Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Consideration of petition PE1370

[What follows is the text of the petitioners' submission to the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee in advance of today's resumed consideration of the Justice for Megrahi petition.]

On 15th February 2011, the ‘Justice for Megrahi Committee’ (JFM) delivered their latest submission to the Public Petitions Committee (PPC) in relation to the above petition. At their meeting of 1st of March 2011, the PPC voted to maintain the status of petition 1370 as open and carry it over to the new PPC in its ‘Legacy Paper’ inviting the new committee to give further consideration to the petition.

Over the past four months, there have been important developments in relation to the Lockerbie enquiry and matters related to the conviction, appeals and compassionate release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. We believe that these matters are relevant to the consideration of our petition and the related submission of 15th February 2011 and we wish to update the Petitions Committee members on them.

Civil War in Libya
Since mid February, 2011, Libya has degenerated into civil war. The rebel forces are currently represented by a body known as the ‘Transitional National Council’. Many commentators have suggested that this conflict could lead to the secrets of Lockerbie being revealed. Claims and counterclaims have proliferated.

Since becoming Chairman of the ‘Transitional National Council’, the former Libyan Justice Minister, Mr Abdel Jalil, has made numerous claims that he is in possession of proof that Colonel Gaddafi and Libya were behind the downing of Pan Am 103. He has, however, been unable to substantiate his claims.

The visit to London of the former Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Moussa Koussa (formerly also former head of the Libyan Intelligence Agency), on the 30th of March 2011 has also failed to deliver any additional insight into who was responsible for Lockerbie.

During his stay, he had discussions with representatives of the UK Government and others, including the Crown Office and Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary. He departed the UK for Qatar on the 15th of April and the Scottish delegation have so far refused to divulge any information regarding their meeting on the grounds that to do so may compromise the on-going police investigation of the Lockerbie case. ‘JFM’ finds it quite extraordinary that the interviewers refused to offer even a general comment which might suggest that Mr Koussa had at least supplied information which could substantiate and justify the Crown case for Mr al-Megrahi’s conviction or open the way for further enquiry. Effectively, parliament and the people are being denied the opportunity to assess whether any information received from Mr Koussa supports or otherwise the Crown’s position over Lockerbie. Yet again, a curtain of secrecy is drawn over matters related to revealing the truth about Lockerbie and the subsequent events.

On the 6th April the Guardian reported:
‘Libya's rebel administration has said that it signed an apology for the Gaddafi regime's role in IRA attacks and the Lockerbie bombing under pressure from the British government, and that the document is the result of "misunderstanding"’.

It is alleged that following talks with a lawyer whom they believed represented the British Government, the ‘Transitional National Council’ signed a document offering an unequivocal apology from Libya for international crimes carried out by the Gaddafi regime, including
Lockerbie and deaths resultant from IRA activities where Libyan supplied Semtex was employed.

It is now alleged that the document might have been signed under duress and in the hope of alleviating their dire circumstances. If the claim that the lawyer has been operating at the behest of the UK government on this fishing expedition is true, it shows the lengths that the UK authorities will go to hide the truth.

Scottish Government Undertaking
According to recent media reports, the new SNP government intends to honour the commitment given by Alex Salmond before the election to seek a change in the law to allow the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) to publish papers relating to their decision that a miscarriage of justice might have occurred in the conviction of Mr Megrahi. Currently the release of the SCCRC papers can be blocked by one or more of the parties who gave evidence to the review.

The Lord Advocate and Crown Office has remained implacably opposed to such release and, as we pointed out in our submission of 15th February, we totally refute the Lord Advocate’s argument for failing to disclose any matters related to Mr Megrahi’s appeal.

In our petition, we argue for the release of these papers and we believe it is important that Parliament monitors this government undertaking carefully.

Election of a Majority SNP Government
For the first time in the history of the Scottish Parliament one political party enjoys an absolute majority. The next 5 years therefore are uncharted waters and many commentators have warned about the need to ensure that this SNP majority government is subject to effective scrutiny and held to account.

‘For the first time in the parliament’s history, a single party is now in control of the Government, the legislature and its committees, and has supplied the Presiding Officer.’…...Most obviously, Holyrood is a unicameral parliament: there is no second chamber to fine tune legislation and force MSPs to think again. In theory, the committees should compensate for this, scrutinising and revising laws, as well as delivering unwelcome home truths to Ministers. But while committees aspire to cross-party ideals, they often split on partisan lines, as the health committee did last year when it rejected a minimum price for alcohol. The SNP majority means every committee can railroad through legislation if it chooses, and there is no risk of a comeback, no matter how infuriated the opposition might get.’

While the ‘JFM’ committee believes that to date it has been well served by the Public Petitions Committee, this unprecedented centralisation of power concerns us greatly. Given the opposition to any further inquiry by the Lord Advocate, Crown Office and other establishment organisations, we fear Lockerbie will be further sidelined. The Petitions and Justice Committees have the power to prevent this happening and hold our government to account. Should the PPC allow our petition to fall, it will mean that the continuing disputes over the biggest terrorist outrage ever perpetrated on Scottish soil will no longer be subject to open and accountable scrutiny in any corner of the Scottish Parliament.

Salmond criticism of the Supreme Court
We feel that the current heated debate taking place about the place of the Supreme Court in dealing with Scottish Human Rights issues is extremely relevant to our petition. While not wishing to take sides in the dispute, we would observe that it is human rights issues like Lockerbie that are at the very heart of the dispute.

What is of concern to us, and we would suggest to the people of Scotland, is that justice is served no matter the court. The Scottish Government is claiming that the human rights of the Scottish people are best served by Scottish courts sitting in Scotland.

We would argue that for nearly 23 years Scottish Courts and the Scottish Government have failed to deliver the truth about Lockerbie despite these claims of supremacy in human rights matters. We are at a loss to equate the current government’s refusal to hold a judicial inquiry into Lockerbie with this principle that Scotland and Scotland alone is capable of delivering justice to all of its people.

Media coverage
Media interest in Lockerbie and associated events has remained high across the world with the fall out from the Civil War in Libya being high on the agenda.

Of particular significance is a film, ‘The Pan Am Bomber’, commissioned by ‘Al Jazeera English’ which is being broadcast throughout June and July and can now be found on ‘You Tube’. This film casts even more doubt on the Megrahi conviction and makes a powerful case for an immediate inquiry.

We would recommend that committee members view this film.

Conclusion and recommendations
Much has occurred in the interim between the last Public Petition’s Committee meeting, which voted to carry petition 1370 forward in its ‘Legacy Paper’, and today. As ever, most of this information is shrouded in controversy and as a result the truth about Lockerbie becomes even more elusive.

Effectively year in and year out new information, rumour and supposition is released about the Lockerbie tragedy and the Megrahi conviction. Year after year the UK and US governments continue their conspiracy of silence. The whole affair has become a running sore and, despite having the power to do so, the Scottish Government continues to refuse to hold a public inquiry into the worst case of mass murder ever perpetrated on Scottish soil, a disaster which taints the Scottish Justice System across the world.

The fact remains that while we might not be able to force the UK and American governments to the table, the Scottish Government has the power to launch a public inquiry that will ensure that we as a country have done everything in our power to reveal the truth about Lockerbie. Our conscience will at last be clear.

That public inquiry would be able to examine many important witnesses including representatives of the Crown Office, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, the SCCRC and the police. It will have the power to review the SCCRC papers and many other documents currently held in secret by the Crown Office, Government and police. It will be able to probe matters related to the Lockerbie investigation, all legal proceedings relating to Mr al-Megrahi’s 2001 conviction and his subsequent release, and any new information that has been obtained over the years.

We urge the committee to keep this petition live by carrying out further enquiry itself or referring it to the Justice Committee. Surely it cannot be right that the search for the truth about the worst terrorist outrage ever to be perpetrated on Scottish soil should not continue to be the subject of enquiry in our own Scottish parliament.

In closing, we would refer Petition’s Committee members to a recent article In the ‘The Firm’ magazine where editor Steven Raeburn interviews Gareth Pierce the lawyer who was instrumental in having the wrongful conviction of the ‘Birmingham Six’ and ‘Guildford Four’ overturned on appeal. This article (see link below*) offers a powerful review of the controversy surrounding Lockerbie and we believe will help members understand just why a public inquiry is urgently needed.

*Steven Raeburn, editor of The Firm, interviews Gareth Peirce.

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