Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Scotland's Shame author responds to conspiracy theorist slur

John Ashton, author of Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters has responded on his website to the “conspiracy theorist” jibe directed by Magnus Linklater towards Justice for Megrahi campaigners in an article in The Times on Friday.  The response reads as follows:]

Here we go again. In his column in last Friday’s Times, Magnus Linklater once again wrongly accused Abdelbaset’s supporters of alleging a grand conspiracy to convict him, involving judges, detectives and the intelligence agencies. As I’ve told Magnus before, that’s not what we (Jim Swire, Justice for Megrahi, I and others) are saying. The article follows in italics, with my comments in non-italics.

Jim Swire has been relentless, resolute, and single-minded in pursuit of his campaign for the truth about the Lockerbie atrocity that killed his daughter, Flora.

In all the 25 years that he has spent examining the case, travelling the world to track down evidence, he has never been less than dignified, or given way in public to the frustration and anger he must have felt towards those who stood in the way of his quest. He has dealt with inquiries from the media with patience and courtesy. Throughout, what has driven him is solely the need to find justice in the name of his daughter.

The reasons he now gives for stepping back from his cause are characteristically honest.

“My campaign has been my means of survival,” he says. “I think Flora would be saying ‘You’ve done your very best dad. It’s time to leave it to others, to younger men’.”

Such dedication is hard to challenge: taking issue with Dr Swire’s arguments is to venture into intensely personal territory. Yet his central contention — that Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi was innocent, and that Libya was not involved in the Lockerbie bombing — remains short of the kind of evidence that would stand up in court.

For all the many thousands of words that have been written suggesting that the prosecution case was flawed, and that the Scottish legal system presided over a spectacular miscarriage of justice, the alternative theories are well short of sustaining proof.

It is one thing to challenge the evidence on which al-Megrahi was convicted, another to sustain a case that is not, itself, threadbare.

Dr Swire believes that the bomb was not put on board Pan Am 103 on Malta, but that it was smuggled onto the plane at Heathrow Airport. This, along with other theories, was advanced at the time of the trial, examined, and dismissed for want of evidence.

As Magnus should know (because he claims to have read Megrahi: You are my Jury), key evidence regarding Heathrow was not disclosed to either Megrahi’s trial or his first appeal. As he should also know, the defence put forward compelling evidence that the bomb was contained in the mysterious suitcase seen by Heathrow loader John Bedford, yet it was dismissed by the judges, who, in effect, reversed the burden of proof on this matter.

It may, as Dr Swire, maintains, be the truth, but so far no reliable witness has come forward to confirm it. Yet surely this must be as important as challenging the prosecution case. After all, the al-Megrahi defence suggests that eight Scottish judges, five Lords Advocate, senior Scottish detectives and US intelligence agencies were involved in what must count as one of the most serious conspiracy theories of our time, to deflect blame away from Syria or Iran and point towards Libya.

For the avoidance of doubt, the opening of chapter 6 of Scotland’s Shame reads:

“Let us be clear, there was no grand conspiracy by the intelligence services, senior politicians, police officers, prosecutors and judges to subvert the Lockerbie investigation and frame Megrahi and Libya. Conspiracies, of course, do sometimes happen, but seldom ones involving so many diverse parties.

“There is, however, no doubt that important evidence was suppressed, that US intelligence agents interfered with the crash site and that some of the evidence against Megrahi was highly dubious. It can also be reasonably argued that the case against Libya was concocted in order to serve the agenda of the government of US president George H. W. Bush, who came to power less than a month after the bombing.

“In all these things the Scottish authorities were, very likely, no more than unwitting accomplices. There are allegations – not made by this book and so far unproven – that certain of their representatives acted illegally. If they did, it was almost certainly in order to secure the conviction of people they sincerely believed to be guilty, and not because they were party to a wider plot to protect the real culprits and convict innocents.”

Conspiracy theorist is a label used by politicians and lazy journalists who have run out of reasonable arguments, in order to denigrate and marginalise those who challenge the official line on controversial issues. Funnily enough, the lord advocate uses it too.

Of course, at one time that might have been achieved in the best forum of all, a court of law. Yet al-Megrahi chose to drop his appeal, a decision that has never been properly explained. It remains the weakest plank in the al-Megrahi campaign and for Dr Swire, it must, to this day, be a cause for anguish and frustration.

As Magnus well knows, the explanation for Abdelbaset dropping his appeal is quite simple: he had advanced cancer and was desperate to get back to his family. On 10 August 2009 he met with the delegation of Libyan officials who had just been to visit the justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, and some of his civil servants. Obedi told Abdelbaset that MacAskill had privately indicated to him (Obedi) that it would be easier to grant compassionate release if he dropped the appeal. If Magnus had been stuck in a foreign jail with advanced cancer, would he have reacted differently to such pressure? Answers on a postcard please.


  1. MISSION LOCKERBIE, 2013 (google translation, german/english):

    Through a unique obfuscation and delaying tactics of the 'Scottish Parliament' and other official bodies in the truth finding, about the bombing of PanAm 103, over Lockerbie, the families of the bereaved relatives of 270 victims, the state Libya (LIBYA NOW) and all financially damaged, for example, as (MEBO Ltd.) are be deceived since (14/15th Nov.1991) - until today !

    Nota bene: After human rights, a statutory limitation or forfeiture can begin only after the fulfillment of legal abolition of deception...

    In german language:
    Durch eine einzigartige Verschleierungs- und Verzögerungstaktik des 'Scottish Parliament' und anderen offiziellen Instanzen in der Wahrheitsfindung über das Attentat auf PanAm 103 über Lockerbie, werden die Familien der Hinterbliebenen von 270 Opfer, der Staat Libyen (LIBYA NOW) und alle finanziell Geschädigten z.B. (MEBO Ltd) seit (14/15. Nov.1991) - bis heute getäuscht !

    Notabene: Nach Menschenrecht, kann eine Verjährung oder Verwirkung erst nach der rechtsgültigen Aufhebung der Täuschung beginnen...

  2. There's an important distinction between legitimate scepticism and conspiracy theory as it is now used in a pejorative way. A distinction Linklater is attempting to remove just as his colleague David Aaronovitch has spent a career doing.

    Perhaps Magnus has been living in some remote cave over the last few years and has simply missed the exposing of the numerous incestuous relationships that existed between the police, media, politicians and judicial personnel with respect of the Hillsborough investigation and the Milly Dowler phone-hacking scandal. Ten, nay hundreds of the aforementioned, were either explicitly, or at best tacitly, involved in a massive conspiracy to pervert the truth and thus the justice our liberal society demands and ordinarily expects.

    Using terms like conspiracy theorist in the vein of Linklater or Aaranovitch just misrepresents, often for malign purposes, what people believe. In reality most people have a complex array of different views on various issues and almost everyone has, quite rationally, some element of conspiratorial thinking as part of these views. Linklater included. The whole conspiracy theory slur is just that, an attempt to smear people without the inconvenient trouble of having to address what they actually think.

    The plausibility argument goes to the heart of self-styled debunkers attitude to conspiracy theories. People like Linklater feel they have some special insight into plausibility that sets him above the idiots, 'anti-semites' and pathetic losers who he thinks believe in conspiracy theories. Yet his insight into plausibility is really just his own personal credulity, there's no evidence or scientific process by which he evaluates it.

    Linklater appeals to plausibility in referring to ‘judges’, ‘detectives’ and even an ‘Advocate’ being misguided or worse suborned. But the whole reason Linklater’s debate is framed around pejorative intuition pumps and plausibility is precisely because the hard evidence isn't there. Plausibility is the argument you have when you've got no evidence in support of your position, and when you start using it as your only argument you're into nebulous territory which is some way from objective truth.

  3. Judging by a few of his recent tweets, Magnus is a lot less au fait with the facts of the case than he likes to let on.

    And if he really thinks that the weakest point of the JFM case is the withdrawal of the appeal, then we're home and dry.