Sunday, 8 November 2015

Robin Cook on prospects for Lockerbie trial

[What follows is the text of a report published on this date in 1998 in The Sunday Times, as reproduced on Safia Aoude’s The Pan Am 103 Crash Website:]

The foreign secretary, Robin Cook, believes it is increasingly likely that the two Libyans suspected of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing will be turned over to a court in the Hague by Christmas, ending a 10-year wait to bring them to justice.

"I'm encouraged that the Libyans are seriously engaged on our proposal," Cook said in an interview last week. "There has been no grandstanding or wasting of time."

Cook said indications from Libya suggested that Muammar Gadaffi wanted to break the deadlock over the fate of the two men, Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah. They are accused of placing a suitcase bomb aboard the Pan Am 103 jet that blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21 1988, killing all 259 people aboard and 11 on the ground.

The foreign secretary said he was particularly encouraged by the recent appointment of a senior Libyan team of lawyers, headed by Kamel al-Maghour, a former foreign minister, to represent the pair.

British sources said they had been told by the United Nations that the Libyans were "largely happy" with assurances given by the British government three weeks ago concerning the planned conduct of legal proceedings.

This followed an Anglo-American proposal made in August under which the two would be tried in the Hague under Scottish law before a panel of Scottish judges and not in London or Washington.

Among the assurances, Britain has guaranteed Libya that the offer of a trial in the Netherlands is not merely a ruse to get hold of the men and send them to America or Britain. The families of the accused have been promised access to them and the defence team allowed to call witnesses from Britain.

The government has also tried to assuage Gadaffi's fears that senior Libyan officials called to testify might be arrested. "Anyone who comes and gives evidence ... is immune from arrest for offences in the past," Cook said. He also insisted the West would honour its pledge to end sanctions imposed on Libya immediately the suspects were handed over. [RB: It is important to note that what was being accorded to witnesses was immunity from arrest while at Zeist. Witnesses receive immunity from prosecution only if called by the Crown as accomplices of those on trial to give evidence against them. Ordinary prosecution witnesses receive no immunity from prosecution, but are entitled to refuse to answer questions that might incriminate them.]

First indications of how quickly the men may be handed over could emerge after the Libyan legal team meets Hans Correll, the Swedish diplomat who is the United Nations' top legal officer, in New York tomorrow.

The only remaining key sticking point is the Libyan demand that al-Megrahi and Fhimah should be imprisoned in the Netherlands rather than Britain if convicted. Cook says this remains non-negotiable. "If convicted of offences under Scottish jurisdiction, they will serve time in a Scottish prison," he said. "There are two cells in Barlinnie [prison] prepared." Cook has made bringing the Libyans to justice a priority since taking office in May last year.

On his desk in the Foreign Office is a constant reminder of the tragedy: a glass globe Cook calls the "Lockerbie snow ball", which was sent by the relative of an American victim. When it is turned upside down, snows falls on miniature Lockerbie memorials.

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