[This is the headline over an article by Magnus Linklater in today’s edition of The Times (behind the paywall). It reads as follows:]
Families of the 7/7 victims at least have resolution but in the case of Lockerbie the truth may now be buried for ever
For the victims of the 7/7 attacks in London, the memorials yesterday may have helped to draw a line under an atrocity that robbed families of those they loved and tore apart their lives. By now they have gathered most of the detail of what happened on that day. They know who did it; they have pieced together the last moments of those who died; the gaps in their knowledge have been steadily filled.
For the families of the Lockerbie victims, 26 years have passed without the same resolution. For some, such as Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing, there is the visceral conviction that the wrong man was targeted and that the trail to Libya was a false one. Others, like the redoubtable Tam Dalyell, share that belief. It will stay with them for ever; nothing will convince them otherwise. For others — equally certain that the right man was convicted — there is the frustration of not knowing who ordered the attack. Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, found guilty on the evidence of placing the bomb on board a feeder flight from Luqa airport in Malta, could not, they believe, have acted alone. Who gave the orders remains an unanswered question.
Last week, three appeal judges rejected the final route open to those who wished to bring the Lockerbie case back before the courts. Only the family of a dead man can appeal his conviction, they ruled; campaigners for relatives of the victims have no such legal standing. Since al-Megrahi’s family in Libya were unwilling or unable to back the appeal, that marked the end of a long narrative of rumour, doubts, suspicions and accusations that reach back almost as far as the attack itself.
The story will not, of course, end here. Already campaigners have announced that they intend to pursue their quest “for justice”. Within hours of the decision, Robert Black, QC, a Lockerbie man who was partly responsible for the original trial being held in the Netherlands, criticised the Scottish legal system for being “too rigid” in refusing the appeal and said it was predictable that the judges had rejected it. They “bristled with discomfort”, he wrote, at the prospect of the case being brought back, in case the conviction fell apart. [RB: I have said or written no such thing. What I did do is post on this blog a letter from Thomas Crooks in The Scotsman where such comments are made.]
Actually, the reverse is true. Most lawyers, up to and including several lord advocates who have been involved in the prosecution case or have studied it in detail, would relish seeing it back in court — if only to subject the conspiracy theories to forensic cross-examination and to see them fall apart. Investigators have been labelled corrupt, stupid or simply blinkered for failing to challenge the prosecution case. They would welcome the chance to contest that view.
For all the heated controversy that has surrounded police and lawyers involved in putting together the case against al-Megrahi, none of the counter-theories have stood up to scrutiny. They have been paraded in books, TV programmes and articles, but they have always foundered on an absence of hard evidence. Suggestions, for instance, that the bomb was loaded at Heathrow rather than in Malta remain in the domain of speculation rather than of sustainable proof. The idea that the critical fragment of a timer linking the bomb to the Libyans was planted, altered, or swapped requires a leap that would be thrown out in any serious court of law. The explanations offered as to what al-Megrahi was doing in Malta at precisely the time that the bomb was loaded, and how it came to be wrapped in clothes bought in a local shop, have been as unconvincing as they have been varied.
The case that exonerates the Libyans, while at the same time attempting to explain away the hard forensic and circumstantial evidence that links them to the bombing, is almost as tortuous as the negotiations that persuaded Colonel Gaddafi to surrender the two men accused of the bombing to face a Scottish trial.
The Justice for Megrahi campaign relies ultimately on the lengthy report of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which spent three years on the most detailed examination of the evidence ever carried out; which had the right — and exercised it — to summon every witness cited by those who argued that the conviction was unsafe; and which dismissed each and every counter-theory that came before it.
It did, however, produce six grounds for appeal, and it is on those that al-Megrahi’s defenders rely in arguing that the case was a miscarriage of justice. They centre, largely, on delays by the Crown in producing key pieces of evidence and on details of how the evidence of Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who sold the clothes used to wrap the bomb, was handled. The campaigners claim that this evidence would have blown the prosecution case out of the water. That is unlikely. Most independent experts who have examined all, rather than part, of the evidence, say that none of the six grounds for appeal would have been sufficient to overturn the prosecution case.
The sad fact is that we will never know. The gulf that separates the sides in the story is too wide to be bridged. The proof may be out there in the turmoil that is Libya today. But even were it now to emerge, who would believe it? Time, in a case like this, does little to heal — it merely cements deep-seated suspicions. If nature abhors a vacuum, then an untested appeal is a disservice to justice. Without that final process, the truth is buried for ever.
[RB: Yet more misrepresentation by Magnus Linklater of the evidential flaws in the Megrahi conviction. His blinkered stance has been exposed time and again by John Ashton, amongst others. Here is a link to one of Mr Ashton’s pieces demolishing the Linklater arguments: Lockerbie, and the mangled logic of Magnus Linklater.]