The Destruction of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988
I am a practising barrister, Head of Chambers Emeritus at 7 Bell Yard and an established legal author. Over the last year I have contributed a number of articles to Criminal Law and Justice Weekly on the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, and I also maintain an on-line monograph on the issue, hosted at www.DavidWolchover.co.uk. The monograph is an expansion of the material set out in the CL&JW articles. I am enclosing herewith a bundle of the CL&JW articles, a print out of the current edition of the monograph, and a copy of an article I contributed last year to the Jewish Chronicle entitled “Lockerbie: time for us to reveal the true culprits”. All are commended for your attention. [RB: these documents can be found on David Wolchover's website, or through this blog's search facility.]
The drafting of this letter was already well advanced when news came through of the death of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. In substance his death changes nothing, save that large numbers of ill-informed people will be saying to themselves “not a moment too soon.”
On the 29 February this year, immediately prior to the launch of John Ashton’s book Megrahi: You are my Jury, 10 Downing Street issued a statement characterising the book as “an insult to the Lockerbie relatives.” It is understood that your office had not at that stage been treated to sight of the work. Then, on Monday, 14 May, referring to Abdelbaset al Megrahi’s release in 2009 by the Scottish authorities, you stated:
“One thousand days on, this is yet another reminder that Alex Salmond’s Government’s decision to free the biggest mass murderer in British history was wrong and an insult to the families of the 270 people who were murdered.”
Contrary to the supposition of some observers I do not believe that this was grandstanding inspired primarily by the perception of an opportunity to upstage Mr Salmond. The passionate tones of your statement demonstrate that you were (characteristically, if I may respectfully say so) speaking from the heart.
Today it is reported that in Chicago yesterday you dismissed the possibility of a new UK Lockerbie inquiry, stating that Megrahi’s trial was
“properly conducted . . . This has been thoroughly gone through. There was a proper process, a proper court proceeding and all the rest of it.”
With the greatest of respect, the fact that the trial may have been conducted with all due decorum and with all the niceties attendant upon safeguarding the defendant’s right to legal representation, strict observance of the rules of evidence and procedure, and with an apparent attention to detail, does not mean that the judges “got it right.”
The fact is that not only did they not “get it right” but that, amazing as it might seem and notwithstanding their enormous authority and professional distinction, they made an utter hash of the evidence and accepted as reality a quite ludicrous series of propositions, as any sensible scrutiny of the evidence plainly reveals. As far as the Malta end of the story is concerned, their finding was based on nothing short of petitio principii, assuming what is to be proved as a component of the would-be proof, as you will see from my analysis. As to what is supposed to have taken place in Frankfurt they were actually led to overlook one vital piece of evidence which of itself and even if the rest of the evidence had been coherent and logical would have brought down the whole edifice like a house of cards (see Vol 175 CL&JW, Aug 27/Sept 3, p.510, enclosed). So even there it was not all “thoroughly gone through.”
Sadly, the verdict has become the king’s new clothes, a comforting illusion for those, including many bereaved relatives, who would rather seek refuge in apparent certainty than face the terrible realisation that the trail to the true culprits will long have gone cold, with the scent never likely to be picked up again by even the most dogged bloodhound.
In subscribing to the validity of Megrahi’s conviction you take a position which is opposed by what has now grown into a substantial body of authoritative and informed individuals of diverse shades of political opinion from the worlds of politics, journalism, medicine, the law and other professions. Importantly also, a great many if not most of the bereaved British families – tenaciously led of course by Dr Swire – and many of the American relatives now utterly reject the case for upholding Megrahi’s conviction.
In the face of that weight of opinion and having regard to the details of the case your outspoken position at first blush seems puzzling. But I feel convinced that your assumption of Megrahi’s guilt is based on no more than the fact that he was convicted at Zeist and that his conviction was upheld at the original appeal. It is hardly surprising that you would have had little time to assimilate for yourself the details of the case to a degree necessary to form a fully informed view, though it is perhaps unfortunate (as I assume to be the case) that someone at least among your staff was not briefed to make a detailed study of the details and to report back to you.
However, were you to get to grips with those details it is inconceivable that as a rational and independent thinker, if I may say so, you would not fail to come to appreciate that the Crown’s case quite simply flies in the face of common sense and is fundamentally and utterly unsustainable.
Libya was not involved. The true culprits were almost certainly the PFLP-GC led by the arch terrorist Ahmed Jibril. Such pointers to that proposition as are available are thoroughly analysed in the enclosed texts.
But my purpose in writing is not to take on the challenge of trying to squeeze into a page or two the essence of the argument disavowing Megrahi’s conviction, though I am sure that others more qualified than I might well succeed in making a powerful case in a few sentences.
My particular purpose in writing is to pose the following questions, the specific answers to which I feel sure a suitable official can answer.
1. In making your pronouncement were you expressing a purely personal opinion or were you articulating the coalition’s collective standpoint?
2. If you were expressing no more than a personal opinion, what was the depth of your study of the case? What materials did you consult?
3. If you were speaking for HM Government, rather than in a purely personal capacity, was it with the express approval of cabinet colleagues?
4. If you did not have their express approval, were you nonetheless purporting to speak for the Government using some form special authority as Prime Minister akin to an exercise of the royal prerogative?
5. If you did have the express approval of colleagues, please identify the forum in which that approval was registered.
6. If approval was given in cabinet please state
(a) whether approval was by majority or unanimous;
(b) whether cabinet members voted on the matter on the basis of being required to deliberate of the facts in the case,
(c) if so, what protocols were adopted for ensuring that they were briefed on the evidence and issues in the case to a level sufficient for them to make an informed and rational judgment, and
(d) whether the members were expected to acquaint themselves with the facts before voting on whether to give approval to your statement, to a degree sufficient to make a rational judgment,
7. If approval was given in cabinet but not on the basis of deliberation on the detailed facts by individual members please state whether it was given on the basis of a vote taken in cabinet to adopt the judgment of the Scottish trial and appeal court judges on the assumption that having respectively tried the case and heard the first appeal their view could not properly be gainsaid by lay politicans.
I would be most grateful to receive a substantive answer to these questions from your office.