Monday 14 December 2015

Operation Sandwood Report: Public Statements by Lord Advocate and Crown Office

[In the item The Crown Office - cause for serious concern? posted earlier today on this blog, mention is made of statements by the Crown Office and the Lord Advocate that, in the view of Justice for Megrahi, disqualify them from playing any part in assessing Police Scotland’s forthcoming Operation Sandwood report into JfM’s allegations of criminal misconduct in the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and trial. What follows is the text of a document released today by JfM on the Crown Office’s and Lord Advocate’s statements:]

In relation to the forthcoming police Operation Sandwood report into Justice For Megrahi’s (JfM’s) 9 criminal allegations which is due to be submitted to the Crown Office early in 2016 we have consistently argued that this authority and the Lord Advocate have disqualified themselves from receiving, considering and making any prosecutorial or other decisions flowing from this report because of related public statements made by them.

Public Statements
In September 2012, following JfM’s letter to the then Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill laying out the allegations and seeking an independent investigation into them, and before they had been reported to the police, the Crown Office authorities publicly dismissed them as being without foundation in an article in The Scotsman:
‘But the Crown Office yesterday branded the allegations “defamatory and entirely unfounded”. A spokesman added that one of the allegations had been investigated by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) which found no basis for appeal, while it was also found there was “no basis” for claims that any police officers or officials fabricated evidence.
“It is a matter of the greatest concern that deliberately false and misleading allegations have been made in this way,” he added. The Lockerbie conviction has already been upheld by five appeal court judges, while Megrahi abandoned a second appeal.’
In December 2012 shortly after the allegations were officially delivered to Dumfries and Galloway Police, in widely reported statements, the Lord Advocate went public calling the JfM members who has made the allegations, “conspiracy theorists” and labelling the allegations, ‘defamatory and entirely unfounded ....... deliberately false and misleading.’
‘Scotland’s Lord Advocate has launched a powerful and stinging attack against “conspiracy theorists” who claim that the Lockerbie bomber was wrongly convicted.
In the most detailed rebuttal yet made to the case mounted by campaigners who argue that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi was innocent and that Libya was not involved in the terrorist bomb plot that brought Pan Am 103 down over Lockerbie 24 years ago today, Frank Mulholland, QC, calls the allegations “without foundation” ‘.
He goes on to accuse those making them of uttering “defamatory” comments against High Court judges who are unable to respond.

It is against this background of unprecedented public vilification of JfM’s legitimate allegations and those who made them that the subsequent behaviour of Lord Advocate/ Crown Office must be judged.
Having set themselves firmly against JfM and its claims their subsequent behaviour can clearly be seen as a consistent pattern of behaviour proactively supporting this totally unjustified bias and prejudice.
In June 2014 the BBC reported that the Megrahi family had instructed a Scottish lawyer to apply to have his conviction reviewed by the SCCRC and published a Crown Office response to the application.
‘A Crown Office spokesman said they "do not fear scrutiny of the conviction by the SCCRC." The spokesman added: "The evidence upon which the conviction was based was rigorously scrutinised by the trial court and two appeal courts after which Megrahi stands convicted of the terrorist murder of 270 people. We will rigorously defend this conviction when called upon to do so. In the meantime, we will continue the investigation with US and Scottish police and law enforcement.” ‘

In December 2014, at the Lockerbie commemoration ceremony in America, the Lord Advocate once again re-emphasised Mr Megrahi’s guilt and stated the only remaining question was, ’who were his accomplices’? These comments were made in the full knowledge that Operation Sandwood was ongoing and that if any one of the criminal allegations was upheld this would call Mr Megrahi’s guilt into question and could point to Crown Office and police culpability.
The Daily Telegraph reported: ‘Frank Mulholland, the Lord Advocate, used the 26th anniversary of the bombing to reaffirm his belief in the guilt of the only man convicted of the attack, and said Scottish prosecutors would never give up the fight to find his accomplices.’

The BBC reported: ‘Mr Mulholland said: "During the 26-year long inquiry not one Crown Office investigator or prosecutor has raised a concern about the evidence in this case. "We remain committed to this investigation and our focus remains on the evidence, and not on speculation and supposition. "Our prosecutors and police officers, working with UK government and US colleagues, will continue to pursue this investigation, with the sole aim of bringing to justice those who acted along with al-Megrahi.” ‘

In October 2015 the BBC reported: ‘A Crown Office spokesman said: "The Lord Advocate and the US Attorney General have recently agreed that there is a proper basis in law in Scotland and the United States to entitle Scottish and US investigators to treat two Libyans as suspects in the continuing investigation into the bombing of flight Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie.’

Unfortunately these public statements by the Lord Advocate and Crown Office, highlighting and reinforcing Mr Megrahi’s guilt, fail to acknowledge, what they well knew, that there are two ongoing major investigations.
The first of them, to which the above quotations refer, is being conducted by a Crown Office/Police Scotland ‘Lockerbie Investigation Team’, in close liaison with the American FBI, and has been ongoing for a number of years. Its enquiries are based on the clear assumption that Megrahi did not act alone and his accomplices have still to be identified. The Lord Advocate has recently confirmed that as part of this investigation he is applying to interview two further Libyan suspects incarcerated in Libya.
The second investigation, mounted in 2012, followed JfM's nine allegations of criminality relating to the actions of Crown Office and police personnel and persons who were cited as Crown witnesses in the trial of the two Libyans. This investigation is now being carried out by a dedicated team of Police Scotland officers under the codename Operation Sandwood and a report is expected early next year.
As the Crown well knows the two investigations referred to above are potentially in direct conflict in that the first is predicated on the assumption that Mr. Megrahi is guilty. The Operation Sandwood enquiry however is into allegations that, if proved, point to his innocence and that there may have been malfeasance by some associated with the prosecution including Crown office personnel.

In publicly condemning the JfM allegations and the individuals who made them and by continuing to give such open public support to their own investigation the Lord Advocate and Crown Office have prejudiced and prejudged the outcome of Operation Sandwood.
In 2012 as soon as they were aware of our allegations, the resultant police investigation and the fact that if proved they could challenge the previous assumptions so actively being promoted by the Crown, these authorities should have taken immediate action to protect its integrity and made no further public comment which could be in any way related too that investigation.
As far as we can judge the Lord Advocate/Crown Office have taken absolutely no action to protect the ongoing Police Scotland major investigation and in fact have actively acted against it.
JfM believes that this consistent pattern of biased public statements, in addition to being completely inappropriate, has had the clear potential to influence and prejudice Operation Sandwood witnesses who have been required to provide statements against a background of this very public interference by Scotland’s senior prosecution authorities. We also fear that certain Crown, Police and expert witness, encouraged by the Crown statements, might seek to withhold from or alter legitimate evidence to Operation Sandwood.
Such blatant publicity also serves of course to set the whole of the Crown Office against any contradictory findings from Operation Sandwood thus making it entirely inappropriate for anyone associated with the Crown Office to receive, assess and decide on any action resulting from this report.

Since we made these allegations JfM has become increasingly concerned about the capability of the Lord Advocate/Crown Office to make objective and impartial decisions on any report emanating from the Operation Sandwood investigations. We believe that they have comprehensively disqualified themselves from such decisions and make it essential that a prosecutor completely independent of the Crown Office receives the report, assesses it and makes decisions arising from it without any Crown Office input.

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