Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Lord Fraser and the unanswered questions

[This is the headline over an article in today’s edition of the Scottish Review by the editor, Kenneth Roy.  It reads as follows:]

Two of the leading figures in the Lockerbie scandal have fallen off their perches within 13 months of each other. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man to have been convicted of the bombing, died on 20 May 2012, aged 60, and Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the lord advocate who drew up the indictment against al-Megrahi and his co-accused, died on 23 June 2013, aged 68.

Few tears were shed for al-Megrahi, except by those – a small minority, though a significant one – who believed him to be innocent. In remarkable contrast, the tributes to his accuser, in the few days since his sudden death at the weekend, have been fulsome. Leaders of most parties, including Scotland's ruling one, have been at pains to assure us that he will be keenly missed from Scotland's public life.

Perhaps he will. He was certainly an ornament of it for long enough; and he had an enviable capacity for bouncing back from life's adversities. Just before Christmas 2006 he was charged with disorderly conduct on board an aircraft; two months later the Crown Office dropped the charge 'due to insufficient evidence that an offence had been committed'; and by August of the following year he was back in business as a member of the government-appointed Scottish Broadcasting Commission. This swift rehabilitation said much for his essential geniality and his popularity with the political and media classes.

In the general election campaign of 1979, which brought Margaret Thatcher to power and Peter Fraser into parliament as the member for South Angus, the young advocate (as he then was) took part in a BBC outside broadcast of the 'Any Questions' type. I was in the chair that night and remember him as pleasant but unremarkable. Three years later he became solicitor-general for Scotland and in 1989, at the age of 44, he was promoted to lord advocate. Not bad going, all things considered.

But the fulsome tributes should not be allowed to obscure important questions of continuing public interest about his record as Scotland's chief law officer (1989-92).

It was Fraser who was responsible for the investigation into the bombing of Pan Am flight 103; Fraser who issued warrants for the arrest of the two Libyans; Fraser who initiated the prosecution which led to the trial at Camp Zeist. And it was Fraser's opinion that Tony Gauci could be depended upon as the chief prosecution witness – relied upon to the extent that, without Gauci's testimony, the case against al-Megrahi effectively collapsed.

Did Fraser really think that Gauci could be trusted? Or was the lord advocate bounced into the prosecution of al-Megrahi and his co-accused by the US justice department? The architect of the Camp Zeist trial, Professor Robert Black QC, believes that improper influence was exerted on Fraser and that he bowed to it. We shall probably never know.

It was five years after the trial that Fraser, long out of major public office by then, gave an unguarded interview to The Sunday Times in which he cast doubt on Gauci for the first and only time. This is what he said (and never denied saying): 'Gauci was not quite the full shilling. I think even his family would say he was an apple short of a picnic. He was quite a tricky guy. I don't think he was deliberately lying, but if you asked him the same question three times he would just get irritated and refuse to answer.'

These comments scandalised the legal establishment. The lord advocate at the time, Colin Boyd, said that at no stage had Fraser 'conveyed any reservation about any aspect of the prosecution to those who worked on the case, or to anyone in the prosecution service'. Colin Boyd challenged Fraser to clarify his apparent repudiation of Gauci. Fraser declined to rise to the challenge: there was no clarification.

William Taylor, the QC who defended al-Megrahi at his trial, went further: 'A man who has a public office, who is prosecuting in the criminal courts in Scotland, has a duty to put forward evidence based upon people he considers to be reliable. He [Fraser] was prepared to advance Gauci as a witness of truth in terms of identification and, if he had these misgivings about him, they should have surfaced at the time. The fact that he is coming out with this many years later, after my former client has been in prison for four and a half years, is nothing short of disgraceful. Gauci's evidence was absolutely central to the conviction and for Peter Fraser not to realise that is scandalous.'

Lord Fraser had nothing to say publicly about these serious allegations. But in August 2009, long after the fuss had died down, he gave a little-noticed television interview which was concerned mainly with al-Megrahi's release and the justice secretary Kenny MacAskill's handling of it. In the course of the interview he again referred to Tony Gauci, but in rather different terms. I was so struck by what he said that I played it back and took a note of it: 'I have always been of the view and I remain of the view that both children and others who are not trying to rationalise their evidence are probably the most reliable witnesses and for these reasons I think that Tony Gauci was an extremely good witness.'

How could Gauci be 'not quite the full shilling' according to Lord Fraser in 2005, yet 'an extremely good witness' according to the same Lord Fraser four years later? Is there any way of reconciling these conflicting assessments of the chief prosecution witness?

After the death of al-Megrahi, and the Justice for Megrahi committee's clumsy attempts to revive interest in the scandal, it seemed unlikely that the truth about Lockerbie would ever be established. But I suppose some of us were clinging to a faint hope that, in his old age, in some distant memoir serialised by The Sunday Times, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie would reveal all about his pivotal role in the affair. Since, like al-Megrahi, he has failed to reach old age, that hope has now gone. The unanswered questions seem destined to remain just that: unanswered.


  1. "Clumsy attempts", eh? Just a wee bit of a hint of sour grapes there, methinks.

    The SCCRC shot the idea that Megrahi bought these clothes from Tony Gauci, six years ago. Peter Fraser's tipsy maunderings about being able to rely on Gauci because he was an idiot are really neither here nor there.

    The cops groomed Tony to identify Megrahi, whether Peter Fraser knew it or not. And I don't think he needed any outside influence to persuade him to proceed against the suspects he was presented with by the Scottish cops and the US authorities. I mean, can anyone imagine him not going along with it?

  2. OK, you can't libel the dead.

    Has anyone ever seen any evidence of Peter Fraser in a waking state when he didn't appear to be at least half-way under the influence?

  3. People may do the bidding of others if they have something on them.

    A drink problem is one of them, because unless they toe the line they can be sacked at any time and therefore are kept on for that reason.

    However you do hope for death bed confessions, but there are probably classified gagging orders affecting family that apply after death, to stop that sort of thing!

  4. Bwahahahaha. Fraser was untouchable, in that job. Being well-oiled was just part of the persona. Being LA isn't something you're sacked from, like ordinary mortals.

    Nobody needed to "bid" him to do anything. He wasn't going to rock the boat, and he wasn't going to rock it entirely of his own free will. He sort of thought Tony was an OK guy, and if he was a bit simple then so what, children and the simple can be good witnesses.

    The very idea that he might even have contemplated not falling in with the agenda of law enforcement is simply ridiculous. Nobody would have had to twist his arm in the slightest.