[At the launch of his book Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters, John Ashton promised that over the coming weeks he would be releasing previously-unpublished documents relating to the Megrahi case. The first tranche has been disclosed today. An accompanying press release reads as follows:]
Released today - the Gauci files
Newly published papers show how key witnesses were tainted by huge financial rewards
Intelligence reports and other previously unpublished papers released today show how the police secretly discussed the payment of large rewards to the most important witness in the Lockerbie case and his brother. The papers describe how Tony Gauci expressed an interest in being rewarded nine years prior to giving evidence against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, and before he made the crucial partial identification of Megrahi, which became the cornerstone of the Crown case.
The documents, which are being published by the author of new book Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Matters, John Ashton, also show that:
· Within weeks of the police finding Gauci, the FBI told the police that ‘unlimited money’ was on offer for the witness.
· Although the police insisted that he was not motivated by money, he was under the strong influence of his brother Paul, who had ‘a clear desire to gain financial benefit’ from the case and who explored ‘any means he can to identify where financial advantage can be gained.’
· The police believed that paying the brothers would ensure that they would not embarrass the police or Crown.
· After Megrahi’s conviction the senior investigating officer lobbied the US Department of Justice to increase the previously discussed rewards of $2 million for Tony and $1 million for Paul.
· The Crown Office did not object to this reward application, even though such payments were against its own rules.
Mr Ashton said:
‘Tony Gauci’s evidence was central to Mr Megrahi’s conviction. The judges were clearly impressed by him, but were unaware of the rewards issue lurking in the background. No doubt Mr Gauci did his best to tell the truth, but there is also no doubt that honest witnesses can be unconsciously swayed by the expectation of rewards. Some of his evidence to the trial court was notably more helpful to the Crown than his original police statements.’
The documents were among the appendices to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission’s statement of reasons on Megrahi’s case. The commission referred the case back to the appeal court on six grounds, one of which concerned Mr Gauci’s expectation of being rewarded. The commission established that the brothers received substantial reward payments from the Department of Justice. The statement of reasons was released last year, but the appendices have remained under wraps.
Mr Ashton has promised to publish more documents in the run up to the Lockerbie 25th anniversary in December. He said:
‘I am releasing documents that the court should have seen, which the Crown failed to disclose. Lockerbie is the UK’s worse mass murder and the public has a right to know the truth, not just what the Crown wanted them to know. The Scottish government has consistently denied calls for a public inquiry in to Mr Megrahi’s conviction so it’s left to his supporters to keep the issue on the public agenda.’
Notes to editors
1. John has provided explanatory notes to the documents at the start of the accompanying pdf.
2. 270 people were killed when Pan Am flight 103 was destroyed over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988.
3. In 2001 Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found guilty of the bombing by a panel of three senior law lords sitting at a specially constructed court at Kamp Zeist in The Netherlands. He remains the only man convicted of the murders. He was released on compassionate grounds by justice secretary Kenny MacAskill on 20 August 2009 and died in Tripoli on 20 May 2012.
4. John Ashton was the author of Megrahi’s biography Megrahi: You are my Jury, which was published in February 2012. From 2006 to 2009 he worked as a researcher with Megrahi’s legal team on the preparation of his appeal against conviction. He is available for interview (...).
5. Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters was published by Birlinn Ltd (£7.99pbk) on 3 October 2013.