Sunday, 1 April 2012

Reopen the Lockerbie case

[This is the headline over an editorial in today’s edition of the Maltese newspaper The Sunday Times.  It reads as follows:]

A report unveiled last Sunday, casting doubt on whether Abdelbaset Al Megrahi was actually the Lockerbie bomb­er, barely made international headlines.

The Western media, especially, long ago decided that Mr Al Megrahi was the man responsible for the death of 270 people when a Pan Am aircraft exploded over the small Scottish village in December 1988.

But the same media (which recently went to town on salacious information about Mr Al Megrahi’s sexcapades in Malta in the 1980s) conveniently ignored a new 820-page report by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Exposing the potential miscarriage of justice, the report cast serious doubt on the credibility of crucial evidence given by a Sliema shopkeeper that led to the Libyan man’s conviction.

Among other crucial issues, the report confirmed that Tony Gauci had been paid by the US State Department for the evidence he provided during the trial when identifying Mr Al Megrahi as ‘the Libyan’ who bought clothes from his shop, allegedly found wrapped around the bomb.

Mr Gauci was also in possession of a magazine containing a photograph of Mr Al Megrahi stating he was the Lockerbie bomber – before he pointed him out at an identification parade in the Netherlands.

Doubts over the Lockerbie verdict have been so pronounced that some of the victims’ families insisted the wrong man was jailed.

Would a bomber conceivably have chosen such a complicated journey for the bomb – placing it in a suitcase that was loaded onto an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, which was then transferred to Heathrow before being placed on the fatal Pan Am flight 103?

Why was a break-in at Heathrow airport just 16 hours before the explosion concealed from the court?

It would be one of the biggest injustices of modern times if we fail to question the potentially flawed prosecution evidence which led to Mr Al Megrahi’s conviction.

The Maltese government clearly does not want to ruffle feathers with the international community by refusing to petition the Scottish Crown Office to reopen the Lockerbie investigation in light of the recent findings.

It is not enough for the Justice Minister to repeat the government’s mantra in yesterday’s edition of The Times that “the bomb did not leave Malta”.

If that is really the case, then Mr Al Megrahi is not the Lockerbie bomber. The only evidence linking him to the bombing was the evidence of the Maltese shopkeeper who was accused of changing and fudging his evidence to fit better with the prosecution’s case.

Former Air Malta chairman Albert Mizzi and former ground operations manager Wilfred Borg were among those who repeatedly insisted unaccompanied luggage never left Malta.

It is ironic that one of those putting pressure on the Maltese government to call for the reopening of the inquiry is Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed at Lockerbie. What possible motive could he have other than getting to the truth?

The government might argue it has no reason to clear Malta’s or its airline’s name. But 23 years later, this terrorist act still casts a huge shadow.

This mystery will not go away when Mr Al Megrahi dies, which is likely to be fairly soon given his terminal condition, and our government is duty-bound to seek the truth.

There may be question marks over Mr Al Megrahi’s role in the 1980s. There may be question marks over his conduct and the reasons he was travelling to Malta.

But for him to be a terrorist there must be clear evidence that he loaded the bomb in Malta and that the Maltese shopkeeper was telling the truth. That evidence has never been more flimsy and it is intolerable that there is a lack of desire, especially on our part, to get to the bottom of the issue.

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