[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]
First Minister Alex Salmond has turned down an invitation to support a campaign for an international inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing and the subsequent conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi.
Salmond received the request from the Justice for Megrahi campaign following comments that he had “nothing to hide” from such an inquiry into the atrocity.
The group has petitioned the UN general assembly to hold an investigation into the Lockerbie case and has drawn a number of high-profile backers including former journalist Kate Adie, writer and campaigner John Pilger, human rights commentator Professor Noam Chomsky and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop.
The First Minister has said he would co-operate fully with an inquiry by an independent authority such as the UN, however, the Scottish Government said it would be inappropriate for Mr Salmond to lend his support to the Justice for Megrahi campaign.
A spokesman said: “On the broader questions of inquiry, the Scottish Government does not doubt the safety of the conviction of Megrahi. Nevertheless, there remain concerns over some on the wider issues of the Lockerbie atrocity.
“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.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is understood to have uncovered new evidence that strengthens the case against original suspect Mohammed Abu Talb, who was allegedly funded by Iran to blow up the plane in revenge for the American cruiser USS Vincennes shooting an Iran Air flight out of the sky on July 3, 1988, killing 290 people.
The Egyptian-born militant served as a prosecution witness at the Megrahi trial. Talb has now been freed from prison in Sweden where he served sentences linked to terror attacks in Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
Professor Bob Black, QC, member of the Justice for Megrahi Committee, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by Mr Salmond’s rejection, claiming it would have been a “major step forward” for the campaign.
[What follows is the text of the letter sent -- more in hope than in expectation -- to the First Minister by Justice for Megrahi.]
We, the Justice for Megrahi Committee and all signatories to the committee’s activities, wish to convey to you our most sincere gratitude for your recent outspoken comments in the broadcast media in support of an independent United Nations inquiry into circumstances surrounding what has become commonly referred to as the Lockerbie case.
You will, on the back of prior correspondence we have sent to you, be fully cognisant of the fact that we lobbied the General Assembly of the UN in September of last year to precisely the same end. In addition to this, we have made approaches to other bodies, most notably the Government of Malta, the Senate of the United States of America and the Scottish Government requesting support for the establishment of an independent public inquiry encompassing: the Fatal Accident Inquiry into the downing of Pan Am 103; the police investigation of the tragedy; the subsequent Kamp van Zeist trial; the acquittal of Mr Fhimah and conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi; the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission’s referral of Mr Al-Megrahi’s case to the Court of Appeal; and finally, the circumstances surrounding the dropping of Mr Al-Megrahi’s second appeal and his compassionate release. Unfortunately, all our efforts to reach the goal of establishing an inquiry under the auspices of the UN have fallen on deaf ears thus far.
However, with the support which you are now clearly giving to this cause, in your capacity as the elected leader of the Scottish people, we are becoming increasingly optimistic of success.
You have quite correctly stated your reservations in the past with regard to any given nation state alone setting up an inquiry of any worth on the grounds that they do not individually possess the power of subpoena over other nation states to produce evidence that does not fall within the jurisdiction of the state conducing the inquiry. The obvious choice then is of course to resort to the UN. Regrettably, the General Assembly of the UN is in exactly the same position as individual states are with respect to the international power of subpoena. The only body with such a power is in fact the Security Council of the UN, and this body has ceased to deal with any and all matters relating to the Lockerbie incident (see Security Council binding resolution of 12th September 2003, which states, in operative para 3, that it “hereby removes this item from the list of matters of which the Council is seized”). Therefore, on the assumption that the Security Council may be reluctant to revoke its resolution and that the General Assembly has so far expressed no interest in opening an inquiry, we are at a loss to know how matters could be turned around in New York.
Nevertheless, someone of your experience, political acumen and standing as First Minister of Scotland will assuredly manage to make a deeper impact than we have. In that regard, we (JFM committee and signatories) will stand four square behind you in all your endeavours.
Should your attempts prove unsuccessful, at least you will have peace of mind in the knowledge that Scotland, unlike any other nation involved in this, is in a position to open its own inquiry without having to concern itself too greatly on the issue of international subpoena powers given that:
· The event occurred over and on Scottish territory.
· The case was investigated by a Scottish police force.
· The trial was conducted under Scots Law.
· Mr Al-Megrahi was convicted under Scots Law.
· Mr Al-Megrahi was imprisoned in a Scottish gaol.
· The SCCRC referred the second appeal to the Scottish Court of Appeal.
· Mr Al-Megrahi was given compassionate release by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice.
Therefore, much if not all the documentation, and many of the witnesses required to testify before such an inquiry, already lies within the jurisdiction of Scots Law. Thus, no difficulty whatsoever ought to be posed if the Scottish Government itself ultimately decides to open an inquiry into matters relating to the Lockerbie tragedy.
Not only do we wish to thank you for your most encouraging public comments and offer you our full support behind any course of action you may take to set up an inquiry, but we wish, moreover, to extend to you a warm invitation to add your name to the list of signatories who have over the last year supported the JFM inquiry campaign. By joining this group, you will be consulted as to strategy and kept up-to-date on all its activities. We are an egalitarian organisation. Whilst some signatories may choose a passive role, others have played an active part in formulating and forwarding our aims throughout. It is an individual choice. Justice for Megrahi is simply grateful to have the support of all of its signatories. Since it is clear that you so evidently identify with our aims, you are most welcome to join us.
We are confident that in the points we have made above we speak not only for a large portion of the bereaved of the Lockerbie tragedy, but also for many of the ordinary citizens of Scotland and elsewhere who would like to see a more satisfactory resolution to this issue. Furthermore, it is important to mention that for the inhabitants of the town of Lockerbie to be constantly reminded that their home is synonymous with this appalling event must be intolerable, and an open public inquiry covering events from December 1988 to the present day might contribute in some small way towards returning the town to a degree of normality.
We look forward to your response to our invitation and thank you for your time and attention.