Thursday, 2 April 2015

The most blatant Scottish miscarriage of justice for 100 years

[What follows is an excerpt from an interview with me published in Lockerbie’s local weekly newspaper, the Annandale Herald, on this date in 2009:]

Q. You are credited with being one of the “architects” of the first trial at Camp Zeist. What was your involvement at that time?
A. My personal involvement in the aftermath of the destruction of Pan Am 103 began in early 1993. I was approached by representatives of a group of British businessmen whose desire to participate in major engineering works in Libya was being impeded by the UN sanctions that had been imposed on Libya in an attempt to compel the surrender for trial in Scotland or the United States of America of their two accused citizens. They asked if I would be prepared to provide independent advice to Libya with a view (it was hoped) to persuading them their citizens would obtain a fair trial if they were to surrender to the Scottish authorities. I submitted material setting out the essentials of Scottish solemn criminal procedure and the various protections embodied in it for accused persons. It was indicated to me that the Libyan government was satisfied regarding the fairness of a criminal trial in Scotland but, since Libyan law prevented the extradition of nationals for trial overseas, the ultimate decision would have to be one taken voluntarily by the accused persons themselves.

For this purpose a meeting was convened in Tripoli in October 1993 of the international team of lawyers appointed to represent the accused. I am able personally to testify to how much of a surprise and embarrassment it was to the Libyan government when the outcome of the meeting of the defence team was an announcement that the accused were not prepared to surrender themselves for trial in Scotland. At a private meeting I had in Tripoli a day later it was explained to me the primary reason for the unwillingness of the accused to stand trial in Scotland was their belief that, because of unprecedented pre-trial publicity over the years, a Scottish jury could not possibly bring to their consideration of the evidence the impartiality and open-mindedness accused persons are entitled to expect and that a fair trial demands.

I returned to Tripoli and in 1994 and presented a detailed proposal that a trial be held outside Scotland, ideally in the Netherlands, in which the governing law and procedure would be that followed in Scottish criminal trials on indictment but with the jury of 15 persons replaced by a panel of judges. In a letter to me it was stated the suspects would voluntarily surrender themselves for trial before a tribunal so constituted. The Deputy Foreign Minister of Libya stated his government approved of the proposal. I submitted the relevant documents to the Foreign Office in London and the Crown Office in Edinburgh. Their immediate response was that this scheme was impossible, impracticable and inherently undesirable, with the clear implication that I had taken leave of what few senses nature had endowed me with. However, from about late July 1998, following interventions supporting my “neutral venue” scheme from, amongst others, President Nelson Mandela, there began to be leaks from UK government sources to the effect that a policy change over Lockerbie was imminent; and on 24 August 1998 the governments of the United Kingdom and United States announced they had reversed their stance on the matter of a “neutral venue” trial. And after a number pitfalls were avoided, the suspects surrendered themselves for trial.

Q. What is your view of the legal process involving the case since then?
A. The outcome of the trial was a real shock. Since the day of the verdict I have consistently maintained the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi was contrary to the weight of the evidence and that the finding of guilt against him was a conclusion no reasonable tribunal could have reached on that evidence. I am glad to say my view appears to be shared by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, for this is one of the grounds on which it referred Megrahi’s case back to the High Court for a further appeal. As someone who has practised, taught and (as a part-time judge) administered the criminal law of Scotland for 35 years, I can confidently say that, in my opinion, the conviction of Megrahi is the worst and most blatant miscarriage of justice to have occurred in Scotland for a hundred years.

Q. What is your experience of meeting and working with victims’ families?
A. One of the great privileges accorded to me through my involvement in the Lockerbie case has been meeting, and forming friendships with, relatives of individuals killed aboard Pan Am 103: delightful people like Jim and Jane Swire, John and Lisa Mosey and Marina Larracoechea. My contacts with other relatives, particularly some American ones, have been less pleasurable. For some of them, anyone who expresses anything less than absolutely uncritical acceptance of the trial verdict and of Libyan culpability is a rogue and a scoundrel. How they will cope with the quashing of Megrahi’s conviction (which I believe to be inevitable if the current appeal goes the full distance) I hesitate to think.


  1. What happened 100 years ago? James of the Glen was tried in 1752.

    1. The conviction of Oscar Slater in 1909 is what I was thinking about. Conviction eventually quashed in 1928. He got compensation of £6,000 and lived for another 20 years:

    2. Ah, the Marion Gilchrist murder. I've heard that referred to in the same breath as Camp Zeist before. Plenty lessons to lean from that one.

      There's a horror going on in New Zealand at the moment too. Mark Lundy has just been re-convicted for the murder of his wife and daughter, on a completely different time of death from the original conviction. I don't see how he could possibly have done it, but public opinion was dead set against him (and the jury are part of the public) and the judge's summing-up was astonishingly biassed. (Just because only one expert says this thing, and everyone else thinks they're full of it, doesn't mean the single expert is wrong.)

      He won't get another appeal either. Shocking state of affairs.

  2. "How they will cope with the quashing of Megrahi’s conviction (which I believe to be inevitable if the current appeal goes the full distance) I hesitate to think."

    There are some of them who hopefully will never say "We have now reviewed the evidence, and accept that it is possible that we were wrong" as it would send some of us straight to our grave with a heart attack.

    While it is understandable if the emotional involvement could make anyone worse, the closed-mindedness and aggression we see is still incredible.

    1. Wait and see if John and Arline Kercher and their family ever figure out that their daughter was killed by Rudy Guede and Rudy Guede alone, after she came home early and surprised him burgling her apartment. If that ever happens, I'll start to imagine some of the Lockerbie guilters might reconsider.