[This is the headline over a report published this afternoon on the website of The Scotsman. It reads as follows:]
Scotland’s most senior policeman has admitted the force has yet to look into allegations of criminality in the original Lockerbie investigation.
Chief Constable Sir Stephen House was responding to fierce criticism from MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee.
They had accused Police Scotland of kicking Justice For Megrahi’s claims “into the long grass” through “procrastinating and obfuscation”.
In particular, they said they would write to Sir Stephen asking how many officers were working on the investigation, and what stage it is currently at.
The campaign group Justice For Megrahi (JFM) made the allegations to then Deputy Chief Constable Patrick Shearer in April, last year.
The Crown Office is currently leading fresh inquiries into the atrocity, having recently signed information sharing agreements with Libyan prosecutors, and police insist that must take precedence.
Sir Stephen wrote to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee: “In relation to your specific question about how many officers have been working on the allegations since Mr Shearer retired, the reality is that no further investigation could take place because of the conflict with the live investigation.”
However, Sir Stephen’s letter has failed to convince MSPs.
Christine Grahame MSP, justice committee convener, said: “It’s very disappointing and a bit annoying. We feel it’s being kicked into the long grass.
“I don’t see why it’s being held up just because there’s a live inquiry.”
On whether the two inquiries could run simultaneously, she added: “I don’t see why that’s not possible.”
John Finnie MSP, a former police officer and justice committee member, added: “The response from the chief constable does nothing to reassure me that there is a will to address the serious accusations of criminality which have been reported to the police.
“Indeed the letter prompts more enquiries than it answers. For instance given that Mr Shearer, who was initially appointed ‘senior investigating officer (SIO)’, retired last October why did it take to the day before last week’s justice committee for his replacement, Detective Superintendent Johnstone to be appointed ‘in a full-time capacity’ and what, if anything, should we read into the fact that the new SIO is three ranks lower than the original appointee.
“Mr House’s letter states that Mr Johnstone’s ‘appointment will now provide for a full examination of further allegations that Police Scotland have determined to be investigated’. The point is that Police Scotland should investigate all allegations they receive, albeit some may not be progressed beyond initial investigation.”
JFM insists the late Abdelbaset al Megrahi, the only person ever convicted of the bombing of Pan Am 103, in December 1988, killing 270 people, was innocent.
It says the prosecution relied on evidence known to be false during the Camp Zeist trial.
In his letter, Sir Stephen said his force was determined to investigate these claims and estimated the “conflict” with the live inquiry would be over by the end of March.
“I can assure you that the allegations made by the Justice for Megrahi group are being investigated thoroughly and as expeditiously as possible,” he wrote.
“Detective Superintendent Johnstone’s appointment (in place of Mr Shearer) is in a full time capacity such is the commitment of Police Scotland to progress the allegations in this regard.
“As and when he identifies the need for additional support to help him I can assure you that will be provided.
“I will, of course, ensure the justice committee is provided with updates as appropriate.”
[Detective Superintendent Johnstone’s letter of 17 February (the day before the Justice Committee’s meeting) to Justice for Megrahi’s Robert Forrester can be read here. Mr Forrester has just sent the following message to JFM members and supporters:]
Please find here a link to the letter from Sir Stephen House in response to the query from the Justice Committee concerning what is happening regarding our allegations against Crown, forensic and police officials, which I received from the clerks of the JC yesterday evening.
Here, in black and white, is the proof, if such were ever needed in this sorry tale, that the Crown Office and the police have been laughing up their sleeves at us from the moment we lodged our allegations with them in accordance with Mr MacAskill's suggestion. The degree of arrogance and disdain is quite spectacular!
It is worth reminding ourselves that what we are dealing with here is a case involving the mass murder of 270 people and allegations of attempts to pervert the course of justice by the aforementioned institutions. Little in this whole Lockerbie saga can be said to be normal, however, this letter reveals quite plainly what serving the interests of justice now means in Scotland today. Whereas one would have expected a full time team of officers in double figures to have been working on this since the allegations were lodged in October 2012, it is now clear that from the start no more than two officers at best were devoted to the investigation, and at worst none at all. Furthermore, the officer leading the initial stage was due too retire within the year, and his main contribution was, in consultation with the Crown Office, to freeze three of the allegations which posed the greatest threat to the authorities. Now we learn that all the allegations have effectively been frozen as a consequence of an unspecified 'conflict' with the Crown's own cynical charade. First we have the Crown Office accusing us of being conspiracy theorists and making unfounded accusations before they have even been investigated, now we learn that the allegations have not been the subject of any serious investigation from the word go.
In circumstances where not only are the complainants being treated with such flagrant disregard but a parliamentary committee too is being regarded with quite stupefying contempt by the very bodies we task with serving the interests of justice, surely we have entered resignation territory.
It is also worth pointing out that we have yet to receive a response beyond an acknowledgement form Sir Stephen House to our own letter of 31st January (see attachments). Hopefully this letter to the Justice Committee will prove once and for all to those keen to close down our petition the value of the Justice Committee's oversight in conjunction with 1370.
Watch this space.