[What follows is the text of a letter sent yesterday by Dr Jim Swire to Senator John Kerry, chairman of the US Senate committee on foreign relations, which has scheduled a hearing into the release of Abdelbaset Megrahi. An article based on the letter can be found on the website of Scottish lawyers' magazine The Firm.]
My deeply loved elder daughter Flora aged 23 was among the victims aboard the plane. I think that all affected families, both here and in the US would welcome knowing the whole truth about every aspect of who caused the disaster and why they were not stopped.
I’m sure we are all united in that, though many of those you represent are much more confident in believing in the integrity of the trial process to which Mr Megrahi was subjected than are some of us over here.
So may I welcome you and your band of 4 Senators in your search for aspects of that truth, but this letter proposes reasons why it would be wise to consider the question of why the atrocity was not prevented as well as Megrahi’s guilt or innocence rather than only the reasons for his release.
I do not feel proud of the circumstances that have led me to hope that representatives of the USA rather than my own nation should be searching for the truth on our behalf. Below are some reasons why that is now a hope for us.
A Fatal Accident Inquiry (= inquest) was held in Scotland which found that the disaster had been preventable, and that the aircraft had been under the ‘Host State Protection of the United Kingdom’ at all relevant times. The failure of any UK Prime Minister to date to inquire into this ghastly failure of UK responsibility is enough in itself to justify this letter appealing to you.
We have approached every Prime Minster to seek a full inquiry and been as often rejected. David Cameron has not had time to reply yet, but I think you should know a little of the roles of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair in particular.
Mrs Thatcher refused even to meet us (our group is called UK Families-Flight 103) to discuss an inquiry. She decreed that the Dumfries and Galloway (D&G) police, the UK's smallest police force should conduct the criminal investigation, even though she must have known that The Metropolitan police, through their special anti-terrorist branch, had already discovered a break-in at Heathrow airport the night before Lockerbie, which had given the untraced intruder access to the Iran Air facilities there, close to where bags were loaded for Pan Am 103 the next night.
The information concerning the break-in remained unknown to the Megrahi trial it only became known after the verdict had been reached,. when a junior Heathrow security man publicly complained that his evidence to the Metropolitan police early in 1989 had not been heard in the trial. Why did that happen?
In 1993 (two years after the indictment of the Libyans) Mrs Thatcher published a book The Downing Street Years. In it (p 449) she wrote that following the USAF raid on Tripoli/Bengazi in 1986 Gaddafi had been humbled and “the much vaunted Libyan counter attack did not and could not take place. There was a marked decrease in Libyan terrorism in succeeding years.”
‘Succeeding years’ would include 1988 and therefore the Lockerbie disaster. Why did she write that, though in power when Lockerbie happened?
We also requested Tony Blair to launch a full inquiry. He did meet with us but after a month of ‘asking the relevant people’ told us that ‘they’ did not consider any further inquiry necessary. When he went to see Colonel Gaddafi for the so called ‘Deal in the Desert’, the first we heard of it was through the media.
Scotland’s Criminal Case Review Commission meanwhile had found that the trial might well have been a miscarriage of justice, while the UN’s special observer to the trial, Professor Hans Koechler of Vienna had strongly criticised the trial as biased and the verdict as ‘incomprehensible’. Many jurists agree, and some would voluntarily give evidence before you.
As a result of the SCCRC’s comments Mr Megrahi’s case was referred back to the High Court in Edinburgh. Many believed that re-examination of the evidence would be bound to overturn the verdict.
However a succession of delays ensued, but even so Mr Jack Straw, the Labour government’s Minister of Justice was reduced to overriding the wishes of the House of Commons Select Committee on Human Rights, in order to have the Prisoner Transfer Agreement up and running by the start of the appeal.
Many thought this looked like an attempt to stop the appeal and thus ‘save’ the verdict by sending Mr Megrahi home. It was a unusual and unwelcome breech of custom for a Committee to be overridden in this way.
In the event the Scots did not use the Prisoner Transfer Agreement, but compassionate release, an option long enshrined in Scots law, when a prisoner has a short life prognosis (there is no ‘deadline’ of three months by the way) but for some reason Mr Megrahi withdrew his appeal, though this was not required for Compassionate release.
Was pressure put upon him to do so? Maybe a proper inquiry would answer that question too.
You may of course believe that it was pressure from BP which caused the panic, if Libya or BP were claiming that the UK was dragging her feet over her share of the ‘Deal in the Desert’.
Maybe you can find out whether it was that or a desire to 'protect' the verdict which motivated Mr Straw's precipitate actions.
Senator Kerry, I am heartened to hear that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has just undertaken to meet with you after all, according to today’s press. But I do wonder in view of the behaviour of successive UK governments, with all their delays and withholding of information over the past 21 years, and their failure to protect the plane in the first place, whether the Government of the UK is the right entity to hold an inquiry into this atrocity.
Would it be putting the fox in charge of the hencoop?
Previous UK governments have tried to ‘pass the buck’ to Scotland over the release of Megrahi, but there are far greater issues than that here. I do hope that David Cameron will be sufficiently independent of his predecessors to rebut the above fear: we too have just asked for a meeting with him to discuss an inquiry.
I understand that the Scottish authorities have agreed to cooperate with any appropriately empowered inquiry. Would you consider, in view of the multinational complexity of this case, whether a multinational board of respected individuals, a panel of jurists perhaps, should examine all aspects, including the behaviour of our Westminster administrations?
If so they would have to command the respect of the world and be seen to be independent of all those nations directly involved, which includes the USA of course. Such an inquiry would presumably require at least the full cooperation of the present UK administration.
Nelson Mandela said publicly just as the trial court was announced ‘No one country should be complainant prosecutor and judge’. We should not fall into the same trap again.
Please do not allow your determination to investigate this tragedy be thwarted by any one, it will be a tough call, but we relatives have a right to the whole truth.