Thursday, 10 May 2012

Dave's disgrace

[This is the heading over a review by David Bryson on of John Ashton’s book Megrahi: You are my Jury.  It reads as follows:]

Reportedly Britain's esteemed prime minister Dave has called this book a disgrace, so I was intrigued to find out why. The man convicted in a strange kind of Scottish court for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on 21 December 1988 is Libyan. He was repatriated to Libya on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Justice Secretary, but that was in Gaddafy's day. He is terminally ill, but Mr Romney and the ineffable Mr McCain have been prompt in demanding his extradition to America on the grounds that the previous deal is now off. What `justice' he might receive in America is a legitimate question, but this new book devotes 400+ pages to a painstaking (but extremely readable) analysis of the justice that has come his way to date. I found much that I would certainly class as disgraceful, not least the way that discussion of the case has been dominated by the stridently vocal and pathologically ignorant but I don't have the impression that Dave's anathema was meant to be hurled at that. Indeed if this is just another instance of Dave stamping his little foot and trying another of his hoity-toity put-downs then his thunderbolt may turn out to be riding a boomerang.

Towards the end the book summarises the issues under two headings - the legal process, and what actually happened. The second of these is full of uncertainties, whatever people try to pretend. The legal process is hardly less complex, but it is possible for the general public to take a clear view, even if the legal profession themselves signally failed to. There's irony in this, I suppose. We are asked to apply plain-Joe logic to the legal issues but to shun glib man-in-the-street opinions as to the actual events. Layer upon layer of expert technical and forensic findings have been slowly peeled away to expose a different picture from the one they had at Megrahi's trial. Only experts can refute other experts: where the lay public like myself can go wrong is if we jump the gun and believe analysis that turns out not to be final. In such technical matters the lawyers themselves are laymen, but given patience they can understand the issues eventually, and so can we. When it comes to the law, we are invited to act as a jury, applying thought and common sense to matters that we need to have explained to us but that we can evaluate, once explained, as well as the lawyers can. The senior advocate in this case advised Megrahi to opt for jury trial. Megrahi did not understand the matter and agreed to the format eventually adopted, a panel of three eminent Scottish Law Lords. Tout court, their stately Lordships returned a guilty verdict that any rational person can see is downright perverse. No jury could conceivably have convicted.

It was bad luck that the case was forced out of the headlines by 9/11, otherwise surely some of the nonsense would have been spotted and stamped on. Whether that would have altered the verdict is moot nevertheless. More effective defence strategy might have prevented Tony Gauci (later described by no less than Scotland's head prosecutor as being an apple short of a full picnic) from leaving the witness box almost unscathed. Nevertheless it did not take any judges to see the inconsistencies in his evidence. What to me defies belief is how the judges in their Statement of Reasons showed that they were fully aware of these very inconsistencies but still set that aside and based their verdict largely on Gauci's wayward statements. No doubt juries return perverse verdicts at times, but for a real snafu you need a few senior Law Lords. The doubts started to be voiced not long after the verdict, and one of the judges took to the public prints to proclaim that he was in no doubt that their verdict had been right in all respects. Note that `all respects', no qualifications or refinements, just right in all respects. I was reminded of a very famous trial, less significant from any valid point of view but a real headline-hogger many years ago when a young female `escort' was told that a certain eminent male denied her evidence. Said she `He would say that, wouldn't he?'

It comes down to attitudes. Impartiality is not a gift of God, it has to be strictly practised, and while checks and balances help a patient investigation like this to highlight startling cases of evidence suppressed, and hint at others, we are still left guessing to a great extent. One thing however is crystal-clear, and John Ashton repeats it several times - the onus probandi, the burden of proof, falls on the prosecution, and these Law Lords blatantly landed it on the defence. One point Ashton does not make is that while English law is based on Anglo-Saxon, Scottish derives from Roman and the verdict `non liquet' (not proven) is available. There is no way that guilt was proved beyond reasonable doubt. So how did their Lordships pull off this miscarriage? I don't know, nor does Ashton, but if nobody had been convicted there would have been hell to pay among parties who do not like to be crossed or thwarted, so perhaps the thing to do is to reassure oneself that one is right in all respects and see if one can maintain the pretence.

Why were so many Americans at the crash site so soon, and what were they doing? Why were they communing with the prosecutors? A UN observer Professor Koechler alleges political interference, and you can find his report by downloading it from Private Eye. I have offered a review that you can find by keying on e,g, Lockerbie Foot, and I wonder why the earlier findings of the award-winning journalist Paul Foot are not acknowledged. Why was Megrahi released on `compassionate' grounds? My guess - because a blatant travesty of justice had been perpetrated. Mr Romney and Mr McCain please note. 

[Reviews on the website can be read here.]


  1. Unfortunately John Ashton (and his former writing partner Paul Foot) are not really worthy of belief.
    Both pushed the "drug conspiracy theory" and I note that the forward fails to mention that Ashton was researcher on the fraudulent Maltese Double Cross then wrote a book arguing that this garbage was true. Shouldn't the readers of his book be told this?

    He still claims there was "persuasive evidence" a quantity of drugs were recovered at Tundergarth. The evidence? Some anonymous person supposedly told him this! Well I'm convinced. hton also People like Robert Baer also told him things concerning Khalid Jafaar that turned out to be quite untrue. (see SCRCC report).

    While his book bangs on interminably about the Gauci identification he has virtually nothing to say about Heathrow. Is that because he had already written a book based on risible "evidence" (or no evidence at all) that the primary suitcase was introduced at Frankfurt. Has he changed his mind or does he still stand by "Cover-up of Convenience"?

    What baffles me is why the defence team would employ the co-author of "Cover-up of Convenience" as a researcher!

  2. Bitter, or what? Twisted, even.

    People can be mistaken without being fraudulent. People who are mistaken can even come to realise that and change their minds.

    I found a great deal of useful and interesting information about Heathrow in Megrahi: you are my jury. For example, that inquiries at Heathrow revealed there should have been six legitimate passenger bags in the container when Bedford saw it, but that three of the four people who saw it at that time, when asked to recreate the loading as best they could, put seven cases in it.

  3. Both of Ashton's books provide a wealth of information. Both contain some errors, but, on balance, both are excellent sources of facts (yes, facts)and theories, as you would expect from investigatory documentary publications. Cover Up of Convenience contains many, many details not uncovered by any other researcher and is extremely well referenced. It played a significant role in getting the literature to where it is today. As all such publications do, it contains some errors, some wrong assumptions and wrong conclusions, but these are by far outweighed by what it gets right.
    Megrahi: You are my Jury is an excellent book and makes a huge contribution to establishing the truth.

  4. I posted something here yesterday which appears to have disappeared into the ether. All I said was that I think both of Ashton's books contain some excellent material and are both extremely useful to any serious researcher. Of course, both contain some errors, but they are major contributions to the search for the truth about this case.