1. Foreword by Tam Dalyell MP to Cover-up of Convenience by John Ashton and Ian Ferguson (2001)
Seldom can an act of terrorism have had so many layers of sinister intrigue as the Lockerbie bombing. It was ten days after the disaster, on the evening of 31 December 1988 – Hogmanay – that I first became aware something very odd was afoot. A constituent, who I knew was an off-duty Lothian and Borders Police officer, pulled me aside at a function. He told me in confidence about disturbing events he had witnessed in the preceding days, while assigned to the Lockerbie crash site helping the Dumfries and Galloway force search the site. He described how American agents were swarming around the area, openly removing items of debris. He was concerned, not only because they appeared to be riding roughshod over the rules of evidence gathering required of a criminal investigation, but also because the police were doing nothing to stop them. My initial reaction was, ‘Well, one can hardly deny the Americans, since they’ve lost 175 citizens.’ During the following weeks I talked to more officers, some of whom had been left seething by similar experiences with the mysterious Americans.
Five years later, because I had repeatedly raised Lockerbie issues in the Commons, I was introduced to Allan Francovich, a remarkable American film-maker who had just begun to make his landmark Lockerbie documentary The Maltese Double Cross. His dogged investigation suggested that the ‘official version’ of the bombing (which insisted it was, in the words of one US official, a ‘Libyan government operation from start to finish’) was a sham and that the real culprits lay outside of Libya. More worryingly, he presented compelling evidence that the CIA was complicit in the disaster and, in so doing, made sense of the troubling accounts of my police sources. Although not the first investigator to advance this ‘alternative version’, he did so with a degree of detail that was too great to be ignored. The British and American governments’ extraordinary joint campaign to discredit the film was both an indicator of how close Francovich had got to the truth and a disturbing reminder of the lengths to which some of those in authority would go to keep the lid on the affair.
Francovich’s sudden death in 1997 came as a massive blow, but
thankfully his deputy John Ashton has kept alive his spirit of inquiry.
In 1999 I became aware of another earnest seeker after the truth, Ian Ferguson, who was at the time producing a documentary for US National Public Radio. He is one of those rare individuals who, like Francovich and Ashton, is prepared to ask the awkward questions and devote many long hours to the search for answers. His reporting of the events surrounding the trial, for Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper and on his website thelockerbietrial.com, has been unsurpassed and has frequently rattled the cages of authority. I was delighted to learn that he and Ashton had collaborated to produce this book.
As an MP, I have seen it as my role to complement the efforts of the various investigators and the equally remarkable work of the British Lockerbie victims’ relatives, by raising questions in Parliament, and to that end I have so far initiated 16 adjournment debates. The sixth of these, held on 1 February 1995, was answered by the then Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd. I am told it was the only occasion since the war that a senior cabinet minister had replied to a backbencher’s adjournment debate. I am a creature of instinct and I sensed that he and the other ministers who have replied over the years were uncomfortable with having to peddle the official line. Later that day, Douglas spotted me talking to his then shadow and eventual successor Robin Cook MP. My diary entry for the day reads:
“Douglas [Hurd] swooped down on Robin and myself in the corridor by the window opposite the clerk’s assistant’s office. He said, ‘I really do ask you two to believe that as Foreign Secretary I cannot tell the [Scottish] Crown Office [which was in charge of the Lockerbie case] what to do, nor does the Foreign Office have detailed access to evidence which they say they have. You must understand that law officers really are a law unto themselves.’ Robin and I agreed that Douglas Hurd was not unfriendly towards us, and was probably correct in outlining the rules. Robin said that he guessed that Hurd was being honest with us and did not know the full story. I shrugged my shoulders, and told Robin he was probably right.”
One of the most remarkable, but least reported, revelations in the recent trial of the two Libyans was that even the Crown Office did not know the ‘full story’ when it indicted the pair in 1991. Indeed, it was not until the trial was underway that it learned that its star witness was highly unreliable. The CIA had known this for well over a decade, yet had not seen fit to make available the crucial paperwork documenting this man’s failings. Evidence heard at the trial also confirmed the long-held suspicion that CIA agents were involved in the highly irregular activities at the crash site witnessed by my police sources.
In my view, these facts alone warrant the public inquiry that has always been the demand of the British victims’ relatives. I have no doubt that there is much else in this book that will add weight to that demand. My government colleagues promised such an inquiry when in opposition and I trust that, as men of honour, they will make good that pledge.
2. Letter to Jim Swire from Chief Constable, Dumfries & Galloway Police
Dear Dr Swire, 2 April 2012
I refer to your recent correspondence headed ‘Apparent Suppression of Evidence’. This letter seeks to fulfil the undertaking I gave you to provide you with an unambiguous response to concerns you raised regarding the handling of statements and evidence in connection with the insecurity detected at Heathrow.
I can confirm the following:
1. In January 1989 BAA security notified the Metropolitan police that an insecurity had been detected within terminal 3 at Heathrow during the early hours of 21 December 1988.
2. The Metropolitan police passed this evidence to the Police Incident Room at Lockerbie and Actions were raised to investigate this matter.
3. During the course of this investigation Mr Manly, the BAA Security Team Leader who discovered the insecurity, was interviewed by an officer from the Metropolitan Police and a statement was obtained from him. The interview took place on 31 January 1989. A number of other witnesses were also traced and interviewed regarding the insecurity.
4. Mr Manly’s statement was passed to the police incident room at Lockerbie and was registered on the HOLMES system on 2 February 1989. This statement and those from other witnesses identified At Heathrow were considered by enquiry officers at the time in the context of a range of emerging strands of evidence.
5. In 1991 the police report outlining the evidence against Mr Megrahi and Mr Fhima was submitted to the Crown Office. This report did not contain a reference to the insecurity at Heathrow and made no mention of Mr Manly's statement.
6. The surrender of Mr Megrahi and Mr Fhima for trial in the Netherlands prompted a massive preparation exercise during the course of which over 14,000 witness statements were provided to Crown Office in 1999. Mr Manly's statement was included in the material supplied to Crown though again the police made no reference to it.
7. In 2001, as a result of Mr Manly contacting defence representatives, the insecurity at Heathrow was subject to a fresh investigation, the Crown disclosed the relevant statements to the defence and as you know the matter was considered during Mr Megrahi's first appeal. The appeal judges, in rejecting the appeal, made it clear that their assessment of the significance of this additional evidence must be conducted in the context of the whole circumstantial evidence laid before the trial court and concluded that "it cannot be said that the verdict falls to be regarded as a miscarriage of justice on account of having been reached in ignorance of the additional evidence" As the Lord Advocate explained at the meeting in London it is not for the appeal court to look at the case "afresh", it has to consider the new evidence in the context of the whole case that the trial court had before it.
In summary I can categorically state that no suppression of evidence took place and I hope this information alleviates your concerns in that regard.
(Signed) Patrick Shearer, Chief Constable.
3. The place of Lockerbie in world events, a review by Neil Berry of John Ashton’s Megrahi: You are my Jury
Published by the plucky Scottish press Birlinn, John Ashton’s new book Megrahi: You are my Jury: The Lockerbie Evidence casts grave doubt on the validity of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi’s conviction as the Libyan terrorist responsible for blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 and murdering 259 mostly American people in December 1988. At the same time, it raises deeply disturbing questions about the United States and United Kingdom’s boasted commitment to truth and justice.
It is perhaps no surprise that the mainstream British media are fighting shy of according this bulky volume the attention it deserves. For to discuss its contents would mean re-visiting a vastly acrimonious episode that threatened to poison relations between Britain and the US: The early release in August 2009 from his Scottish prison — on grounds that he was dying of cancer — of a Muslim convict who was seen by many as the personification of evil.
A member of Megrahi’s legal team, John Ashton is liable to the charge that his familiarity with the Libyan has clouded his judgment, but his book — which intersperses an exhaustive examination of the evidence that led to his conviction with Megrahi’s own testimony — collates the work of several hands and is a model of forensic rigor. It is indeed hard to believe that any fair-minded person could read it without being persuaded that Megrahi was the victim of a grotesque miscarriage of justice. The powerful impression left by the book is that Megrahi, who had run security for Libyan Arab Airlines while engaging in clandestine trading, had the ill-luck to be in Malta, the putative point of origin of the Lockerbie bomb, at the wrong time, and that he was framed because the US found it convenient to point the finger of blame at Libya.
What has never been widely recognized is that the blowing up of Pan Am 103 over the Scottish town ofLockerbie took place six months after the shooting down of an Iranian airbus over the Persian Gulf in July 1988 by the American battle cruiser, the USS Vincennes, with the deaths of 290 Iranians. It was an outrage Iran immediately vowed to avenge, and all the indications were that it was Iran, acting through the shadowy terrorist splinter group, the Palestine Popular Struggle Front, that mandated the Lockerbie operation. If, in the aftermath of Lockerbie, the US shrank from confrontation with Tehran, it was because, on top of seeking to negotiate the release of American hostages held by Iranian-backed terrorists, it was concerned to have a free hand in repelling Saddam Hussein’s attempt to annex Kuwait to Iraq.
Yet a scapegoat for Lockerbie was imperative and Libya, with an egregious leader, Col Qaddafi, whose image in the West was that of a deranged tribal savage, figured as the ideal candidate. John Ashton’s book underlines how readily the Western public accepted the case for imposing crippling sanctions on Libya as the culprit for Lockerbie. Few demurred when — even before he was sentenced by 3 Scottish judges at a special court in the Netherlands in 2001 — US President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeatedly described Megrahi not as a suspect but as a mass murderer.
All this would be chilling enough — even if the case against Megrahi were a more compelling one. In truth, his conviction relied on the testimony of a shopkeeper in Malta who had but the sketchiest memory of selling clothes to an Arab customer around the time when a suitcase containing the bomb was supposedly put on a feeder flight to London, there to be loaded onto Pan Am 103. It relied, too, on a circuit board, alleged to have been part of the bomb and to have derived from a batch of Swiss timing devices sold to Libya, though it was to transpire that this item of evidence — found far from the Lockerbie crash site — had nothing to do with the timers in question. What is particularly shocking is how much material evidence was withheld from Megrahi’s trial — including the striking circumstance that the night before Pan Am 103 flew from London Heathrow, the airport was broken into.
The assumption that the Lockerbie bomb originated in Malta may well have deflected attention from a far more productive line of inquiry.
Megrahi endured his 8-year Scottish incarceration in the bitter knowledge that he had been convicted on a basis that came nowhere near to satisfying the principle that guilt should be proved “beyond reasonable doubt.” Following 9/11, however, he felt that his chances of ever clearing his name had all but vanished. Certainly, the belief that he was the “Lockerbie bomber,” a malevolent Muslim who had carried out Britain’s worst ever terrorist atrocity, lodged deep in the public mind — so deep that when he was diagnosed as having only months to live and Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MackAskill, decreed he should be allowed to return to Libya to die, there was widespread outrage, not least in the United States.
In Britain and the US, many were of the opinion that Megrahi was the beneficiary of a squalid oil deal struck with Qaddafi by Britain’s sometime Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and that British and Scottish politicians were not only colluding with a vile regime but insulting the dead.
Outrage about the commutation of his sentence grew as Megrahi confounded Scottish medical expectations regarding his survival prospects, living on in Tripoli until May of this year. And though he remained desperately ill, there were to be vindictive demands, following the toppling of Col Qaddafi in 2011, that he be made to face justice in the United States.
Yet on the evidence of John Ashton’s book it is not his truncated sentence that ought to be on British and American consciences. It is the fact that Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi was ever convicted at all.