[This is the headline over an editorial in today's edition of the Maltese newspaper The Times. It reads as follows:]
Two hundred and seventy people died when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland on December 21, 1988. One man, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was convicted of the crime but the story is not over yet because, according to a report by a Scottish review commission, there may have been a miscarriage of justice.
Mr al-Megrahi had unsuccessfully appealed and then dropped a second appeal shortly before the highly controversial decision by Scotland to release him on compassionate grounds in August 2009 as he had been expected to die from cancer within three months. He is still alive though bedridden.
Investigators had alleged that the suitcase containing the bomb that destroyed the aircraft in the explosion had started its journey from Malta, a claim that the Maltese government had persistently denied. According to the investigators, the case had also contained fragments of clothing made by a manufacturer in Malta and sold by a shop in Sliema.
A Scottish newspaper, the Sunday Herald, has now published online a report into the al-Megrahi case, drawn up by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and which had been kept secret for five years. In the commission’s view, seven vital pieces of evidence had not been disclosed by the Crown Office. It argues that, had such information been shared with the defence team, the outcome of the trial could have been different.
At stake in the review commission’s report is the credibility of the evidence given by a Maltese shopkeeper and which was a determining factor in the case for the prosecution. Confirming media reports that the shopkeeper and his brother had been compensated by the US State Department for their evidence, the commission argued, correctly, that the information should have been disclosed. It held the information could have been used to question the shopkeeper’s credibility. Had this been done, it could have put the prosecution’s case in serious difficulty.
Jim Swire, who lost a daughter in the terrorist act, believes there is even more compelling evidence relating to a “fabricated” metal fragment initially used to trace the bomb to Libya. He holds that the fragment was made and planted deliberately as evidence to mislead the Scottish courts. Following the publication of the review commission’s report, he now feels the Maltese government ought to petition the Crown Office in Edinburgh to reopen the investigation.
Dr Swire has for long believed that Mr al-Megrahi is innocent of the crime.
There are bound to be differences over whether there is need for Malta to clear its name with some arguing, for example, that there had never been any conclusive evidence that the bomb had left from here and that the country had never been accused of aiding terrorists. This may very well be true but the perception created by the investigators’ conclusion that the case containing the bomb had started its journey from Malta is hard to remove without conclusive evidence to the contrary.
It would, therefore, be only fair for Malta to have the perception removed altogether if this is at all possible after so many years since the explosion.
Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has said that issues raised in the review commission’s report would have been properly considered by the Appeal Court had Mr al-Megrahi not withdrawn his appeal. So, whose interest is it now to ensure that there has not been a miscarriage of justice? And is it not crucial for Malta to clear its name altogether?