Sunday, 21 August 2011

New report may put us on the road to finally discovering Lockerbie truths

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

The news that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) report into the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing is to be published is welcome.

The furore surrounding the Scottish Government’s decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds, and his refusal to stick to the “agreed” timetable for his death in his home country of Libya, has obscured the central question in this whole sorry story: was Megrahi actually guilty of the crime?

This newspaper has never been convinced that the conviction was sound. We are not alone. Many experts and some of the British families of the victims of the terrorist atrocity share that view.

Advanced reports suggest that the SCCRC also has serious concerns about the conviction.

It would, of course, have been better if Megrahi’s appeal had gone ahead and his conviction had been tested by a court of law. But that avenue is no longer open.

Megrahi is a free man – a fact which in itself infuriated US senators to such an extent that they are demanding he be handed over to America if Libyan leader Gaddafi’s regime collapses – but that does not mean the central question of his guilt or innocence is no longer relevant.

Lockerbie is now at the centre of so many complex conspiracy theories that it would be naive to suggest that the publication of the SCCRC’s report will finally put an end to decades of speculation. Nothing will succeed in doing that.

It will, however, shed light on the reliability or otherwise of some of the evidence put forward at the trial, notably that of chief prosecution witness Tony Gauci, whose testimony was riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions.

It will throw up other questions, and we may never know the answers to some of these.

The most important questions are: first, if Megrahi’s conviction for the bombing is unsound ... who did carry out the atrocity?

Secondly, if the SCCRC was about to question so strongly the court’s original guilty verdict, why did Megrahi withdraw his appeal? There was no legal requirement to do so. The decision to grant him compassionate release was independent of the appeal process.

It is not just the relatives of those who died on that fateful flight who deserve to know the answers. Scotland needs to know if, in this most controversial and public of cases, it can continue to place its faith in the Scottish legal system.

[The same newspaper features an article headlined Secret report casting doubt on Megrahi’s guilt will be published. It reads in part:]

A secret report casting doubt on the conviction of the Lockerbie bomber is to be published under a new law to be unveiled by the Scottish Government next month, when it sets out its legislative programme for Parliament.

The bill, to be formally announced on September 7, will enable the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) to release its 800 pages of findings on Adbel Baset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, which have remained under lock and key since they were finalised in 2007.

The SCCRC report identified six grounds for believing Megrahi may have suffered a miscarriage of justice when he was prosecuted and tried for the murder of 270 people in the atrocity.

They included doubts over pivotal aspects of the prosecution case against him, and undisclosed payments to a key prosecution witness. (...)

The SNP Government has already tried and failed to make the SCCRC report public through a minor piece of legislation, but not all the parties to the case agreed, blocking its release.

It is understood the new bill will be a weightier measure, allowing the SCCRC to publish any of its reports which relate to cases where a subsequent appeal has been dropped, which includes Megrahi.

Last month the SCCRC’s chair, Jean Couper, said the organisation had “no objections, in principle, to the release of the Statement of Reasons detailing its decision” in the Megrahi case, provided the law allowed it.

The SCCRC report claims the court acted unreasonably when it concluded he had definitely bought the clothes which ended up in the suitcase carrying the airplane bomb.

Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who testified he sold Megrahi the clothes, was also found to have been paid a $2 million reward by the US government.

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