[The first leader in today’s edition of the Maltese newspaper The Independent on Sunday is headlined Lockerbie: Malta must seek to clear its name. It reads as follows:]
Jim Swire, the father of one of the 270 Lockerbie bombing victims and a leading voice in the 25-year struggle to uncover the whole truth behind the UK’s deadliest terrorist attack, has called on the Maltese government to demand the Scottish authorities revoke the sentence that found Abdel Baset al-Megrahi guilty of the atrocity.
Short of a revocation, Malta must at least press for an inquiry into the case on the basis of the findings of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which had found enough evidence to grant al-Megrahi his appeal, as well as new evidence that has surfaced since then.
Of course, Dr Swire, who lost his daughter in the heinous attack, has his own interests at heart in urging the Maltese government to demand action, but then again Malta also has an overriding interest in clearing its name as the place where the Lockerbie bomb began its fateful journey.
Next month will mark 25 years since Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland – on 21 December 1988 – killing 270 people. And for the last 25 years Malta’s good name has been tarnished as the terrorist attack’s point of departure. Al-Megrahi, a Libyan Arab Airline employee in Malta at the time, was, so the court case went, able to exploit security holes at Luqa airport. He was the only person convicted of the attack, erroneously so according to Dr Swire and many others of a like mind.
Many are of the opinion that the real truth behind the Lockerbie bombing died along with al-Megrahi in May 2012. That would also be a gross injustice to the victims and to Malta as a whole.
The man died protesting his innocence, despite having dropped a planned appeal against his conviction so as to clear the way for his release and return to Libya under Scottish law, which grants compassionate release for the terminally ill.
Al-Megrahi, some say, was Lockerbie’s 271st victim but that will perhaps never be ascertained beyond any reasonable doubt unless a fully-fledged inquiry is held. Nor will Malta’s name ever be cleared by a court of law for its apparent role, as the bomb’s point of departure, in the tragedy. The country has been dogged over the last 25 years by the Lockerbie prosecution’s contention that the bomb responsible for one of the most heinous terrorist acts in history began its deadly journey on an Air Malta flight out of Luqa Airport.
Indeed, the only hope of answers for the families on both sides of the Atlantic, which hold very different views on the guilt of the convicted bomber, of learning the truth lies in the possibility of an independent inquiry into the case.
Evidence presented during al-Megrahi’s trial that the bomb had originated at Luqa Airport was, it has been said time and time again, some of the weakest of the entire proceedings, and Malta has a good case to bring to the European Union and other international fora for such an inquiry.
Malta also deserves some concrete answers about its alleged role in the tragedy as the point of origin, and it should be lobbying at all levels for an inquiry that would, albeit outside a court of law, at least hear the new evidence and arguments that were to have been presented by the defence team at the appeal, which mainly dealt with the weaknesses in the Maltese testimony that led to the conviction.
The former Maltese government however, has, in the past, brushed the concept aside for reasons that remain unclear. Calls for such an inquiry are, however, growing in the UK, where al-Megrahi’s innocence is a wider held view than it is on the other side of the Atlantic.
During his visit to Malta, Dr Swire met with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella and while the contents of those “cordial” discussions were not made public, it is hoped that the current government has taken Dr Swire’s suggestion on board. After all, next month’s 25th anniversary would provide for a perfect launching pad for such an initiative.
While there are still so many doubts lingering over the Lockerbie case, what is beyond doubt is that the tragedy has left an indelible stain on Malta’s reputation – a stain that will remain, possibly irrespective of whether an inquiry into the Lockerbie case and the evidence that was to be heard during al-Megrahi’s appeal is undertaken or not.
Malta, for many, will always be the place from where the Lockerbie bomb started its fateful journey, and the country must seek, where possible, the ways and means with which to clear its name.
With al-Megrahi, the world is still very much split on whether it was a case of justice served or justice denied. It is only an inquiry that could, perhaps, allow al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie victims, their families and the truth to rest in peace at long last.