[This is the headline over an article in the current issue of Private Eye (No 1343, page 32). It reads as follows:]
Nearly 25 years after the Lockerbie bombing, the Scottish authorities are still sitting on material which may help uncover the truth about the worst terrorist atrocity on UK soil, killing 270 people.
Freedom of information requests to the Crown Office, aimed at uncovering how and why the trial of Abdelbasset al-Megrahi came to be seriously misled over the key piece of forensic evidence -- a tiny piece of bomb fragment recovered from the Pan Am 103 crash site -- have been turned down “in the public interest”.
It is now 18 months since new scientific evidence came to light which, in effect, destroyed both the prosecution case against Megrahi and any direct link to Libya itself. Two experts, Dr Chris McArdle and Dr Jess Cawley, showed that the fragment of bomb timing device circuitboard said at the trial to match those known to have been supplied to Libya was different. The plating metal on the debris fragment was of pure tin, while on the boards in Libyan timers it was a tin/lead mix.
Further police and prosecution documents released under disclosure to Megrahi’s lawyers, just weeks before his controversial return to Libya, showed that it was known at the time that there was no match. Yet government scientist Allen Feraday claimed on behalf of the Crown during the trial that the materials and tracking pattern on both boards were “similar in all respects”.
The documents suggesting otherwise were never disclosed to the trial, nor to Megrahi’s defence team -- as they should have been. Details only emerged in the book Megrahi: You are my Jury by John Ashton, a researcher, writer and one of the Libyan’s defence team. Ashton has since been trying to find out whether the material gathered by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary was kept secret by the police or passed to the Crown and prosecution team.
Last week Ashton’s hopes that FOI legislation would provide some answers were dashed when the Crown Office cited an exemption under section 34 of the 2002 Act, protecting evidence gathered as part of a criminal investigation. It said the public interest in releasing the material was “outweighed by the public interest in withholding information because of the ongoing criminal investigation into the involvement of others with Mr Megrahi in the bombing and the possibility of further legal proceedings in relation to Mr Megrahi’s conviction”.
The hope is that the Scottish authorities are taking seriously allegations of misconduct levelled against some of those involved in the investigation and prosecution. The allegations come in a report by the Justice for Megrahi campaign group that has been handed to Dumfries and Galloway police.
The Scottish justice committee at Holyrood earlier this month asked ministers what resources had been committed to investigating the campaign’s allegations. The justice committee fell short of demanding a public inquiry into the conviction, but it did ask ministers to report back on their powers to appoint an independent investigator. Watch this space.