On Tuesday morning the Justice Committee at Holyrood will reach a decision which could colour Scotland’s perception of our elected representatives in terms of their relationship with the Crown for generations to come. It is a simple matter. Namely, whether or not to throw out the Justice for Megrahi petition calling for an independent inquiry into the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Those who argue that it ought to be shut down, like the Crown Office, will doubtless say that the issue is a matter exclusively for the courts. Justice campaigners, however, feel that the courts have proven incapable of resolution and the Crown downright obstructive.
It is important to understand the facts of this case in order to appreciate its potential as a massive miscarriage of justice.
At the Kamp van Zeist trial, the first time ever that the Scottish High Court had operated on neutral, international territory, the Crown, acting as prosecutor, judge and jury offered a simple scenario.
Mr al-Megrahi contrived to place an unaccompanied and unaccounted for bronze coloured, hard shell Samsonite suitcase containing a bomb operated by a simple count-down timer on to a flight from Luqa airport on Malta destined for Frankfurt. At Frankfurt, the bomb suitcase was transferred to a feeder flight bound for Heathrow. Once there, the suitcase, still unaccompanied and unaccounted for, was loaded on to Pan Am 103 resulting in the tragic deaths of 270 souls in Lockerbie.
No direct evidence, of any nature whatsoever, was presented at Zeist or has ever been found to support these allegations. Importantly since the trial a mass of evidence has transpired to undermine the Crown case.
Indisputable eye witness and documentary evidence does exist which says that Heathrow Terminal 3 airside was broken into only hours before the departure of Pan Am 103, thus providing access to the loading area. Vitally before the arrival of the Frankfurt flight, an unaccounted for suitcase, which investigators eventually concluded answered to the description of the bomb suitcase, was observed in the luggage container in which the explosion took place.
Of the prosecution’s star eye witnesses the first, Abdul Majid Giaka, was dismissed as a ‘fantasist’ by their Lordships, and the second, Tony Gauci, has been tainted by allegations of having accepted bribes from the US justice Department.
Nothing in the Crown case passes the test of credibility let alone guilt beyond reasonable doubt, which is, of course, partly why the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) supported the need for a second appeal.
Zeist is as uncomplicated and incredible as that.
Following the application for the second appeal, a Public Interest Immunity Certificate was placed over part of the evidence by the last UK Labour government. Scotland’s High Court, in the full knowledge of Mr al-Megrahi’s terminal medical condition, took an unreasonably long period deciding how to go about hearing the appeal. As the appeal was progressing to a point where it was looking as if it might be successful, Mr al-Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds and the appeal was dropped. Yet again clouds of suspicion masked the truth.
As things stand members of the al-Megrahi family could apply to resurrect the appeal. However, Libya is riven with murderous political factionalism where not even the US ambassador is immune. What hope then does this family stand of receiving justice with all the internal and external political pressures against them?
Even the efforts of the Crown to locate new evidence in the shambles of today’s new Libya, in order to resuscitate flagging public confidence in the verdict back in Scotland, have turned out to be fruitless. Now in desperation they appear to have given up and turned their attentions to Malta a country that has always denied guilt for involvement in Lockerbie.
Quite exceptionally an application for a third appeal could be left to families of the victims of the atrocity but it is far from clear how successful such an appeal would be given the miserable state of Scotland’s criminal justice system.
The question is: Will Scottish parliamentarians show courage and vision and support our call for an inquiry or will they act against the interests of justice and the truth and support the Crown’s continuing defence of the indefensible?
Last month’s damning report into the Hillsborough Disaster revealed double dealing and cover up on a massive scale. Lies and deceit came before truth and understanding and justice to the victims.
Such are the echoes of Lockerbie.
It is time to cut the puppeteer’s strings.