Sunday, 18 January 2015

A deliberate perversion of justice

What follows is an item first published on this blog seven years ago on this date:

Rewards for Justice

The Sunday Post, the Scottish Sunday newspaper with the largest readership, published the following article by Adam Docherty about payment to witnesses in the Lockerbie trial on 13 January 2008:

'The US justice department paid for evidence that helped convict Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing.

'With the next hearing in Megrahi's High Court Appeal due to take place next month, the admission casts a dark shadow over testimony at the original trial -- and the safety of the conviction.

'The Washington DC-based 'Rewards for Justice' organisation boasts that it has paid out more than 72 million dollars to over 50 people who have provided information that prevented international terrorist attacks or have brought to justice those involved in prior acts. Included on its website, in a list of those brought to justice, is Megrahi. Due to a strict policy of confidentiality Rewards for Justice will not name the witnesses nor divulge the exact amount paid to them.

'In June last year the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred Megrahi's case back to the Court of Appeal after a three-year inquiry. They found six areas of concern and are believed to have uncovered a £2-million reward paid by the CIA to key witness, Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci.

'Gauci was the only witness to link Megrahi directly to the bomb, and was therefore instrumental in convicting him on 31 January 2001. Gauci told the trial that Megrahi bought clothes in his shop, which were later used to wrap the bomb.

'At the trial, Gauci appeared uncertain about the exact date he sold the clothes in question, and was not entirely sure that it was Megrahi to whom they were sold. Nonetheless, Megrahi's appeal against conviction was rejected by the Scottish Court in the Netherlands in March 2002. Five years after the trial, former Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, publicly described Gauci as being "an apple short of a picnic" and "not quite the full shilling".

'Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the 1988 bombing, is convinced that Megrahi is innocent. Yesterday he said that such huge sums offered to witnesses could encourage them to perjury.

'"Many jurists would consider that promises of money to secure 'evidence' from any individual do not accord with the principles of justice," he explained.

'"It is the timing of such promises rather the payments themselves that determine whether the 'evidence' is likely to be degraded. To many such witnesses such sums would alter their lives.

'"And such promises of money, if concealed from court -- or perhaps divulged only to prosecution -- could be considered a deliberate perversion of justice.

'"Witnesses are supposed to serve the truth. But the old Scots adage holds firm here - 'He who pays the piper calls the tune'.

'"This document gives some idea of the scale of the payments. It also removes any doubt as to whether payments were, indeed, made in this case."

The newspaper also published an article containing Dr Swire's detailed reactions to the revelations. These included the following:

'I entered the Zeist trial believing (as the British Foreign secretary had told us) that there was conclusive evidence of Libya's guilt, and none concerning the guilt of any other nation.

'This was the reason that we, the UK relatives, had made every conceivable effort, including three visits to Colonel Gaddafi, to persuade him to allow his citizens to undergo trial under Scottish criminal justice.

'Within days of the start of the trial at Zeist it became clear that fundamental requirements for the collection of evidence for a criminal trial had been breached, when the court was told that a suitcase, belonging to one of the US passengers had been removed from the crash site, by persons unknown, cut open, and then returned for the Scottish searchers to find, with some of its contents put back and even labelled with the name of the owner.

'The court accepted that the rectangular cutting into that suitcase could not have been a result of the explosion, but appeared unfazed by the possible implications for other items allegedly recovered as evidence. This had intense relevance later in the case to the question of a fragment of timer circuit board, the key forensic 'link' to the credibility of the bomb ever having started from Malta.

'There was evidence of the presence of numerous unidentified US agents roaming the site at a very early stage - a situation which the resources of the Scottish police could never have been expected to anticipate or control.

'From this unhappy start, the picture grew of how certain intelligence agencies had contributed to the assembly of much of the evidence. Intelligence services act in support of the perceived advantage of the countries for which they work: this may or may not be consistent with seeking the truth.

'Remember that for this trial there was no jury.

'Now, as you report, we have the proud exhibition by 'Rewards for Justice' in Washington DC of their use of 'more than 72 million dollars' in persuading witnesses to give evidence in terror-related cases. Former Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie's, post trial assessment of the key witness, Mr Gauci, as being 'one apple short of a picnic' was not vouchsafed to the court, but can only serve now to emphasize the possibility that an offer of cash might have affected the evidence that Mr Gauci was willing to give.

'As a layman, I emerged from the Zeist hearings convinced that the verdict should never have been reached.'

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