Two years ago today, I posted on this blog an item headed Former Lord Advocate ... seriously misled the Megrahi Court claims book author. It bears repeating:
[This is the headline over a report published today on the Newsnet Scotland website. It reads in part:]
Former Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, [now Court of Session judge, Lord Boyd] has been accused of misleading the Court during the trial of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
The claim, contained in the book Megrahi – You are my Jury, relates to the QC’s intervention in a matter involving secret CIA cables that contained details of discussions between the US agency and a Libyan ‘supergrass’ named Majid Giaka.
Giaka was a former work colleague of Mr Megrahi who had contacted the CIA claiming to have evidence linking the Libyan and his co-accused Al Amin Khalifa Fhima to the Lockerbie bombing.
Giaka was scheduled to give evidence to the Court in August 2000, but was delayed due to legal wrangling over the telex cables.
Demands by the Libyan’s defence team to see the cables in full led to the intervention by then Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, an episode described by book author John Ashton as “one of the most disgraceful episodes in the Crown Office’s recent history”.
Mr Megrahi’s defence team had requested full disclosure of the secret cables which had been heavily redacted for apparent security reasons.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the two Libyans were informed that the twenty five cables were all that existed and that the redacted areas covered general areas not relevant to the Lockerbie incident.
According to the book, Procurator Fiscal Norman McFadyen [now a sheriff in Ayr] claimed that no-one from the Crown had seen the unedited cables and that the redacted material was irrelevant.
However it subsequently emerged that weeks earlier on 1st June 2000, members of the Crown Office had indeed seen the unedited cables, one of whom was Norman McFadyen and the other Alan Turnbull QC [now a Court of Session judge].
On 22 August on learning of this, Mr Megrahi’s legal team raised the issue with the Court, describing it as “a matter of some considerable importance”.
According to Ashton’s book, Bill Taylor QC argued that without access to the full cables, the defendants would be denied a fair trial, and said: “I emphatically do not accept that what lies behind the blanked out sections is of no interest to a cross examiner … Further, I challenge the right of the Crown to determine for the defence what is or is not of relevance to the defence case.”
Mr Taylor urged the Court to ask the Crown to obtain the complete copies of the cables from the CIA.
In a move, described as unusual by author John Ashton, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd then attended the Court in person and admitted that McFadyen and Turnbull had indeed seen the cables but repeated the Crown’s earlier assertions that the redacted areas had no bearing on the cables themselves or the case.
“While they may have been of significance to the Central Intelligence Agency, they had no significance whatsoever to the case” he said.
Mr Boyd explained that according to Crown QC Alan Turnbull: “that there was nothing within the cables which bore on the defence case, either by undermining the Crown case or by advancing a positive case which was being made or may be made, having regard to the special case.”
Mr Boyd also explained that he had no control over the documents that they resided in the USA under the control of US authorities.
Boyd ended by stating categorically: “there is nothing within these documents which relates to Lockerbie or the bombing of Pan Am 103 which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Mr Majid [Giaka] on these matters.”
Mr Ashton’s book though now reveals that the reason the Lord Advocate had no control over the documents was that Norman McFadyen had signed a non-disclosure agreement before viewing them.
According to Mr Ashton, the Crown had “secretly, ceded to the CIA the right to determine what information should, or should not, be disclosed in a Scottish Court”.
Also, further revelations contained in Mr Ashton’s book show that far from being of no significance to the case, the redacted sections of the cables were in fact highly significant.
The defence team eventually forced the Crown to hand over less redacted versions of the cables that contained, contrary to Boyd’s claims, crucial information about Giaka – including doubts about the value of his intelligence information.
Further sections detailed meetings with Giaka not included in the original documents.
Acting for the defence, Richard Keen QC, questioned claims by the Crown that the redacted sections were of no consequence
Pointing to their clear significance, he told the Court: “I frankly find it inconceivable that it could have been thought otherwise … Some of the material which is now disclosed goes to the very heart of material aspects of this case, not just to issues of credibility and reliability, but beyond”
According to author John Ashton, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd – now Lord Boyd – had “seriously misled the Court”.
[My own 2007 account in The Scotsman of this shameful and discreditable episode can be read here. What is surprising and deeply regrettable is that the trial judges in their judgement made no mention of this disgraceful Crown conduct. Had it been a defence advocate who had been detected misleading the court in this way, the matter would certainly not have been overlooked and the consequences for the advocate in question would have been dire.]