[On this date in 2001, various news agencies were reporting on the preliminary hearing due to be held later that week at Camp Zeist in connection with Abdelbaset Megrahi’s appeal against his conviction in January that year. What follows is a digest of these reports, taken from The Pan Am 103 Crash Website which was run by Safia Aoude:]
Libyan Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi is due to appear before a Scottish appeals court in the Netherlands Monday to try to overturn a life sentence for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. The preliminary hearing at Camp Zeist in the central Netherlands will deal solely with administrative matters before the actual start of the appeal in January or February. "It is a hearing to tie up loose ends before trial," said Paul Geoghan, a spokesman for the court. Megrahi, who has insisted throughout the trial he had nothing to do with the attack, logdged his appeal in February and a Scottish high court accepted the appeal in August. The grounds on which Megrahi is appealing are not known and will not be dealt with at Monday's hearing, according to legal experts at the university of Glasgow school of law.
Defence lawyer Alistair Duff told AFP his client would be present at the preliminary hearing but also said it would be purely procedural. "The judges may ask for written submissions because they may want to know which piece of evidence we intend to direct to in our arguments," he said. In Scottish court, submissions are usually done orally. The appeals chamber will consist of five judges. Although Duff would not comment on the grounds of the appeal, it is believed the defence will challenge evidence which came from Tony Gauci, a shopkeeper in Malta, who identified Megrahi as a man who bought clothes from his store shortly before the bombing. The reliability of Gauci's evidence was called into question during the trial.
The defence is also expected to question wether the trial judges were entitled to decide that Megrahi was the man who bought the clothes. In September, Britain's Daily Mirror reported that the bomb that blew up the Boeing 747 could have been put on board in London. If confirmed, the report would destroy a key plank in the conviction of Megrahi. The prosecution case hinges on the suitcase containing the bomb having been loaded in Frankfurt, Germany after being sent there via an Air Malta flight from Valetta by Megrahi. When Megrahi was convicted [and sentenced to] to life imprisonment in January, the verdict did not lay to rest the many unanswered questions of the families of the Lockerbie victims. The court accepted the prosecution's theory that Libya was behind the bombing, rejecting another scenario put forward that Iran, Syria and the Palestinian group FPLP-CG carried out the attack to avenge an Iranian aircraft accidentally shot down by an American missile in July 1988.
The families of the victims of the bombing have called repeatedly for a full public inquiry by the British government into the case. "What we are after is the whole truth," Jim Swire, a British doctor whose 23-year-old daughter Flora was killed in the tragedy, told GMTV television in August. Relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing are travelling to Holland for the first stage of the appeal of the Libyan convicted of the atrocity. Two British fathers who lost their daughters in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 were today making the journey to Holland to be at the appeal hearing. Dr Jim Swire and the Rev John Mosey were at Camp Zeist for virtually every day of 49-year-old Al Megrahi's trial which began last May and ended in January this year.
Mr Mosey, who lost his 19-year-old daughter Helga in the bombing, said: "We feel it's important that someone from the families is there to see that justice is done." Dr Swire, whose daughter Flora, 23, was killed, said: "We followed the whole of the trial so it makes sense to follow this stage as well." Dr Swire also revealed how he and other members of the UK Families Flight 103 pressed Foreign Secretary Jack Straw for a full inquiry into the tragedy at a recent meeting. He said: "We intimated that in our view it's extremely urgent to have an inquiry because Lockerbie was always an avoidable tragedy."
The hearing tomorrow before five Scottish judges - Lords Cullen, Kirkwood, MacFadyen, Nimmo-Smith and McEwan - will consider various procedural and administrative matters. The hearing is expected to last a day and to set the date for the start of the appeal which is likely to be early next year. The full grounds of Al Megrahi's appeal have not yet been made public.
[The appeal was heard early the following year and dismissed on 14 March 2002. An account of the reasons for the failure of the appeal (primarily the astonishing failure by Megrahi’s legal team to argue the correct grounds) can be read here.]