The 21st of December will mark a quarter of a century since Pan Am 103 came down on Lockerbie killing all 259 people on board and a further eleven on the ground. The following month will see the twelfth anniversary of the day on which the Scottish judiciary convicted Abdelbaset al-Megrahi of bombing the plane. Mr al-Megrahi has been dead for exactly a year. So what relevance does the Lockerbie/Zeist justice campaign have in the here and now?
Dying acquits no one of a crime, therefore, unless something is done to change it, Mr al-Megrahi will remain convicted of 270 murders. The fundamental question mark which lies at the very heart of Zeist is whether or not one believes in phantoms. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) managed, by Oscar winning guile, to persuade the court that a fantasy bomb suitcase travelled to Heathrow from Luqa via Frankfurt. The judges were deprived of evidence, which, if presented, would have driven a juggernaut festooned with blue flashing lights and wailing sirens straight through the case against Mr al-Megrahi, namely: witness statements given to police, later reiterated in sworn testimony at the Fatal Accident Inquiry, describing the existence at Heathrow of a rogue suitcase as not only being in precisely the location forensic investigators concluded the bomb had been in but, equally notable, identifying its colour and type before forensics revealed these details. Furthermore, this rogue suitcase was observed prior to the Frankfurt feeder flight’s arrival at Heathrow. Exactly what drove the effort to divert attention away from Heathrow and a real rogue bag to Luqa and an imagined one is anyone’s guess. That it happened is indisputable.
The allegations of criminality lodged by campaigners against officials from police, COPFS and forensic backgrounds last November concern the above issue and other instances of suspected serious criminal wrongdoing associated with Lockerbie/Zeist. These allegations support the call for an independent inquiry into the investigation and all the legal processes involved in the case.
In a letter to the Scottish Parliament of 7 January 2011, the Scottish Government finally admitted that it had the power to institute an independent inquiry into Lockerbie/Zeist under the Inquiries Act of 2005. It, nevertheless, refuses to sanction this on the ground that such an inquiry would not take account of the case’s international dimensions. Campaigners strongly maintain, however, that more than ample evidence falls within the sway of Scottish jurisdiction to shred the COPFS case with ease and establish Mr al-Megrahi’s innocence. The government knows this but responds only with obfuscation.
Moreover, by refusing to invoke the same law, Justice Secretary MacAskill’s reaction to the campaigners’ request for these allegations to be investigated by an independent body entertains a blatant conflict of interest. Incredibly, it invites COPFS and the Scottish police to be judge, jury and accused! This novel approach to justice is not restricted to the Justice Directorate. Lord Advocate Mulholland and COPFS have sought to publicly vilify campaigners in an attempt to dismiss their allegations out of hand. In so doing, Mr Mulholland has brought massive discredit upon his office and it could be argued comprehensively failed to reach the standards of probity and impartiality laid down by the International Association of Prosecutors.
In the name of putting victims first, the government’s current criminal legislative programme, staunchly supported by COPFS, is creating a dangerous mirage of justice and improved crime clear up rates via: the abolition of the prohibition on double jeopardy, disposing of corroboration, and ‘Cadder’ section 7 (appeals). This will inevitably produce a significant increase in the numbers of miscarriages. Thus, COPFS the police and the government may improve their images through this charade, but will be doing so by incarcerating the innocent.
The role of COPFS is not to aggressively prosecute cases for the sake of expedience and reputation, thus creating even more victims, but to serve the interests of justice and prosecute cases impartially without fear favour or prejudice. For too long the former has prevailed at Chambers Street, and it shows little sign of changing.
Is Zeist relevant today? Given the direction that the Scottish criminal justice system is moving in, as it sleepwalks its way towards even more miscarriages of justice, the answer must be demonstrably yes. With 270 miscarriages emanating from a single process, it is emblematic of the parlous state of our criminal justice system.
The Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament will review the call for an independent Lockerbie inquiry on 4 June.