Sunday, 29 December 2013

Lockerbie, Megrahi, Ashton and Linklater

[The following item has been published today on John Ashton’s Megrahi: You are my Jury website:]

Below is an unpublished letter, which I wrote to The Times in response to Magnus Linklater’s article of 21 December (to which I responded at greater length in an open letter). It provoked a response from Mr Linklater, which I have included below. I shall be responding to it in due course. As yet, he has not responded to either of my open letters, the first of which can be read here.

Dear Sir,

Not for the first time, Magnus Linklater (Times Scottish edition 21 December) seriously misrepresents the position of the majority of those who believe that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi – the so-called Lockerbie bomber – was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Once again he resurrects the claim that we are conspiracy theorists and ignores the fact that our chief concerns – that the trial court judgment was unreasonable and that numerous items of exculpatory evidence were withheld from the defence lawyers – were shared by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which referred the case back to the appeal court on no fewer than six grounds. Mr Linklater praises the SCCRC’s lengthy report, yet ignores the fact its conclusions were a damning indictment of the Scottish criminal justice system.

He also attaches the conspiracy theorist label to those who suggest that Iran, rather than Libya, was to behind the bombing, while turning a blind eye to the fact that the role of Iran and its terrorist proxies, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, is confirmed by numerous declassified US intelligence documents and is spoken to by two former CIA agents Mr Robert Baer and Dr Richard Fuisz.

Most outrageously, he suggests that Mr Megrahi’s supporters have accused his original defence team of knowingly overlooking or suppressing evidence that might have helped his defence. As Mr Linklater, should know, that is not the view of the Justice for Megrahi group, nor is it mine.

Journalists who conflate fringe views with those of the mainstream and ignore facts that sit uncomfortably with their own opinions should be sent back to journalism college, not let loose on the pages of a respected newspaper.

Yours sincerely,

John Ashton

Dear John Ashton

I don’t know if The Times will publish your letter — that is up to them.

But if you find the phrase “conspiracy theorists” insulting, then I find your suggestion that I should go back to “journalism college” offensive. I’ve been in the husiness for more than 40 years, and have learned over that time a simple principle of reporting: that good investigation requires sound proof.

I use the word conspiracy advisedly. It describes the whole gamut of the pro-Megrahi school, which runs from CIA plots to drug-smuggling, tampered evidence, conniving lawyers, and complacent judges. Your own (first) book sets so many hares running it is quite impossible to track them down. And others have done the same. Only last week the Daily Mail had Dr Swire confronting Abu Talb, whom even you know was not responsible, as the principal suspect; and on  Saturday your fellow-theorist Morag Kerr alleged in a  radio discussion with me that the Crown had deliberately subverted evidence to support their case. If that is not a conspiracy I don’t know what is. 

I am amazed that you should be touting shadowy CIA agents like Fuisz and Baer, whose evidence would never stand up in court. The way that Baer was exposed in the SCCRC report should make you think twice about using his name again. 

Yes, it is true that the SCCRC found grounds for referring the case back to appeal. They mainly centred on Gauci’s evidence. That is certainly worth examining again, and might or might not undermine the prosecution case. But it is grounds for appeal, no more, and it  demonstrates  what an objective and  well-balanced inquiry the SCCRC  was. Far from being “a damning indictment” of the Scottish justice system,” it shows the system working. Of course, Megrahi himself had the opportunity of using the appeal process  to his advantage. But he chose not to. 

I much prefer the meticulous way in which the SCCRC disposed of the various conspiracy theories involving Iran and the PFLP-GC by going back to first principles and invetigating them properly, rather than the wild, headline-grabbing claims that you and your coleagues deploy [sic].


Magnus Linklater


  1. I don't recall suggesting that the Crown had deliberately subverted evidence to support its case. I suspect Magnus has either misunderstood me, or is over-interpreting what I said.

  2. Magnus should at the very least understand the ramifications of the SCCRC report. If Megrahi was not the man who bought the clothes from Tony Gauci, and the evidence presented by the SCCRC seems to be pretty damning that he was not, this leaves the entire case in tatters.

    The court had a bit of a problem with the Malta introduction theory, as no evidence was led to show that anyone had introduced an illicit item of baggage on to KM180, and indeed there was considerable and quite convincing evidence that no such thing had happened. The evidence which was relied on to suggest that this had happened after all was from Frankfurt, but that evidence was incomplete and far from incontrovertible.

    The judges appear to have taken the view that since the man they had already decided bought the clothes in the bomb suitcase was at the airport in Malta when KM180 departed, that was enough to allow them to conclude in favour of the Malta introduction theory despite the problems. It's a reasonable enough point in isolation. If someone who has already been identified as a part of the terrorist plot to blow up Pan Am 103 was there at the time, it would certainly favour that interpretation.

    However, if the man who bought the clothes was NOT at the airport when KM180 departed, that chain of reasoning falls apart. There is now no particular reason to assume that the Malta security was subverted in some undetectable way. The Maltese origin of the clothes is simply too tenuous - these clothes could have been round the world a couple of times between the date of purchase and the date of the disaster.

    Destroying the contention that Megrahi was the man who bought the clothes also destroys the chain of reasoning by which the court chose to favour the Malta introduction theory over, for example, Heathrow.

  3. It occurs to me that there might be two possible reasons for Magnus's contention that I alleged "that the Crown had deliberately subverted evidence to support their case".

    I definitely pointed out that part of the SCCRC grounds of appeal was that important, potentially exculpatory evidence had not been disclosed to the defence, and that in fact further such evidence had been uncovered in the years since that report.

    That is simply a statement of fact. Magnus appears to dismiss it with the words "if that is not a conspiracy, I don't know what is." I don't know, Magnus. That is your interpretation, not mine. You can't however escape from the facts by saying, "but that's a conspiracy so that makes you a conspiracy theorist, so I don't have to take you seriously." You must see how irrational that is.

    It is also possible that I pointed out that the Crown was very selective in the evidence it chose to lead in front of the court at Camp Zeist. That's a separate point, because this time I'm talking about evidence that was in fact disclosed to the defence. Again, however, it's a statement of fact, pure and simple. You can't dismiss facts by labelling them "conspiracy theory". Not when they are clear and incontrovertible.

  4. "I don't recall suggesting that the Crown had deliberately subverted evidence..."

    A strawman is one of the old tricks.
    1. Find a statement that comes close to something that will be unpopular.
    2. Interpret it in a too-strong way.
    3. Now bring arguments against the interpretation.
    And you have brought your opponent on the defense, his job now being to deny having the claimed point of view. Alone the existence of the discussion will have listeners in doubt as to what you have said.

    We see it all the time.

    - - -

    Linklater wants to discuss the discussions.

    This is typical for people who for some reason don't want to look at the evidence.

    This approach of course makes any point of view much more sustainable.

    Whether a statement S is true is one thing. Whether a person had reasons to say that S was true given the knowledge at the time etc. etc. or did wrong, is another complicated matter and everything can be argued endlessly and any conclusion can be reached.

    See the appeal verdict for a perfect example.

    Can we get an answer from Linklater:
    - if he believes that the Sn-only production method for the timer fragment creates a problem for the crown's theory
    - why he would think that Heathrow would not be an obvious way for the bomb to have entered.
    - if he finds it established that Megrahi bought the clothes
    And, depending on his answer...
    - whether he agrees with SCCRCs finding that there were no reason to conclude that the clothes were bought the 7th Dec.

    Or get a list of things he finds established, and which collectively proves Megrahi's guilt.

    No, we probably can't.

    Those, who don't believe that the answer lies in the precise and elaborated answer to these and other related questions, are in a group that you will hardly be able to reach anyway on their own premises.

    Be careful about getting sucked too far into this game where truth, as we see, is what matters least of all.

    Wasting JfMs time is very effective.

    - - -

    Grouping opponents into one category is another old trick.

    - - -

    The verdict is a phenomenon, interesting for other reasons. So is the Scottish appeal process, and what happened and didn't.

    But it has nothing at all to do with the core matter:

    Whether existing evidence supports the theory that Megrahi was guilty or not.

    Do not get tricked into getting these two matters mixed up.

    - - -

    'Far from being “a damning indictment” of the Scottish justice system,” it shows the system working. Of course, Megrahi himself had the opportunity of using the appeal process to his advantage. But he chose not to.'

    Linklater wouldn't be Linklater if he didn't master the noble art of misrepresenting a case.

    Are brakes 'working' if the car still goes 100 m after you push the pedal?

    SCCRC started their work in 2003. It took four years. Megrahi was told that the appeal hearing would last well into 2010.

    That is, if no more delays came up, of course.

    Hmm, could that have happened? Yes, that is also an integrated part of how the system 'works'.

    And here we stand with a diagnosis that says "months" to live.

    ' shows the system working. Of course, Megrahi himself had the opportunity of using the appeal process to his advantage. But he chose not to.'

    A genuine Linklater. So distorted that it amounts to a lie.

  5. I tweeted Magnus about this yesterday evening, but he has so far not responded. He chooses to represent provable fact (that important evidence was not disclosed to the defence, and that the Crown were very selective about what evidence they chose to present in court) as "conspiracy theory". By attaching this label, he seeks to deny these facts, but facts they remain.

    I don't think there is much chance of Magnus responding on the level of fact or evidence. It's like trying to nail jelly to the ceiling. I really, really doubt that he is as au fait with the details of the case as he likes to claim, either.

    The important thing is the wider debate, and that does entail responding to Magnus, though. The central point is that the forensic evidence proves the bomb was introduced at Heathrow, and always did. Magnus can go on ignoring that indefinitely, but I don't think everyone can.

  6. The man who brought us the Hitler Diaries does make some good points about John Ashton and Robert Baer.