Friday, 18 May 2012

1000 days of shame

[What follows is the text of a letter submitted by Dr Jim Swire to The Herald two days ago, but not (yet) published:]

On 27th February this year a book was launched by Edinburgh publisher Birlinn called Megrahi: You are my Jury.

Earlier that very morning, just before the actual launch, 10 Downing Street, which could not have seen the book, issued a statement saying the book was an insult to the [Lockerbie] relatives. I was in Edinburgh reading the 'insult' for myself. Do read pages 355-362 in particular. Just who was insulted by whom?

No 10's statement was self evidently made in ignorance of the book's contents. Among many other issues raised, the book shows for all who will look, that there is responsible and repeatable scientific evidence that a fragment of circuit board designated as 'PT35b' at trial and found within a Scottish police evidence bag could not after all have been a piece of a Libyan owned bomb timer mechanism as the court believed.

There are of course many other reasons for doubting the safety of the Scottish verdict against Megrahi, but of this one tiny fragment even the US FBI's Edward Marshman, deeply involved, along with the Dumfries and Galloway police in assembling evidence for the Zeist court has said publicly that he believes that without this fragment the case could not have been brought to trial.

It is indeed a thousand days since Mr Megrahi was released from Greenock under a provision for compassion for sick prisoners which has become available within our Scottish legal system. I am not a Catholic, but like Cardinal Keith O'Brien, head of that Church in Scotland I believe we should be proud of that provision in our law. In a letter to your paper on 9th August 2010, I wrote:

'It is as the Cardinal says: there is a 'clash of cultures'[between the US and Scotland] and like him I want to live in a culture capable of compassion. I believe that the Church of Scotland also supported compassionate release of Mr Megrahi.'

However our First Minister, as well as Kenny MacAskill have both repeatedly claimed during the 1000 days since his release that they see no reason to doubt the Zeist verdict against Mr Megrahi. The Holyrood Parliament heatedly discussed the release, stalked by an elephant they could not see: on its flank, the words was he guilty or not?' Perhaps it was the animal's trunk which nearly brought down the roof of the debating chamber, since it had already been stalkng them for so many years.

I think we can no longer tolerate ignorance about this terrible case. Currently we do not even know, because we have not investigated it, how it was that a piece of circuit board, so important that even the FBI say the case could not have run without it came to be found inside a Scottish police evidence bag, the label for which had also been illegally changed.

Let me say to you, Mr Cameron, through this gallant newspaper that the book Megrahi: You are my Jury is not an insult to this British relative of one of the dead, indeed the book should be read by you, your staff and all your legal advisers. Amongst much else, it tells us that a fragment of circuit board on which, even according to the Americans the whole trial depended, could not have originated from a Libyan timer. Feel free to get the scientific proof of this repeated. Do please go and ask all your Government Departments to release for public inspection all documents relevant to this case which have been made subject of 'PII certificates' over the years. The last time I wrote to you directly, on 29th February 2012 all I got was a reply from the Foreign Office dated 4th May 2012: was that perchance an insult to a relative? But you are of course a very busy and honourable man.

Meanwhile Mr Salmond please launch an inquiry into how this case came to be compromised by the spurious belief that we had evidence of the use of a Libyan timer, when in fact we did not?. Don't you want to know how that fragment got into a Scottish police evidence bag? Don't you want to know if there is any connection between that and what Tam Dalyell records in his forward to Ashton's earlier work Cover up of Convenience, (Mainstream publishing, Edinburgh, 2001)? '....American agents were swarming around the area [of the Lockerbie crash site]...... the [Scottish] police were doing nothing to stop them.'

To Mr Cameron I would say remember the disgrace of the IRA wrongful convictions under English law. Even those who do look at the facts before making judgements sometimes get things dreadfully wrong. In this case you haven't even looked at the facts, have you?

To Mr Salmond: your people of Scotland must be allowed to see whether the Zeist court went dreadfully wrong or not. The more independent we become, the greater will become their need to be sure that their justice system is free of all political interference.

As for some of us, the relatives of those brutally murdered at Lockerbie, we are tired of being treated as if we were ignorant children. We are not going away, we have a right to the truth. My lay advice would be to bite the bullet both of you now, before it cripples your careers. We have seen enough of party political point scoring in Holyrood and Westminster. Call in the experts, look at the facts: all we want is the truth, and to protect us all better in the future.

Meanwhile Mr Cameron and Mr Salmond consider this please.... if we are correct in believing that the story of a Libyan bomb launched by Megrahi from Malta is fiction, then to protect that fiction would be to protect the real culprits who carried out this terrible action. Is that really what you want to be associated with in the annals of history? These are indeed a thousand days of shame.

So how about a deep breath and having a fresh look at all the facts? Ashton's title claims that we - the public -  are now Megrahi's jury. To be an effective jury, we need first to hear all the facts of the case laid out fair and square before us: are you afraid to allow that to happen? If so why?

[A letter submitted by Dr Swire to The Scotsman and also as yet unpublished reads as follows:]

On Monday David Cameron issued a stinging attack on Mr Salmond's Government over the compassionate release of Abdel Baset al Megrahi just 1000 days ago.

I had the privilege of petitioning Mr Kenny MacAskill before his release decision claiming that Mr Megrahi should be released at once.

I had two reasons for doing that.

First, as a doctor I knew that he was dying and had an incurable and extremely painful future before him and, guilty or innocent, compassion alone dictated that he should now live out his remaining time with his loving wife and family. I believe that his survival for almost exactly 1000 days after MacAskill's decision is due basically to the love and care of his family replacing his isolation from them in Greenock prison, however humane his care was there. In addition advanced chemotherapy, including Abiraterone available in Libya, though not Scotland, may have bought him some extra months. All of us male potential victims of this cancer in the future should rejoice, not moan at his prolonged survival, who knows for whom the bell may toll next?

Second, I believed that the verdict against him was unsafe. Yet I had attended the debate at Holyrood following MacAskill's decision, where the blowtorches of the party political infighters had been turned upon Kenny for his decision, not to mention those of Westminster and the United States. Only one MSP (Christine Grahame, SNP) really tried then to point to the uncertainty over the verdict against this man.

On 29th February this year immediately prior to the launch of John Ashton's book Megrahi: You are my Jury 10 Downing street issued a statement claiming the book to be 'an insult to the [Lockerbie] relatives, they had not yet seen it. Now Cameron, speaking of Megrahi's survival till almost 1000 days after his release claimed on Monday:-

"One thousand days on, this is yet another reminder that Alex Salmond's Government's decision to free (sic) the biggest mass murderer in British history was wrong and an insult to the families of the 270 people who were murdered". Make that 269 and counting rapidly down, Mr Cameron.

The Ashton book shows among many other serious weaknesses in the prosecution case that a item of evidence, (the circuit board fragment known as PT35b) could not have come from a Libyan owned timer circuit board after all, as the court believed that it did; this was the last secure bastion of the fable (now surely myth) of Megrahi having started the bomb from Malta:  Even the leader of the FBI Lockerbie investigators Edward Marshman had said publicly that the trial could not have proceeded without it.

In the 1000 days since Kenny made his move, the Salmond administration has maintained the position that it has no reason to doubt the Megrahi verdict. They too appear to choose to be ignorant of the accumulating evidence indicating the urgent need for a re-assessment of the facts in this case.

Time perhaps for Mr Salmond to take the cue from Willie Rennie MSP a voice I hear above the party political babel North of the border who has said inter alia "...... we should be investigating whether crucial information was withheld from the trial". We have already wasted 1000 days.

We should also be investigating just how the fragment PT35b came to be found within an official Scottish police evidence bag. The firm allegation from the Ashton book, supported by impeccable science (partly of Scottish origin) shows that the fragment presented to court could not have come from one of the Libyan timers. There was no evidence led of any other source for it among the wreckage. So just how did it appear in that bag apparently recovered from the debris field? There it was in that bag, wrapped in a shirt collar however did it get there if it had no real origin among the debris? Someone must know. and it's our responsibility Mr Salmond to discover how it emerged within the supposedly secure Scottish police evidence chain, is it not?

It would also be useful to know where the fragment PT35b really did come from, would it not?

That is if, as I'm sure is really the case Mr Salmond, you wish,like us relatives, to know the truth. This was the last bastion of the fable  of Megrahi having started the bomb from Malta: Marshman is right: no fragment, no trial.

As Cardinal Keith O'Brien has said he is glad that our Scottish justice system embodies a moiety of compassion.. We should also be proud of that even if Cameron is not. But people of this country need and deserve transparency in their justice systems. We are not at present moving towards that. It is too late now for Megrahi. It is not too late for the Scottish people nor for Megrahi's family. We must have objective reassessment of this case. Mr Cameron already has the examples of the gross miscarriages of justice under English law in IRA bomb cases, he might benefit from reviewing those findings.It is possible to be well intentioned, but wrong.

For 1000 days we may already have been screening the real perpetrators from justice through our inactivity. 

[An article by Tom Peterkin in The Scotsman today contains the following:]

If a week is a long time in politics then 1,000 days is the equivalent of a political aeon. This week saw the 1,000th day since the Lockerbie bomber was controversially released by Kenny MacAskill.
That “milestone” led to a bit of discussion in the Holyrood canteen – not so much on the remarkable longevity of a man who supposedly only had three months to live. It was more that the brouhaha and wall-to-wall coverage associated with Megrahi’s journey to Tripoli seemed to belong to a different age.
Since his release in August 2009, we have seen a general election, a Scottish election and local government elections. Political leaders have departed (Gordon Brown, Iain Gray, Annabel Goldie, Tavish Scott). Fortunes and reputations of others have risen and fallen (David Cameron, Nick Clegg).
Alex Salmond’s stock soared at the Scottish election but was checked slightly at the local elections. But the point was that it had been 1,000 days since Megrahi’s release and, as someone cleverly noted, there is a certain symmetry in that there are another 1,000 days to go before Salmond holds his independence referendum.

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