Tuesday, 11 August 2015

They got it wrong. But the question is: why?

[What follows is the text of a report in The Guardian on this date in 2012:]

The cancer diagnosis of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing was a "gift from God" to the Libyan, British and Scottish governments, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's biographer has said.

John Ashton, who recently published a book on the former Libyan intelligence officer, told the Edinburgh international book festival: "Megrahi's cancer was a gift from God for everybody involved that had something to hide.

"It allowed his release, it allowed the final stages of the rapprochement between the UK and Libya, and it allowed the Scottish government to allow him out of prison on a legal basis that wasn't one laid down by the hated government in Westminster. It was a tragedy for Megrahi but I think everybody else was punching the air."

Ashton was joined at the talk on the Lockerbie bombing by other high-profile critics of the case. Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, and Dr Hans Köchler, the United Nations observer at Megrahi's trial in the Netherlands, also took part before a capacity crowd.

Megrahi was sentenced to life for the bombing, which killed 270 in the aircraft and on the ground around Lockerbie. He was released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he died in May this year.

The course of events was a "political fix", Ashton told the audience. But he denied the trial was a "grand conspiracy" involving a range of security services and leading all the way to heads of state.

"What I say is, first and foremost, that the judges got it wrong, for whatever reason, and the Crown Office withheld evidence," he said. "I'm sure they did so in good faith but their behaviour was utterly incompetent and shameful."

The three men highlighted areas of evidence that they said undermine the case against Megrahi, including a break-in at Heathrow airport and discrepancies over his identification in a shop in Malta.

Köchler said he could not understand why Megrahi was found guilty but his alleged co-conspirator was not. "If such an argument, if such an opinion of court, was presented by a student in a seminar, he would not have passed because it is full of contradictions," he said. "They got it wrong. But the question is: why?"

Swire believes that a bomb was taken on board at London. "During the whole trial we did not know that Heathrow airport had been broken into 16 hours before Lockerbie happened, it seemed to me very likely that was the technology that had been used," he said. "The whole concept that the thing came from Malta via Megrahi's luggage or anyone else's seemed to me far-fetched."

The panel's comments underlined the gulf between those who believe in Megrahi's guilt and those who feel he was innocent or the victim of a miscarriage of justice. US relatives in particular were angered by the Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision to free Megrahi because of his terminal cancer.


  1. I remember attending that event. While the above article makes the context of John Ashton's "gift from God" remark perfectly clear, several newspapers simply headlined "Lockerbie bomber's cancer was 'gift from God' says biographer", implying that the cancer was some sort of divine retribution against Megrahi.

  2. "...several newspapers simply headlined ..."
    Selective reading and quoting out of context will support any opinion and theory, not to mention the best of all: selective reporting.

    I recall the childhood advice "Don't believe everything you read".
    It is only slightly less 'too weak' than the statement
    "Don't believe anything you read"
    is 'too strong'.

    How painful it has been to realize that our western press is a such a seriously overrated source of information.
    I live in a military dictatorship, where people are thrown in jail for decades for stating an opinion. You may google for 'thailand 30 years'. Posting a link would be much too dangerous.

    What I wanted to say was that the press here is a much less overrated source of information.
    With press freedom being terrible it is even worse than the western press - but we better know how to rate it!

    An anecdote tells that in the good old days a woman selling 'Pravda' on the street tried to make an extra bit of money, asking 3 kopeks.
    A prospective buyer said
    - But Madam, a price of only 2 kopeks is printed on the front page?!
    To which she replied:
    - Yes, but that is also not true.