Friday, 6 November 2015

“The fact is, they didn’t want to do this”

[Today’s edition of The Times features a report by Mike Wade headlined Lockerbie case dropped after lack of support. It reads as follows:]

Examining the case of the Lockerbie bomber is no longer in the interests of justice, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has decided.

Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan who died three years ago protesting his innocence, remains the only man convicted of the atrocity, which brought down a Pan Am jet in December 1988, killing 270 people.

The commission had been considering a request for a review of his case brought last July by lawyers for al-Megrahi’s family, but said yesterday it had not been able to secure papers from his former defence team, nor important materials from his closest relatives.

Jean Couper, the chairman of the commission, said: “It is extremely frustrating that the relevant papers have not been forthcoming despite repeated requests. Therefore, and with some regret, we have decided to end the current review.”

Mrs Couper added: “It remains open for the matter to be considered again by the commission, but it is unlikely that any future application will be accepted for review unless it is accompanied with the appropriate defence papers.”

Campaigners hoping to clear al-Megrahi of the bombing by a posthumous appeal said that they were disappointed but not surprised by the decision, and were determined to continue their fight.

“This is not over as far as the family is concerned,” said Aamer Anwar, the solicitor for the family. “The door has not been closed by the commission. The case is dependent on if and when we can travel out to Libya. Hopefully, that will be in the near future.”

The commission’s decision turned on the apparent failure of the al-Megrahi family to pursue the case. His supporters say relatives are scared to speak up for him, because he worked for the despised Gaddafi regime, and they still live in fear of reprisals.

John Ashton, who cowrote a book about Lockerbie with al-Megrahi, accused the commission of “exploiting a legal loophole” to drop the case. “The fact is, they didn’t want to do this. It would have been very expensive and controversial,” he added.

At the end of al-Megrahi’s trial in 2001, a number of prominent observers publicly questioned his conviction, including Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing. Doubts continue to surround the case.

In July 2007, the commission granted al-Megrahi leave to appeal, identifying six grounds for believing that a “miscarriage of justice may have occurred”.

Two years later, he dropped his appeal, claiming in Mr Ashton’s book that he did so in exchange for his early release. He said that Kenny MacAskill, who was the Scottish justice secretary, told a Libyan government official that “it would be easier to grant compassionate release if I dropped my appeal”.

Last month, Scottish and American investigators were invited to travel to Libya by the National Salvation government to question two further suspects, Mohammed Abouajela Masud and Abdullah al-Senussi.

Al-Megrahi’s supporters believe the identification of the men could help to clear his name.

Mr Ashton said: “If these new suspects are brought to trial, hopefully, it will all come back to court. That would require rerunning the case against al-Megrahi. If Libya stabilises and the family is prepared to put their heads above the parapet, that case can and should be heard.”

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