Thursday, 5 September 2013

A historical parallel of the Megrahi conviction?

[Today’s edition of The Herald contains a letter from K M Campbell headed There are modern parallels to the Appin murder case.  It reads in part:]

I was fascinated by your front-page picture and page four story of a suspected but unconvicted alleged assassin of the 18th century, the notorious Allan Breck Stewart ("Book hero at centre of historic murder mystery", The Herald, September 4).

While I accept that it is possible that the conviction of James Stewart of the Glen for the murder of the highly unpopular Colin Campbell of Glenure aka the Red Fox might have been a miscarriage of justice, such things have not been unknown in recent British judicial history. The Birmingham Six leap immediately to mind, as do Paddy Meehan and the Christie case. The fact is that juries do make mistakes.

The trial of James Stewart was conducted by the High Court of Justiciary on Circuit in its competent circuit location of Inverary and the jury randomly selected from the local populace, which comprised a substantial number of Campbells, as would be the case even today. The case was tried before the Lord Justice General himself who, as it happened before the abolition of heritable jurisdictions came into full effect, was the Duke of Argyll. The prosecutor was none other than the Lord Advocate, indicating the seriousness with which the matter was regarded by the authorities, as would be the case today if a senior government official were assassinated while engaged on official business. The Lord Advocate at the time was indeed a Campbell, which merely reflects the importance and respect in which Clan Campbell held the law.

It is apparent from the proceedings that if James Stewart did not actually fire the fatal shot he most certainly was guilty art and part. To paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson, nae doobt he wis a worthy chiel but nane the waur o' a guid hingin.

Who can say that in similar circumstances the same result would not be achieved today? There is little doubt that the influence and pressures from the pro-Hanoverian government had their effect on the case. Would that be any different today, with the new Supreme Court in London picking over decisions in Scottish criminal law? And what of the case of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi? What external influences were there then on the senior judges who presided? What forensically skilled images are there of the other suspects?

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