Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Lockerbie, Hillsborough and the truth

[This is the headline over an editorial in today’s edition of the Maltese newspaper The Times.  It reads as follows:]

A recent report probing the 1989 Hillsborough disaster revealed the lengths to which the police were prepared to go to divert blame from the failure to control the stadium crush that claimed 96 lives.

The damning conclusions rightly elicited anger from the victims’ families but it also brought closure and a sense of justice, albeit 23 years late.

That tragedy happened a few months after a Pan Am aircraft was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 people, 11 on the ground.

The only man accused of the 1988 Lockerbie attack died last May. But the mystery over whether Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi was really responsible for the bomb explosion failed to be buried when he died.

The American authorities, especially, may have had good reason to pin the blame on a Libyan man. Muammar Gaddafi was perceived as an enthusiastic sponsor of terrorism in the 1980s.

As the Libyan leader was hunted down last year we were told more “facts” would emerge that he had directly ordered the downing of Pan Am. So many months on, we’re still waiting.

Only when Al-Megrahi was on his last breath did the more embarrassing facts start to emerge – but by then the western media did not find the story salacious enough.

What we know is that three Scottish judges, who heard the case at The Hague in 2001, accepted the prosecution’s case that the evidence pointed to the Libyan since he had purchased clothes in Malta – that were wrapped around the bomb – which he then placed on an Air Malta aircraft bound for Frankfurt, from where a feeder flight took it to the departing Pan Am jumbo jet at Heathrow.

But there are several other less convoluted facts that the prosecution conveniently failed to address.

Let’s just mention a few salient points which show that the available evidence was selectively massaged in such a way as to make the verdict against Al-Megrahi possible.

After Al-Megrahi was imprisoned, it emerged that the Scottish police were aware that there had been a break-in at Heathrow airport 16 hours before PA103 was blown up. Why wasn’t this crucial point raised in the original trial?

A Maltese man – Tony Gauci – told international investigators that Al-Megrahi bought the clothes (which were wrapped around the bomb) from his shop in Sliema. But why do the authorities till this day ignore a fact which emerged later that Mr Gauci had been coached and promised compensation from the CIA to point to the Libyan man as the guilty party?

Why did the Crown Office fail to listen to warnings of their own forensic expert that a fragment of circuit board (allegedly originating from the wreckage) simply did not match the Libyan bomb timer board allegedly used? The list of questions is endless.

The Times revealed last week that the Maltese courts have been asked to gather fresh evidence connected to Lockerbie – and this is welcome news. The Maltese Government has claimed Luqa airport had no connection with the atrocity. If that is really the case then the real Lockerbie bomber has never been identified.

As Jim Swire, a man whose daughter was killed at Lockerbie, aptly put it in an opinion piece written last week: “to divert blame away from the actual perpetrators is to protect them and to increase the chances of them striking again.”

Like Hillsborough, it is not too late for the Lockerbie victims’ families to get to know the truth.

[A report in the same newspaper on yesterday’s proceedings before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee can be read here. The secretary of Justice for Megrahi, Robert Forrester, is extensively quoted.]

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