Wednesday, 8 July 2015

An untested appeal is a disservice to justice

[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.]


  1. I would challenge him to name just one "independent expert".

  2. I suspect he is seeking promotion to The Lords.

  3. I suspect he is seeking promotion to The Lords.

  4. That's a terrible article. He's been shown the hard evidence and sustainable proof that the bomb was loaded at Heathrow, but refuses point blank to debate the issue. When I challenged him to do that, he backed out saying that he wasn't an expert. This makes it particularly galling that he uses his press credentials to make another erroneous pronouncement on the subject. In the light of the proof that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow, Megrahi's presence at Malta is of course completely irrelevant.

    I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the constant focus on the timer fragment. It's an anomaly, and indeed a huge puzzle, but it can't be proved that it was either fabricated, planted, switched or altered. The only thing we can say for sure is that it wasn't what the prosecution said it was. Concentrating so much attention on an uncertain evidential point always turns into an opportunity for the guilters to take an easy pot shot.


  5. Depends on which side of the fence you stand.
    It is just hard to understand that there there are people with a fully different mindset. I know quite a couple and the attitude is overwhelming associated with success.

    Often there is a great understanding of the context they live in, what will work for them and what will not.
    They know how to present their case to the people who listen to them in that moment.
    They do rarely spend time on evidence and details, and definitely not if it does not support their beliefs.

    One advantage is the ability to act, instantly and forcefully and deal with any consequences.
    A Linklater can write 50 articles in the time it may take a Dr. Kerr to research for one page in a book.

    Newspapers do rarely fire such people. They are very productive and supply what is really needed. That was never the truth, and if the truth is all you have, prepare for a lost battle if the quantity of believers is what you go for.

    Linklater: "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."
    This is an excellent example. It is true in the sense that there is speculation in the application of all evidence. Our applications and theirs. He does not need a single line to make that statement and he can never be held accountable.

    > "Concentrating so much attention on an uncertain evidential point always turns into an opportunity for the guilters to take an easy pot shot."

    It is a strawman. One of the oldest tricks in the book.
    _They_ are focusing, JfM is not.

  6. Linklater states: "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. Rolfe agrees with him.

    Are they not aware that five scientific reports exist as follows?:-
    Two reports commissioned by the police say: The timer fragment PT/35(b) has a different metallurgy than the timers sold to Libya in 1985. We do not know why there is a difference.
    One report commissioned by DI Williamson of the police was prepared by Ferranti International. This says: The fragment tracking circuit "could have been home made."
    Two reports commissioned by the defence say: The fragment's metallurgy was not changed by the heat of the explosion. Since its tracks are covered with 100% tin, it could not have come from the batch sold to Libya in 1985, since those timers were coated with an alloy of 70% tin and 30% lead.

    A central feature of the prosecution case was that PT/35(b) came from the 1985 batch sold to Libya. Both Thomas Hayes and Allen Feraday maintained that the fragment was part of the bomb timer. Ferady wrote in longhand in the margin of his notebook that the metallurgy of the fragment was different from the control batch that he examined. He told the judges, however, that the materials and construction of both were identical. This was either gross negligence on Feraday's part, or a deliberate falsehood.

    It is often said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Sadly the much admired and honoured Mr Linklater exhibits just this fault. When so many listen or read his words and believe them, justice is not well served.

  7. I see little reason to admire Mr Linklater in the context of the whole 103 saga I'm afraid. He comes across as little more than a version of the judiciary's and COPFS's William Joyce. He, like Haw Haw, is honoured only by his highly questionable respect for a dubious, duplicitous, and abhorrent establishment. The sooner he is kicked into The Lords then the less we will have to tolerate his drivel. Is he a journalist, or, is he a pathetically dismal attempt at being the chattering classes' Simon Cowell? Believe as you wish. As Ian Hamilton said (apologies for any minor errors in phraseology): "There isn't a lawyer in Scotland who supports this conviction." I would correct that if I may. There are one or two, but, of course, they work in Chambers Street and know which side their bread is buttered.

  8. I see no reason to admire Mr. Linklater at all. He sneers from a distance, using his Times column to badmouth people who have access to little more than internet blogs to defend themselves. He refuses to engage in debate, declaring that he's not an expert, and then reassumes expert status to reassert the fallacious premises he has declined to defend.

    It's cowardly, intellectually bankrupt arrogance.