Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Megrahi campaigners welcome MSPs' decision to keep petition 'open' on Lockerbie investigation

[This is the headline over a report in today’s edition of The National. It reads as follows:]

A campaign group calling for an independent inquiry into the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing has welcomed a decision by MSPs to keep its petition “open” and maintain a watching brief on a police inquiry into the case.

Justice for Megrahi (JfM) had claimed the findings of the Police Scotland investigation into allegations surrounding the disaster might “never see the light of day”, because the Crown Office and Lord Advocate had “already come to a view” on allegations it had made casting doubt on the conviction.

Al-Megrahi died in May 2012, three years after the Scottish Government released him from a life sentence on compassionate grounds.

JfM had written to the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC early in November, asking a series of questions about his intentions regarding the report of the investigation – named Operation Sandwood – and the appointment of an independent counsel to consider it.

Mulholland had named the Crown Office point of contact as crown agent and chief executive Catherine Dyer, who, he said, had “no involvement whatsoever” in the investigation into the bombing.

Retired police officer Iain McKie, a member of JfM, said yesterday: “We had sent eight questions to the Lord Advocate about how they would deal with the police report, which he failed to answer.

“The committee have now decided to ask these questions on our behalf and that’s a significant step forward.”

The group’s questions focused on the status of the “independent counsel”, their association with the Crown Office and whether they would receive the Operation Sandwood report directly from Police Scotland without any intervention from the Lord Advocate or the Crown Office.

Independent MSP John Finnie told the committee the issue was “all about process” and not personalities.

He said: “We do have the suggestion that the Crown agent is an independent person in this process, or will play a role in this process and, as we’ve seen from the letters, I think any reasonable judgment would say that that’s not necessarily the case, given that the crown agent defended the Crown Office’s position on this in a letter of 2012.”

Finnie added: “I would like the clerk to write to the Lord Advocate with the particular questions.

“Hopefully we’ll get some response to them that would advise what further action, if any, we would need to take.”

A Crown Office spokesman told The National: “Further to the Lord Advocate’s letter of 8 May 2015 to the Justice Committee, and his letter of 24 December 2015 to Justice For Megrahi, the Lord Advocate can confirm that he has had no involvement in the appointment of Counsel undertaking this work other than to identify their criteria of independence and no previous involvement with the Lockerbie investigation.

“The counsel undertaking this work is not under the direction of the Lord Advocate.

“The Lord Advocate considers it important that any criminal allegations against persons who were representing the Crown are dealt with independently of the Crown.

“As indicated above steps have been taken to ensure this is the case.”

[RB: The eight questions referred to by Iain McKie are contained in a letter dated 5 November 2015 sent by JfM’s secretary, Robert Forrester, to the Lord Advocate. That letter is now to be found on the Scottish Parliament website (link here). It reads as follows:]

Date: 5th November 2015 

Dear Lord Advocate, 

Justice for Megrahi: Criminal Allegations: Appointment of Independent Prosecutor 

I refer to my previous letter of 24th August 2015, your response of 18th September and your recent correspondence with the Justice Committee on the above subject. 

JFM is still unclear as to your intentions in respect of any report emanating from the police ‘Operation Sandwood’ investigations. 

To assist us in our understanding we would appreciate it if you would answer the following questions. 

1. What is the status of the appointed independent Counsel? Is he or she a present or former member of Crown Office staff? Or a member of the Bar who has had no previous association with Crown Office? 
2. Who appointed the independent Counsel? If it was not the Crown Office, who was it? 
3. What are the ‘Terms of Reference’ under which the independent Counsel is working and who created them? 
4. Under whose ‘direction’ is the independent Counsel working? 
5. Will the independent Counsel receive the ‘Operation Sandwood’ report directly from the police/police QC without any intervention or comment by the LA or Crown Office and before those authorities are aware of the report’s  contents? 
6. Will the independent Counsel make a totally independent decision on the report without any input from the Crown Office? 
7. Will Crown Office have authority to reject or change any recommendation made by the independent Counsel? 
8. Will the recommendations of the independent Counsel be implemented in full and if not who will make this decision? 

We believe that answers to these questions are essential if we are to have any faith that a truly independent and objective assessment of the police report will be carried out. 

Given the importance of the legal and constitutional issues under debate we have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Convenor of the Justice Committee and have supplied them with a copy of this letter. 

We look forward to an early response.

1 comment:

  1. Very good questions. I do recall Barbara Castle MP exposing the Crown Agents using Parlimentary Imunity. I doubt that they have changed much since that time. Megrahi is innocent and always was and hopefully you fine people will prove and expose the corrupt practices which are rampant in our country at every level.