Friday, 12 September 2014

Discredited forensic science at heart of Lockerbie conviction

What follows is an item posted on this blog on this date five years ago:

Gareth Peirce calls for independent inquiry into Lockerbie bombing

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Times. It reads in part:]

An independent inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing was called for last night by a leading human rights lawyer.

Gareth Peirce, who has represented a string of high-profile victims of miscarriage of justice, said that the forensic evidence on which the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was convicted was flawed.

The finding itself was “very, very worrying” and based the same kind of discredited forensic science that was at the heart of several notable miscarriages of justice in the '70s and '80s, she said.

“The [Lockerbie] case was founded on twin pillars: one, that al-Megrahi was linked to a charred fragment of a bomb timer; and second, his identification was ‘claimed’ by a man who could not be sure of his evidence.

“Has everyone forgotten the lessons learned of flawed scientific evidence and identification?

“The point being made by the families over 20 years is that they want to know the cause of the Lockerbie disaster. And at every turn, limitations have been put on their ability to discover it.” (...)

She said that there had been a Fatal Accident Inquiry in 1999, which was limited to the immediate cause of the explosion so as not to prejudice future prosecutions, she said.

Some 15 years later there was the prosecution in the Hague of two Libyans, where the family could only be present and observe. But there had never been a “proper explanation of what they want to hear.”

But a UN assessor appointed to the trial had been scathing of the judges’ verdict, she added, and of the “atmosphere of political interference that permeated the trial”.

It was now down to ministers to set up an independent inquiry, whether Scottish or UK ministers, she said.

“I completely endorse what the families say, that this country, Britain, bears the responsibility for there being an adequate investigation into what actually occurred.”

She added that the fact that the case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Scottish Criminal Cases Appeal Commission showed the huge obstacles that al-Megrahi had surmounted.

“It is very difficult to get a case referred back. “He then had a choice of abandoning it and going home to die, or staying a fighting it,” she added.

But it was crucial that the evidence assembled came out. “The families had believed that after 20 years there was about to be a proper investigation. But their wishes have been frustrated.”

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