Thursday, 22 July 2010

We need a full Lockerbie inquiry

[This is the headline over an editorial in today's edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]

It is unfortunate for David Cameron that his first official visit to the US as Prime Minister coincides with BP’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Doubly so that a deal over drilling rights for BP in Libya has been conflated with the freeing on compassionate grounds of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the only person convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. As a result the Prime Minister has been caught up in a wave of anti-British sentiment founded on a massive misunderstanding of the circumstances leading to his release.

Ever since PanAm flight 103 was blown apart over Lockerbie killing 270 people nearly 22 years ago the complex background to the terror attack has spawned multiple conspiracy theories. It is therefore not surprising that Americans shocked at the release of a Libyan convicted of mass murder should link his release with an agreement over the transfer of prisoners concluded between the UK and Libyan governments a few months earlier.

Even the most cynical, however, ought to be convinced [of] the genuine anger of the Scottish Government over the “deal in the desert” between Col Muammar Gadafi and Tony Blair. The decision by the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, to release Megrahi was not made under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) but entirely on compassionate grounds on the basis of medical advice that he was not likely to live for more than around three months. The fact that he has survived for much longer than expected, although remaining terminally ill, does not negate the basis on which the decision was made, which was in accordance with a legal process that has been applied to other prisoners in similar circumstances. There was never any question of trading justice for oil and Alex Salmond’s hard-hitting letter to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations outlining the Scottish Government’s opposition to the PTA is a necessary clarification of the basis for Megrahi’s release.

It is essential that as much documentation as possible relating to the decision to release him is made available. So far the Scottish Government has published those for which they have permission. Cameron’s decision to ask the Cabinet Secretary to review the documentation and publish what is available is welcome.

The PTA agreement, howevwer, is a different matter. BP has already acknowledged that it lobbied for an agreement but some obscurity remains over the details of the negotiations between the UK and Libyan governments. Any US senators who are not reassured by Salmond’s letter should direct their questions there.

Cameron has indicated that if any fresh concerns arise over the release he would consider an inquiry. But it is not the release of Megrahi which is at issue.

The basis of conviction is an entirely different matter. Lockerbie is unfinished business that will not end with Megrahi’s death. That can only be achieved by a wide-ranging, independent inquiry with the power to demand all the available documentation. That is what should be assessed.

[A report in the same newspaper headed "Cameron says public inquiry over Megrahi still on the table" reads in part:]

David Cameron has not ruled out a UK public inquiry into the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing as pressure mounts on both sides of the Atlantic for a full investigation.

Last night, the Prime Minister insisted that while “we should not leap to an inquiry”, he acknowledged that if the forthcoming trawl of documents by Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, throws up new evidence about the circumstances surrounding Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi’s release, then “yes, we might have to look again” at holding one. (...)

Calls for an independent inquiry have been mounting over the past 24 hours.

Hans Koechler, the UN-nominated international observer at the Lockerbie trial, said: “The families of the victims deserve better and the rule of law requires more.

“The full truth of the Lockerbie tragedy must be known; the possible role of BP in the release of the only person convicted is only one of many aspects that would have to be investigated.”

He added the “real motives” of Kenny MacAskill had to be revealed and an inquiry should address why the Scottish Justice Secretary took the “unprecedented step” of visiting Megrahi in jail.

Asked about the criticism he was receiving from Obama and Cameron, MacAskill told Sky News: “It was a decision that they did not have to take and therefore they have the luxury of criticising it from the sidelines. I respect their judgments on a variety of matters but I had to deal with this matter holding true to the values of the people of Scotland, and that is why I stand by it.”

Professor Robert Black, Emeritus Professor in Law at Edinburgh University and an expert on the Megrahi case, called for a joint inquiry by the UK and Scottish Government.

He added that there should be a “broader inquiry into the whole circumstances, his conviction as well as his release”.

Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora died in the 1988 bombing, has written to Senator John Kerry, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will next week hold a hearing on the Megrahi case. Swire tells Kerry: “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.”

In his letter to the committee chairman, Alex Salmond stresses how the Scottish Government would be willing to co-operate with any inquiry. He says: “The questions to be asked and answered in any such inquiry would be beyond the jurisdiction of Scots law and the remit of the Scottish Government and such an inquiry would therefore need to be initiated by those with the required power and authority to deal with an issue, international in its nature.”

[Yet another report in the same newspaper contains the following paragraphs:]

However, Megrahi dropped his appeal in August as he attempted to clear the way for his return home. Release under the PTA cannot be considered if there are any outstanding legal issues. However, the appeal had no bearing on his application for compassionate release, which was approved.

Jim Swire, whose daughter died in the Lockerbie bombing, said on Megrahi’s release that he would continue with the appeal on his behalf, if possible.

However, it is unlikely the appeal could move forward while Megrahi is still alive. The SCCRC would be unlikely to agree that it was in the interests of justice to proceed, when Megrahi gave up his chance to prove his innocence.

It is thought that relatives of those who died in the bombing would be well placed to take the appeal forward once Megrahi dies.

[The seven readers' letters in The Herald on the subject are well worth reading.]

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure the SCCRC's view is relevant. Part of any investigation will cover exactly why the appeal was dropped. Their decision, that there were grounds to believe a miscarriage of justice could have occurred, still exists. And any further attempts to influence how we go forward when they come from the legal establishment should be viewed with suspicion. The SCCRC's job was to investigate if there were grounds for appeal. They did that. They should now butt out.

    It is very much in the public interest to do what we can to keep the pressure on.

    I feel for Christine Grahame after Mr Salmond's statement, in his letter to the US, that the original verdict was in order. I remain very concerned that he made such a statement and that Mr McAskill said the same thing the day he released Mr Megrahi. I am glad they are in many ways standing their ground but comments like this which essentially trash the appeal are inappropriate un deeply unhelpful.