Thursday, 4 October 2012

Lockerbie: would you convict?

[This is the headline over an article in today’s edition of the Maltese newspaper The Times by Robert Forrester, secretary of Justice for Megrahi.  It reads as follows:]

Tragedy is not like smokeless fuel. With tragedy comes victims, it is part of the very essence of the word. The problem with Lockerbie is that the roll call of victims does not begin and end with those who died that night, but with their families and friends, whose suffering never dies.

The manner in which the Scottish criminal justice system dealt with the case actually increased the number of victims.

The very structure of the stage upon which justice performed at Camp Zeist, one where the Crown played the roles of prosecutor, judge and jury, lent itself to potential disaster.

And so it happened their Lordships convicted Abdelbaset al-Megrahi wholly on the basis of surmise: not evidence but conjecture.

They concluded that he had somehow contrived to have an unaccompanied, bronze-coloured, hardshell Samsonite suitcase containing a bomb travel undetected to Heathrow via Luqa and Frankfurt airports. Well, of course it was undetected, in evidential terms it never existed, except in the minds of the three Zeist judges when this scheme of things was planted there by the Crown as prosecutor.

By complete contrast, there is concrete eyewitness and documentary evidence for there having been a break-in at Heathrow, which gave access to 103’s loading bay at Terminal 3, only hours prior to the fateful departure.

Moreover, there is also eyewitness testimony to the effect that an unexplained suitcase answering to the above description was observed lying at the bottom of the container in which the explosion took place before the arrival of the Frankfurt feeder flight. This case was not pulled to be checked.

The evidence concerning the break-in was not made public until after the court had convicted Mr Megrahi, and that concerning the sighting in the container was simply breezed over at Zeist as if some minor irritant hardly worth bothering about.

Added to this of course, once the testimony of Abd al-Majid Giaka on the happenings at Luqa had been thrown out of court, we have the role played by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci. Laying aside the fact that the court was kept in the dark about allegations that he received $2,000,000, and his brother $1,000,000, from the US Department of Justice, the three judges were at pains to make allowances for shortcomings in his evidence.

Respected, academic, psychological tests have demonstrated that the accuracy of eyewitness identification of individuals beyond a period of 11 months from the initial event is reduced to a matter of chance.

While the parade at Zeist came over a decade later, Mr Gauci had been privy to contemporary photographs of Mr Megrahi shortly before it. Even so, the best he could do in court was to say that Mr Megrahi “resembles” the man in question. Hardly the stuff of “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Since the justice campaign went political in 2008, the Scottish Government has provided the judiciary with extraordinary powers which could easily result in any further appeal being rejected.

Having said that though, the likelihood of the Megrahis making an application at the moment is very slim.

The supposedly “live” investigation (previously being run by one solitary police officer) which took Scotland’s Lord Advocate to Libya in the company of the Director of the FBI only to come home with a “no comment”, and which has now embarked on in camera hearings on Malta in an attempt to salvage a conviction, seems to be getting perilously close to unravelling.

Will the Valletta jaunt elicit yet another “no comment” from the Crown?

It is a perfectly natural, defensive, animal instinct for an institution, even for many institutions acting quasi independently of each other, to close ranks to protect themselves and the status quo which feeds them. Although understandable, it is totally wrong. Placing to one side the most obvious victim of Zeist, Mr Megrahi, those who continue to defend the conviction by blocking any attempts to seek redress and justice ought to consider incidental victims: Kurt Maier, X-ray operator at Frankfurt whose evidence was ignored, became an alcoholic and died after being implicated by the Crown’s fantasy; the reputation of all those employees at Luqa Airport in Malta, an airport whose security regime was clearly infinitely superior to that of Heathrow, as Granada Television found to their cost; the Libyan victims of sanctions associated with the US approach to justice, and so on.

Helmut Kohl made it crystal clear there is no evidence for any bomb having been transferred in Germany.

Malta may be small but its government can have an influence out of proportion to its size as a country – even in an environment dominated by realpolitik.

Justice only need be a victim if it is allowed to become one, and campaigners have no intention of allowing that to happen any time soon.

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