Monday, 12 January 2015

Megrahi's son joins campaign to clear his father's name

[This is the headline over a report in today’s edition of The Herald.  It reads as follows:]

The son of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing has joined a Facebook group protesting his father's innocence to help dispel the notion that an application for a posthumous appeal is not backed by his family.

Khaled El Megrahi has joined the Friends of Justice for Megrahi group and has been welcomed warmly by the other 180 members committed to clearing his father's name.

They include British relatives of the 270 victims who perished 26 years ago, Professor Robert Black, the architect of the trial under Scots Law in a neutral country, and prominent figures like James Robertson, one of Scotland's greatest novelists. Robertson's acclaimed novel, The Professor of Truth, was based loosely on the Lockerbie atrocity which killed 270 people in December 1988.

Shortly before El Megrahi joined the group, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission had expressed doubts about continuing the investigation that could lead to a fresh attempt to overturn the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi.

The commission had asked the High Court to decide whether it could continue with the application, submitted earlier this year by Aamer Anwar, the Scottish solicitor acting for the Megrahi family and other supporters.

Scots Law allows for posthumous appeals to be pursued by the executor of the deceased, and leaves it open to others with an irrefutable interest to pursue justice, but their right is not enshrined in the same way as the executor's.

The SCCRC is seeking clarification about whether the victims' families alone could pursue a fresh appeal without the support of Megrahi's executor.

The confusion has arisen because the SCCRC insists it must have the original document confirming El Megrahi as his father's executor.

Mr Anwar said that the current climate in Libya made it extremely unlikely the legal team could travel there soon to obtain the necessary documentation, nor would they ask the Megrahi family to put their lives at risk.

He added: "With regards to the rights of the victims' families to pursue an appeal, we would submit that there is a fundamental duty on the state to protect the rights of victims of crime, which includes responsibility for the administration of justice."

Without the original executry documents, other Megrahi family members and "outsiders" like the British relatives of the victims, including Dr Jim Swire and the Rev John Mosey, would have to persuade the High Court of the legitimacy of their interest.

Given the stakes for the Scottish criminal justice system, there are fears that the judges who decide on the SCCRC's submission will not be easily convinced to encourage further close scrutiny of crucial aspects of the case, most notably the conduct of police, prosecutors and expert witnesses.

El Megrahi's public support for his father, therefore, could be very significant.

The SCCRC in 2007 referred the case back to the appeal court for what would have been a second appeal on six grounds that suggested there might have been a miscarriage of justice.

Since then, the case for an appeal has been strengthened by fresh scientific evidence showing that a fragment said to be from the timer that detonated the bomb was not a match for a type of device that the court accepted had been used and had been sold only to Libya.

Megrahi died on 20 May 2012, some 33 months after his release on compassionate grounds as he was dying from cancer.

He abandoned his appeal believing it would help secure his compassionate release, and although the Scottish Government has always denied a deal was done, his controversial release was confirmed soon after.

El Megrahi was welcomed to the Facebook group by Prof Black, who said: "I hope that 2015 will be the year when the injustice to your father, and your family, will begin to be rectified."

The sentiment was echoed later by other members, and El Megrahi later posted short messages thanking supporters, expressing hope for progress, and offering best wishes and a happy new year to all members.

[RB: Other members of Abdelbaset Megrahi’s immediate family are also members of the Facebook group.]


  1. Here we go again. The Bloody Timer Fragment.

    I don't want to minimise the importance of the timer fragment, because it and its provenance are undoubtedly extremely important to the full understanding of the Lockerbie bombing. However, as I remarked earler, first things first. The first thing, in this case, is ascertaining the actual modus operandi. The route by which the bomb suitcase was introduced into the airline baggage system on 21st December 1988.

    For many years, that was uncertain - unless you were a blind devotee of the Crown Office of course. As recently as 2012, a public meting in Glasgow was told, "it's really difficult to know how that bomb got on that plane." In that context it was always going to be difficult to make sense of a lot of the evidence. Which bits were central to the plot, which were peripheral, and which were downright misleading? The highly questionable provenance of the timer fragment made good copy in the absence of any concrete theory of what actually happened.

    That was then, this is now. The conundrum of where the bomb was introduced into the baggage system was solved a year or so after that public meeting. The new analysis of the forensic evidence showing the bomb to have been in the suitcase seen at Heathrow an hour before the connecting flight landed was submitted in full to the Scottish police in March 2013. The analysis was explained in great detail in a book published in December 2013. A 12-page paper with a condensed explanation was submitted to the SCCRC as part of the application for a third appeal in June 2014.

    The Crown Office know all about it. They have to know all about it, If they haven't read these documents, they're delelict in their duty. They haven't volunteered so much as a single word in reply, or even in acknowledgement. Not in nearly a year.

    Instead, we're treated to the latest explanation of why the timer fragment really wasn't planted in the chain of evidence. In spite of the fact that there has never been a formal allegation to the authorities that it WAS planted. Certainly not as part of the current round of engagement anyway. It's difficult to prove that the timer fragment was planted, and just maybe, it wasn't planted at all. That makes it a very handy straw man for Mr. Mulholland to attack, to distract everyone from the real elephant in the room, the proof that Megrahi was 1000 miles away when the bomb was planted. It was planted in London, when he was in Tripoli.

    And here we have another journalist falling for it; hook, line and sinker. In a report about Mr. Megrahi's son publicly joining the fight to clear his father's name, what evidential point do we choose to illustrate the weakness of the case against him? Oh yes, the bloody timer fragment (at least referring to the real issue this time though, the metallurgy analysis). An item whose significance within the framework of the conundrum is surely difficult for the casual newspaper reader to appreciate. An item which, to invoke a gaming analogy, is at best level 2 in the progression, when you haven't explained level 1 to us yet.

    How about the now-proven fact that Mr. Megrahi was nowhere near the scene of the crime? That he has, in fact, a perfect alibi? Come on, Herald, don't you think that might be worth a casual mention on the side, at least? Why do you imagine Mr. Mulholland is avoiding that subject like the plague?

  2. I agree that the issue of the Heathrow bomb bag is the most important and may prove to be the most reliable of the refutation evidence in this case, but I think there are a few reasons why journalists and those whose interest in the Lockerbie case is occasional or at least not in-depth will focus on the anomalies of the timer fragment.

    The timer fragment is relatively easy to understand. For the Crown/USA case, the fragment was the golden bullet: it was shown to have come from a timer made almost exclusively for Libya. It was made by Magrahi's business landlord, MEBO, and, being a non-barometric count-down timer it proved that the bomb suitcase could have made the necessary two transfers before detonating the IED over Scotland. It pointed the finger at Libya; a Libyan bought the clothes wrapped around the IED and a Libyan using a false passport had intimate knowledge of the security arrangements at Luqa airport allowing him to infiltrate the bomb bag into the baggage handling system. Libya, Libya, Libya.

    We have since come to know that Gauci's identification of Megrahi was nonsense, we came to know that on the date the clothes were purchesed, Magrahi was not on Malta and now the revelations about the timer fragment seem to prove that the timer was nothing to do with MEBO and therefore the link with Libya and Megrahi is broken.

    The timer fragment is a simple notion to grasp whereas the Heathrow luggage analysis is not as easy to take on board. Morag Kerr's book goes into the necessary minute detail of baggage loading at Heathrow which as a topic of study is deeply dull; and although it proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the IED suitcase began its journey at Heathrow (thereby exonerating Megrahi) it requires a lot of thought and concentration. Journalists and dilettante Lockerbie watchers can grasp the basic significance of the timer fragment without much effort whereas to fully understand Dr Kerr's exposition needs the reader to focus closely on what Dr Kerr is saying and to make the necessary logical deductions. This takes time and effort, while the simple evidence of the metallurgical tests is much easier to grasp.

    The idea that the timer fragment might have been planted is much more exciting than the explanation that the investigators were too dim to figure out that the Bedford bag was the bomb bag.

  3. In that last paragraph, Aku, you encapsulate exactly what I was moaning about. They bang on about the peripheral thing they think is exciting and ignore the more seminal point.

    However, in the body of your comment, I think you make my point for me. You explain exactly how difficult it actually is to grasp the significance of the timer fragment.

    For the Crown/USA case, the fragment was the golden bullet: it was shown to have come from a timer made almost exclusively for Libya. It was made by Magrahi's business landlord, MEBO, and, being a non-barometric count-down timer it proved that the bomb suitcase could have made the necessary two transfers before detonating the IED over Scotland. It pointed the finger at Libya; a Libyan bought the clothes wrapped around the IED and a Libyan using a false passport had intimate knowledge of the security arrangements at Luqa airport allowing him to infiltrate the bomb bag into the baggage handling system. Libya, Libya, Libya.

    How many ordinary newspaper readers know any of that? Damn few. How many newspaper articles explain all that to their readers? Almost none. How many of the journalists writing these articles actually know what you just explained? With a few honourable exceptions (Mega, Adams, maybe a couple more that's all), they don't. They see the timer fragment, vaguely grasp there are allegations that it was planted (or if we're really lucky, they point out that the metallurgy results don't match), and go "ooh, shiny!" And now of course the hapless reader also has to figure out what the implications of the metallurgy results are and why that matters.

    I agree that following the entire chain of reasoning in respect of the luggage loading takes time and effort and can be hard going. But nobody needs to follow the chain of reasoning to understand the take-home message.

    Megrahi was convicted of putting the bomb on board a plane on the island of Malta, in the morning. The new analysis of the damaged luggage shows that the bomb was actually put on board at Heathrow, in the late afternoon, when Megrahi is known to have been in Tripoli. He therefore has a perfect alibi for the crime.

    How much time and effort does it take to grasp that? Ten seconds? That's the entire message the newspaper reader needs. An assurance from someone who has taken the time and trouble to follow the underlying reasoning that the reasoning is sound and compelling will do the rest. And the reader who is sufficiently interested can go find out for themselves.

    As things stand, the focus on the timer fragment is a gift to the Crown Office. They can go on as long as they want about how it wasn't planted, and Magnus Linklater will duly report it like the good little puppy-dog he is. And nobody knows who to believe. It's a perfect Mexican standoff. And let's face it, maybe it wasn't planted. I think it's likely that it was, but I wouldn't lose any sleep if it wasn't, because I know the bomb went on at Heathrow anyway, regardless.

    Not one article has stated unequivocally that evidence exists that places Megrahi a thousand miles from the scene of the crime (or maybe that should be the other way round). As a result, Mulholland has never been required to address the point. And he never has. And he'll go on ignoring it just as long as the press allow him to. Which on present form will be forever.