[This is the headline over a report in today’s edition of The Times (behind the paywall). It reads in part:]
Religious leaders, politicians and relatives of some victims of the Lockerbie bombing have called for an independent inquiry into the conviction of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the man found guilty of the attack.
In an open letter, the campaigners claimed the case against al-Megrahi “held water like a sieve” and was compromised by both the “bribing” of a witness and “the very real possibility” that key evidence in his trial had been fabricated.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Terry Waite, formerly the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special envoy, and Sir Teddy Taylor, a former Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, signed the letter, along with the journalists Kate Adie, Ian Hislop and John Pilger, and 35 others.
Al-Megrahi died at the weekend, almost three years after he was released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government because he had [prostate] cancer.
The Scottish government denies that it granted his freedom in 2009 only after he decided to drop a second appeal against his conviction. It said that its decision was humane, in accordance with Scottish law.
Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, said that al-Megrahi would answer to “a higher power”.
The campaigners ironically quote Mr MacAskill in their letter, which criticises the Scotttish government. “Fine words are not enough. Action is required,” say the authors.
“If Scotland wishes to see its criminal justice system reinstated to the position of respect that it once held rather than its languishing as the mangled wreck it has become because of this perverse judgement, it is imperative that its government acts by endorsing an independent inquiry into this entire affair.
“As a nation which aspires to independence, Scotland must have the courage to look itself in the mirror.” (…)
Dr Jim Swire and Rev John Mosey, who both lost daughters on the flight, are among the signatories, who criticised the actions of the Crown Office (the equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales).
“The Crown and successive governments have, for years, acted to obstruct any attempts to investigate how the conviction of Mr al-Megrahi came about,” write the authors.
They allege a serious of failings in the prosecution case, including the bribery of Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who was a key Crown witness; the possibility that forensic evidence was fabricated; the retraction of some testimony; and the non-disclosure of other evidence. The letter adds: “Evidence supporting the alternative and infinitely more logical ingestion of the bomb directly at Heathrow was either dismissed at the trial or withheld from the court until after the verdict of guilty had been returned.”
The Scottish government rejected the inquiry and said that the issues being raised related to the conviction and “must be a matter for a court of law”.
A Scottish government spokesman said that Al-Megrahi’s relatives, or the relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie atrocity, were all entitled to ask the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer the case to the Appeal Court again on a posthumous basis.
He added: “Ministers would be entirely comfortable with that.”
A spokesman for the Crown Office said that the only appropriate forum for the determination of guilt or innocence was the criminal court.
[A similar article appears today in The Scotsman. A report in today’s edition ofThe Herald contains the following:]
Mr [Tam] Dalyell, a former Father of the House of Commons, told The Herald: "The SNP Government and Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill in particular are burying their heads in the sand on the Lockerbie issue. If they were to admit that Mr Megrahi had nothing to do with the crime of Lockerbie they would then by implication condemn the very institution which shows Scotland to be most separate from England – the justice system.
"The reason to pursue an inquiry after Megrahi's death, is that to not do so would leave an indelible stain on the Scottish justice system. It is about pursuing the truth. I simply do not think party politics should be played on this. If people or parties have to be embarrassed then so be it because they will have brought it on themselves by being less than candid. For the sake of the Scottish justice system we cannot let this go."
[It is sad, but entirely in character, to see the Scottish Government and the Crown Office repeating the tired old mantra that the only proper way to address concerns over the Megrahi conviction is through a court of law. It is indeed true that the only way that the verdict can be overturned is through a further appeal. But we have clear evidence now of flaws -- indeed wrongdoing -- in the Lockerbie investigation and in the conduct of the prosecution. It is quite certainly not the case that only way in which these matters can be ventilated is in an appeal against the verdict. They are matters which have caused, or are capable of causing, public concern; and that is precisely the test that must be satisfied for an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. It would be outrageous if police and Crown wrongdoing in a case could be exposed only if the accused person chose to exercise his right of appeal. Such wrongdoing is a matter of public concern and it is to address such concerns that the 2005 Act exists. Moreover, such an inquiry could lead to a royal pardon (indeed royal pardons almost invariably flow from inquiries into cases in which there has been a conviction). A royal pardon does not overturn the verdict, which technically still stands, but it is an official recognition that the conviction was flawed. So there really is no constitutional or legal problem about asking for an inquiry into what went wrong in the investigation and prosecution of the Lockerbie case.]