist. An article by Steven Raeburn headed A private life was published some time later on the website of Scottish lawyers’ magazine The Firm. It reads as follows:]

There are many polarising figures in the Scottish legal profession. Take Donald Findlay for instance – many adore him while others dislike everything he stands for. Former Lord Advocate Colin Boyd is another such figure. some consider his time as Lord Advocate as one of great leadership while others think quite the opposite. Steven Raeburn speaks to Boyd to talk about his time in charge and his return to private practice.
You could almost be forgiven for believing Colin Boyd had retired. Or emigrated. Or died. Such is the contrast in his public profile since stepping down as Lord Advocate in 2006, after a six year tenure that saw him dodging bullets on an almost daily basis, as the twin firestorms of the Lockerbie debacle and the Shirley McKie fingerprints fiasco unfolded in the glare of the public arena. His stint in the Lord Advocate’s role had been the longest in modern times, and instead of stepping down and onto the bench, suitably bewigged as a High Court judge – the traditional destination of retiring senior law officers – Boyd instead went into private practice as a solicitor with Scotland’s largest firm, Dundas and Wilson.
Such was the character of Boyd’s time as Lord Advocate that both the timing of his departure and his destination were themselves subject to criticism and accusation. Nowadays, away from the public gaze he can be found shepherding conferences on his preferred area of practice, public law, or quietly ensconced in his Edinburgh office. As the first former Lord Advocate to make this transition – precisely reversing the path of his successor into the role – how is he adjusting to ordinary life behind a desk?
“There are two shifts,” he says. “One is from being a law officer, Lord Advocate, and then from being an advocate to being a solicitor. Occasionally I think “What is happening”, and I used to enjoy some of the perks that went with the job. But I don’t miss being Lord Advocate.”
Unless you are a masochist with a particular love of front page criticism, it is easy to see his point. Six years in the role had given him ownership and responsibility for some of the most significant state legal decisions that any incumbent is likely to see, with the ripple effect still likely to be felt for years to come.
“I had done long enough as Lord Advocate. I would have gone earlier had it not been for certain events, and it was time for me to move on and change.”
“Certain events” is an interesting euphemism for the cumulative stains on Scottish justice left by events such as the outcome of the Surjit Singh Chokhar trial – following which two independent reports identified failings in the way the case was handled by the police and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service; the Lockerbie trial, returned to the High Court after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission adjudged that a miscarriage of justice may have taken place; and the Shirley McKie crisis, which questioned not only the efficacy of the Scottish Criminal Records Office, but the integrity of the police and the entire Crown Office administration of justice, that seemed unable to admit the possibility of a mistake, whilst failing to bring in a solid conviction in the murder of Marion Ross. The disturbing links between the evidential processes in both cases raised deeper, more disturbing questions about accountability and decision making in the heart of the Scottish Justice system. Boyd was not in office at the genesis of these events, but was responsible for many of the key decisions and most of the execution as they unfolded.
Less noticed during his six years were the introduction of the Sexual Offences (Procedure and Evidence) Act 2002, which aimed to minimise the distress caused to victims of rape testifying against their attackers, and the Bonomy reforms to the High Court, which have largely been welcomed as their effects have filtered through the judicial process. The reforms to the administration of justice appear to be the aspects of his tenure he is most keen to reflect upon.
“When I took over in 2000, I was faced almost immediately with the Lockerbie trial, and that really consumed my first year or so as Lord Advocate,” he says.
“Thereafter, there was a clear need to set about restructuring and modernising the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. That took a period of time. Once we embarked, we saw it is an on going process. There will never be a time when you can sit back and say it is fixed.”
Notwithstanding the scale of progress achieved in this area, Boyd nevertheless raised a few eyebrows by choosing to enter private practice, rather than the traditional route to the bench at the expiry of his term. The move was perceived by some as an attempt to find a safe harbour while the twin storms of Lockerbie and McKie blew. Boyd acknowledges that the level of press interest was a prominent factor at this time.
“I was the longest serving Lord Advocate for over 100 years. The workload for the Lord Advocate had gone up markedly, and the degree of scrutiny to which I was subject had increased very considerably.”
“I didn’t want to become a judge at this stage, and I didn’t want to go back to the bar and start a practice again. It seemed to me to be a good move to revert to being what I started out in professional life, a solicitor.”
Boyd’s careful modifier suggests that a place on the bench may be an ambition of his that has been merely postponed, rather than cancelled, and it seems likely that a place amongst the elite of the High Court remains his most likely final berth.
“I have never ruled out being a judge as an option. For a variety of reasons – some of them personal and some of them to do with my public profile when I went – I didn’t think it was the right thing for me to do at this stage. [RB: Boyd’s appointment as a judge of the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary was announced on 1 June 2012.]
“The days when a Lord Advocate could appoint himself as a judge have gone, so I would have had to apply to the Judicial Appointments Board. One of the inhibiting features of that is that, with the best will in the word, it might have got out that I had made an application whilst Lord Advocate, and that might have undermined my position as Lord Advocate. I didn’t think that that would be good. I have no plans to make an application at the moment, and I am fully committed to Dundas and Wilson. I would never rule it out as a possible option for the future.”
Whatever his future plans, it is likely that Colin Boyd will never escape the three pronged shadows of Lockerbie, McKie and Chokhar which are likely to form his legacy, despite his body of achievement and efforts at reform. His successor, Elish Angiolini has firmly established herself as a Lord Advocate of considerable reach and power, although it is too early in her tenure to draw conclusions on her overall impact. In retrospect, Boyd remains positive about his time in the role.
“I do take some pride in the achievements of the restructuring and reforms that we have made, and I came to a point that I thought it was time now that somebody else took up the challenge.”
As others see him
Colin’s wealth of experience and his reputation for innovation were of huge appeal to Dundas & Wilson. His background in planning law and expertise in constitutional law have proved to be an excellent fit with what we were already doing with the public law initiative, and allowed us to pool a wide range of knowledge into a specialist public law practice, capable of tackling very complex, cross-disciplinary infrastructure projects. To move from the Bar into private practice was seen by some as an unexpected change of direction, but it makes perfect sense for D&W and our clients, as well as providing a new challenge for Colin’s considerable talents. Mike McAuley, Chairman of Dundas & Wilson
I always liked him, though. He seemed consistently courteous and reasonable. He was so softly spoken and self-effacing that when he was Solicitor General and we met at some Law Society do, I thought he said he was with the Solicitors Journal. I said, "Solicitors Journal?" and he said, "Solicitor-General" apologetically, as though it was his fault I hadn’t heard him, and not my fault for failing to recognise a senior law officer. This form of modesty is rare at the bar and endearing. Anonymous
Colin Boyd tried to balance what was known to his prosecution team of the famous ‘CIA telegrams’ in the court at Zeist, in the knowledge that the ‘star’ prosecution witness (Giaca) was also a worthless CIA quizzling. His struggles to meet his clear duty to truth and justice and fair dealing with the court and the defence, made a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ look cool and sagacious. Meantime his predecessor in office had made the wise choice of lolloping off to the safety of a secure burrow in the nick of time. Dr Jim Swire
Colin Boyd is a lawyer of the greatest intellect, ability and integrity. He is a man of principle. Despite his understated and modest demeanour he really is a very radical lawyer, a moderniser with a challenging vision for the future of the legal system and for the profession in Scotland. Elish Angiolini, Lord Advocate
As far as Scotland is concerned, he might as well have had a Union Jack shell suit and bowler hat. When it came to the Skye Bridge, he maintained a false line by saying the tolling licence had been examined and found to be in order. It wasn’t found to be in order. He took us absolutely nowhere and didn’t penetrate my consciousness in any positive way. Robbie The Pict
Colin Boyd took a thoughtful approach to every part of his work, always seeking to uphold the fundamental principles of Scottish Justice while being prepared to promote radical changes to improve the day to day operation of the system. Colin was not one for self promotion, and his quiet manner sometimes hid a keen sense of humour. I am glad that I had the opportunity to work with him. Cathy Jamieson, Former Justice Minister
I believe that history will view Colin Boyd’s reign as Lord Advocate as a shameful period where the independence of the Lord Advocate was sacrificed to the will of his political masters.
Two cases dominated his tenure – the Lockerbie Bombing and the Shirley McKie case. In both cases he stands accused of weakness and vacillation in the face of political pressure and a complete failure to act as, ‘the watchdog for justice’ – the role assigned to him by Lord McCluskey.
His dramatic overnight resignation in October 2006 has been seen by some as the captain jumping ship to save his skin. I hope that this accusation will be thoroughly tested during the planned judicial enquiry into my daughter’s case and in any future enquiry into the Lockerbie disaster. Iain A J McKie

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Non-disclosure by Crown at Lockerbie trial

[On this date in 2007 The Herald published a report headlined Revealed: CIA offered $2m to Lockerbie witness and brother. It reads as follows:]

The CIA offered $2m (£1m) to the Crown's key witness in the Lockerbie trial and his brother, sources close to the case have told The Herald.

Recently discovered papers show Scottish police officers investigating the 1988 bombing were aware the US intelligence service had discussed financial terms and witness protection schemes with Tony Gauci and his brother, Paul.

They documented the talks and it would have been standard practice for such information to have been relayed to the prosecution team before the trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Libyan serving 27 years for the bombing.

However, his defence team was never told of the CIA offer, in what critics say is another example of non-disclosure that undermines the credibility of Mr Gauci and, in turn, the Crown's case against Megrahi.

It has not been confirmed that the brothers accepted any money, but the fact that an offer was made is directly relevant to the credibility of Tony Gauci, who became the lynchpin of the case. Paul was never called as a witness.

The latest remarkable twist comes a day after The Herald revealed a top-secret document vital to the truth about Lockerbie was obtained by the Crown but never disclosed to the defence.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission found that document during its three-year investigation, which concluded earlier this year that Megrahi should have a fresh appeal.

The document, thought to be from the CIA, contains highly classified information about the MST13 timer which allegedly detonated the bomb. The Crown, for national security reasons, is still refusing to hand the material over to the defence.

An offer of remuneration by the US agency could be explained by the political imperative then for the US and Britain to secure a conviction for Lockerbie. At the time, Libya was very much a hostile nation, unlike the more relaxed links between Tripoli and the West which now prevail.

Yesterday in Edinburgh, the defence lodged its case with the appeal court and a preliminary hearing has been set for a week tomorrow.

The defence team also lodged a specification of documents order, demanding the Crown release the classified document. Prosecutors are expected to challenge the appeal, despite the weight of new evidence.

A source close to the case said: "We understand the commission found new documents which refer to discussions between the US intelligence agency and the Gaucis and that the sum involved was as much as $2m.

"Even if they did not receive the money, the fact these discussions took place should have been divulged to the defence."

The Herald has also seen copies of an agreement with the US government and signed by a senior member of the Crown Office, agreeing not to disclose certain material.

Norman McFadyen, then one of the leading members of the prosecution team and now the Crown Agent, signed the non-disclosure agreement on June 1, 2000.

James Chalmers, a senior lecturer in law at Edinburgh University, said if a member of the Crown agreed not to disclose material shown by a foreign government, it called its worth into question.

"This would raise questions about whether the right to a fair trial has been breached. And if a witness were offered money before giving evidence, this could undermine their credibility.

"It would certainly need to be put to the witness under cross-examination. If such information was not disclosed to the defence, that could give rise to a miscarriage of justice. It is an issue of credibility."

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the tragedy, said: "It is shocking to me that if after 19 years of trying to get to the truth about who murdered my daughter, national security is being used as an excuse."

A spokesman for the Crown Office has previously declined to comment on the case saying it would be "wholly inappropriate" while it is before the appeal court.

Friday, 2 October 2015

US paid reward to Lockerbie witness, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi papers claim

[This is the headline over a report published on this date in 2009 on the website of The Guardian. It reads as follows:]

Scottish detectives discussed secret payments of up to $3m made to witness and his brother, documents claim

Two key figures in the conviction of the Lockerbie bomber were secretly given rewards of up to $3m (£1.9m) in a deal discussed by Scottish detectives and the US government, according to legal papers released today.

The claims about the payments were revealed in a dossier of evidence that was intended to be used in an appeal by Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of murdering 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.

Megrahi abandoned his appeal last month after the Libyan and Scottish governments struck a deal to free him on compassionate grounds because he is terminally ill with prostate cancer. Now in hospital in Tripoli, Megrahi said he wanted the public to see the evidence which he claims would have cleared him.

"I continue to protest my innocence – how could I fail to do so?," he said. "I have no desire to add to the upset of many people I know are profoundly affected by what happened in Lockerbie. My intention is only for the truth to be made known."

The documents published online by Megrahi's lawyers today show that the US Department of Justice (DoJ) was asked to pay $2m to Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who gave crucial evidence at the trial suggesting that Megrahi had bought clothes later used in the suitcase that allegedly held the Lockerbie bomb.

The DoJ was also asked to pay a further $1m to his brother, Paul Gauci, who did not give evidence but played a major role in identifying the clothing and in "maintaining the resolve of his brother". The DoJ said their rewards could be increased and that the brothers were also eligible for the US witness protection programme, according to the documents.

The previously secret payments were uncovered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which returned Megrahi's conviction to the court of appeal in 2007 as a suspected miscarriage of justice. Many references were in private diaries kept by the detectives involved, Megrahi's lawyers said, but not their official notebooks.

The SCCRC was unable to establish exactly how much the brothers received under the DoJ's "reward-for-justice" programme but found it was after Megrahi's trial and his first appeal in 1992 was thrown out.

A memo written by "DI Dalgleish" to "ACC Graham" in 2007 confirms the men received "substantial payments from the American authorities".

The inspector claims the rewards were "engineered" after Megrahi's trial and appeal were over, but said there was "a real danger that if [the] SCCRC's statement of reasons is leaked to the media, Anthony Gauci could be portrayed as having given flawed evidence for financial reward." Instead, he claimed, the reward was intended to ensure the Gaucis could afford to leave Malta and start new lives "to avoid media and other unwanted attention".

However, the documents disclose that in 1989 the FBI told Dumfries and Galloway police that they wanted to offer Gauci "unlimited money" and $10,000 immediately. Gauci began talking of a possible reward in meetings with Dumfries and Galloway detectives in 1991, when a reward application was first made to the DoJ.

The evidence, which was due to be heard by the appeal court next month, also discloses that Gauci was visited 50 times by Scottish detectives before the trial and new testimony contradicting the prosecution's claims that Megrahi bought the clothes on 7 December 1988 – the only day he was in Malta during the critical period.

In 23 police interviews, Gauci gave contradictory evidence about who he believed bought the clothes, the person's age, appearance and the date of purchase. Two identification experts hired by Megrahi's appeal team said the police and prosecution breached the rules on witness interviews, using "suggestive" lines of questioning and allowing "irregular" identification line-ups.

Two new witnesses also disproved the prosecution claim that Megrahi was in Gauci's shop on 7 December, his lawyers said. Gauci said the area's Christmas lights were not on when the clothes were bought. The current Maltese high commissioner to the UK, Michael Rufalo, then the local MP, told the SCCRC the lights were switched on on 6 December, raising further inconsistencies in the prosecution case.

It has also emerged that Scottish police did not tell Megrahi's lawyers that another witness, David Wright, had seen two different Libyan men buying very similar clothes on a different day; evidence that psychologists believe may have confused Gauci and again clouded the prosecution case.

Dumfries and Galloway police said only a court could properly consider this material, and supported previous criticism of Megrahi's decision to release his appeal papers by Elish Angiolini, the lord advocate. "We will not be taking part in any discussion or debate concerning the selective publications made by Mr Megrahi," a statement said.

"We have nothing more to add other than to echo the lord advocate's recent comments pointing out that Mr Megrahi was convicted unanimously by three senior judges and his conviction was upheld unanimously by five judges, in an appeal court presided over by the lord justice general, Scotland's most senior judge. Mr Megrahi remains convicted of the worst terrorist atrocity in UK history."

A spokesman for the US Department of Justice also refused to comment, since Megrahi had voluntarily withdrawn his appeal. He said: "None of the allegations in the SCCRC referral, or the grounds of appeal filed by Megrahi, were finally adjudicated by the Scottish High Court of Justiary (the appropriate judicial forum) because Megrahi withdrew his appeal before the court could rule. Consequently, the US Department of Justice will not comment further on his aborted appeal."

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Pan Am 103 Fatal Accident Inquiry

On this date in 1990 the Fatal Accident Inquiry into the 270 deaths resulting from the destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie opened before Sheriff Principal John S Mowat QC in Easterbrook Hall, Crichton Royal Hospital, Dumfries. The Sheriff Principal’s 47-page findings were issued on 18 March 1991 and can be read here. Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the evidence related to the positioning of the bomb suitcase in luggage container AVE4041. By the time of the trial at Camp Zeist the Crown’s stance (and its evidence) had altered significantly. For further details, see Dr Morag Kerr’s Adequately Explained by Stupidity? Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies.