Lockerbie investigators have been given fresh assurances by Libya's interim Prime Minister that his government will co-operate "as a priority" as they pursue new lines of inquiry into the terrorist outrage.
Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, QC, and Patrick Shearer, chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary, the force investigating the 1988 bombing which claimed 270 lives, held talks in London yesterday with Abdurrahim El Keib. (…)
It comes after discussions in Tripoli last month between Mr El Keib, Mr Mulholland and Robert Mueller, the director of America's FBI, to discuss the investigation.
Mr El Keib was in London to meet Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street.
A Crown Office spokesman said: "Following the meeting with the Lord Advocate in Tripoli in April, the interim Libyan Prime Minister met the Lord Advocate and the chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway in London to discuss and re-affirm the commitment he gave to the Lord Advocate and the director of FBI in April that the new Libyan Government would co-operate with Scottish and US law enforcement in the investigation of ... the Lockerbie bombing.
"The Prime Minister asked for clarification on a number of issues relating to the conduct of the proposed investigation in Libya and the Lord Advocate has undertaken to provide this.
"The Prime Minister made it clear he recognised the seriousness of this crime, and following the clarification he would take this forward as a priority. As the investigation remains live, and in order to preserve the integrity of that investigation, it would not be appropriate to offer further comment."
Megrahi's death sparked renewed calls for investigators to pursue high-profile members of Colonel Gaddafi's now defunct regime.
Among people likely to be topping the interview list for prosecutors are
Moussa Koussa, the former head of Libya's external intelligence, and Abdullah al Senussi, Gaddafi's brother-in-law and former Libyan intelligence chief.
Both are believed to hold vital information about Libya's role in the plot to bomb Pan-Am flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie killing all 259 on board and 11 people on the ground.
Yesterday First Minister Alex Salmond, responding to a request by Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie, rejected pleas for a Scottish public inquiry into the case.
Mr Rennie had claimed it was an opportunity "to shine a light" on the conduct of the Crown Office.
Prosecutors have been criticised over their handling of the case, with a report by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission finding six separate grounds for a possible appeal against Megrahi's conviction.
Mr Salmond said: "As Willie Rennie should know, the relatives of Mr Megrahi have the ability, if they so choose, to go back to the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission and seek further leave to appeal. That is the process which can be followed."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Number 10 said: "The Prime Minister noted that Prime Minister El Keib had met with the Lord Advocate earlier in his visit regarding the Lockerbie case and hoped that progress would be made on outstanding questions."
[Mike Wade’s sketch in The Times on yesterday’s First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood contains (behind the paywall) the following:]
The serious stuff was left to Willie Rennie, the Lib Dem leader, and Graeme Pearson, a Labour MSP who once did a job in the real world, as director-general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency. Both were prompted by the death of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, to raise questions about the case.
Mr Rennie was intrigued by a call from such notables as Desmond Tutu, Terry Waite and John Pilger, for an independent Scottish inquiry into the bombing and its investigation, citing the conduct of the Crown Office as a something to be considered in an inquiry.
Mr Salmond’s answer was mostly from the texts of recent government press releases — “The place where you determine guilt or innocence is in a court of law” — but was notable for one well-made point: “The forensic trail which led to Malta and Libya was upheld in that exhaustive review of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission,” he said, a point often overlooked in media commentaries on the case. [RB: Certainly the SCCRC did not accept that PT35b, the timer fragment that linked Libya to the bomb, had been planted or fabricated. But it has subsequently been conclusively established by expert metallurgical examination that that fragment did not come from one of the MEBO timers supplied to Libya. The link to Libya has been shattered.]
Mr Pearson was concerned with al-Megrahi’s release in August 2009, and its connection to a guest he received at Greenock prison two weeks earlier: Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Minister. Hadn’t this visit, and Mr MacAskill’s subsequent handling of criticism, done “reputational damage” to the government?
This time Mr Salmond’s answer was notable for what he left out. He said that correspondence published by the Cabinet Office had shown that the Labour Government was prepared to trade al-Megrahi in a prisoner transfer agreement — but failed to mention that the same correspondence suggested that Mr MacAskill had also been prepared to countenance such a deal, in 2007.