In a dramatic intervention ahead of the justice secretary's statement to the Scottish Parliament today, Stuart Henderson – the retired senior investigating officer at the Lockerbie Incident Control Centre – also said Libya's jubilant celebrations on Thursday following the return of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, had "rubbed salt into the wounds" of the victims' families.
Mr Henderson, a former detective chief superintendent with Lothian and Borders Police, who was brought in to lead the investigation, said: "It was a very unfortunate mistake to make. It should not have been handled that way and I feel sorry for Mr MacAskill's naivety about what has happened.
"We all knew he [Megrahi] would get a hero's welcome when he went back.
"It was distressing to see the Saltires being waved, that was really rubbing salt into the wounds, but that is the Libyans for you. That is how they operate. Gordon Brown should have known this would happen."
Mr Henderson spent four years leading the investigation, which took him to 47 countries. He retired in 1992 after handing over a report to the procurator-fiscal naming Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, who was later acquitted. Mr Henderson, 69, and Richard Marquise, the FBI special agent in charge of the US task force, had written to Mr MacAskill urging him not to release Megrahi.
Yesterday Mr Henderson said: "I think the only possible thing was to consider the grief caused to the families involved and to think of the lives of the 270 victims first before thinking about the criminal, who is now unwell."
Conspiracy theorists who insist Megrahi was innocent and that evidence was tampered with "make my blood boil", Mr Henderson said.
"It is an insult to our police officers. It's an insult to the Americans, to the Germans, to the Swiss and the Maltese officers.
"We visited 47 countries in the course of this investigation. We had officers working for four years. People think there is some doubt and they want to know who was behind it and who sponsored it?
"Up until now we have not been able to speak because there was an ongoing appeal and even if you are a retired officer it is not your place. But I would hope now that people will listen. We have nothing to hide. It has been very frustrating listening to all this nonsense.
"As a police officer you don't take sides, you follow the evidence and report what you find and if you don't find enough evidence then you report that. Let's be clear. He was convicted and then he was convicted again after an appeal.
"Are we saying eight Scottish high court judges don't know what they are talking about?"
He was supported yesterday by John Crawford, a fellow detective, who said: "I think the compassion angle was all wrong. It was inevitable that people would use it against the decision he made as it was so obvious that Megrahi did not show one jot of compassion when he cold bloodedly went about his business of killing 270 innocent people."
[The above are excerpts from a report in today's edition of The Scotsman.
It is par for the course for anyone who dares to challenge the official explanation of Lockerbie to be dismissed as a conspiracy theorist by those, like Mr Henderson, who have a vested interest in upholding the official version. I am used to it. But what is noteworthy is that such people never mention the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and its six grounds for holding that Mr Megrahi's conviction might have been a miscarriage of justice. One of those grounds was that, on an issue absolutely central to the Zeist court's guilty verdict (the date of purchase in Malta of the clothes that surrounded the bomb) no reasonable court could have reached the view on the evidence led that it was the date on which Megrahi was on the island.
It is also annoying that responsible journalists let people like Mr Henderson get away with statements like "He was convicted and then he was convicted again after an appeal. Are we saying eight Scottish high court judges don't know what they are talking about?"
These journalists know, because they read this blog, that the reference to eight judges convicting Megrahi is false. Here, as I am weary of saying, is the true position:
The five judges in Megrhi's first appeal stated in paragraph 369 of their Opinion:
“When opening the case for the appellant before this court Mr Taylor [senior counsel for Megrahi] stated that the appeal was not about sufficiency of evidence: he accepted that there was a sufficiency of evidence. He also stated that he was not seeking to found on section 106(3)(b) of the 1995 Act [verdict unreasonable on the evidence]. His position was that the trial court had misdirected itself in various respects. Accordingly in this appeal we have not required to consider whether the evidence before the trial court, apart from the evidence which it rejected, was sufficient as a matter of law to entitle it to convict the appellant on the basis set out in its judgment. We have not had to consider whether the verdict of guilty was one which no reasonable trial court, properly directing itself, could have returned in the light of that evidence.”
The factual position, as I have written elsewhere, is this:
"As far as the outcome of the appeal is concerned, some commentators have confidently opined that, in dismissing Megrahi’s appeal, the Appeal Court endorsed the findings of the trial court. This is not so. The Appeal Court repeatedly stresses that it is not its function to approve or disapprove of the trial court’s findings-in-fact, given that it was not contended on behalf of the appellant that there was insufficient evidence to warrant them or that no reasonable court could have made them. These findings-in-fact accordingly continue, as before the appeal, to have the authority only of the court which, and the three judges who, made them."]