[The following is from today's edition of The Guardian. The complete article can be read here.]
The key witness in the Lockerbie bombing trial was coached and steered by Scottish detectives into wrongly identifying a Libyan sanctions buster as the bomber, his appeal lawyers claim.
Lawyers acting for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi will tell an appeal court that Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, was interviewed 23 times by Scottish police before giving the evidence that finally led to Megrahi's conviction for the bombing in 1991 (sic; the correct year is 2001). (...)
The first stage of the Libyan's lengthy appeal, which may take until next year to complete, will focus on his claims that the original trial judges were wrong in law to convict him and wrong to discard crucial evidence which undermined their guilty verdict.
Gauci identified Megrahi as the purchaser of clothes at his shop on Malta which were later allegedly packed in the suitcase carrying the Lockerbie bomb. But the Libyan's lawyers will claim there is now substantial evidence undermining the credibility of Gauci's testimony.
Megrahi's lawyers now believe Gauci received a "substantial" reward from the US government after his conviction thought to be as much as $2m - a payment not disclosed at the trial. The case against Megrahi hinges on Gauci's claim that the clothes allegedly packed into the suitcase bomb were bought on 7 December - the only day when Megrahi was in the area. Megrahi's lawyers say they can now prove they were bought up to two weeks before then, when the Libyan was not in the country.
Megrahi's lawyers will claim that in nearly two dozen formal police interviews, Gauci gave contradictory dates of purchase, changed his account of the sale, and on one occasion appeared to identify the Palestinian terrorist leader Abu Talb as the purchaser. Gauci's evidence is made unreliable by "undisputed factors", the appeal court will hear. They include an "extraordinary" delay in Gauci recalling the events of December 1988 and naming Megrahi; the "extraordinary amount of post-event suggestion to which the witness was subjected"; and his exposure to photos of Megrahi.
The appeal, which Megrahi is expected to watch live on a video link from Greenock prison near Glasgow, is being contested by the Scottish prosecution service, and the British government.
[The following are excerpts from today's edition of The Scotsman. The complete article can be read here.]
Megrahi, 57, who was diagnosed with cancer last year, has just completed ten years in custody for the bombing and it could be nearer 11 years before the appeal is fully determined.
It is almost two years since the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission decided there were grounds for believing Megrahi's conviction might be a miscarriage of justice.
Preliminary disputes, over such issues as public interest immunity and the scope of the appeal, have dogged attempts to arrange an early hearing for the case in the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh.
The first hearing, which is scheduled to last four weeks, will concentrate on an area for which preparatory work has been completed – that the guilty verdict returned against Megrahi at his trial was not supported by the evidence – and, were the plea to succeed, it would be enough for the conviction to be overturned and for Megrahi to be freed.
However, some observers believe this part of the appeal is far from Megrahi's strongest argument, and that other areas will require to be pursued, explaining why work is continuing.
A source said: "Three judges at the trial decided there was enough evidence to convict Megrahi and five judges said the same thing at his first appeal. That's a pretty high hurdle to overcome, and while there's nothing to be lost in having another go, you can't imagine five different judges this time being easily persuaded.
[Note by RB: The five judges in Megrahi's first appeal did not say that there was enough evidence to convict him. Megrahi's then lawyer, Bill Taylor QC, specifically stated to the court that that appeal was not about sufficiency of evidence in law; and the appeal judges made it clear in their written opinion that (a) the issue of whether the evidence was sufficient to convict, as well as (b) the issue of whether any reasonable court could have convicted him on that evidence, were not issues which they had considered in reaching their decision to sustain the conviction.]
"So, in theory, Megrahi could win this first point and be on his way back to Libya by the end of the summer, but it seems much more likely that the other grounds of appeal will have to be heard, and that will take us months further down the line, to have them heard and for the judges to go away and think about them and then announce their decision."
Megrahi will not attend the hearing, but will follow the proceedings by a closed circuit television link between the court and Greenock Prison.