Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Pan Am Flight 103: Was Lockerbie bomber really guilty?

[This is the headline over an article by Alasdair Soussi published today on the Aljazeera website. It reads in part:]

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of the deadly bombing, but many believe his conviction was a miscarriage of justice.

To this day, Megrahi, who died in May 2012 protesting his innocence, remains the only person convicted of bringing down the American-bound airliner with a smuggled bomb, which, detonating 38 minutes into its flight from London, flung victims and debris over an 81-mile corridor covering 845 square miles.

Yet, Megrahi's January 31, 2001, conviction, his controversial release by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds due to illness in August 2009, and even his death in Libya from cancer three years later, have all failed to put to rest a murder case that remains one of the most contentious in modern criminal history.

Indeed, as the debate between those who maintain that Megrahi was guilty as charged and those who contend that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice rages on, for many the case has not limited itself to a battle of evidence alone. It has also seen Scotland and its justice system put through years of unwarranted hardship - which has taken its toll.

"I think we should finally put to bed all the conspiracy theories about Lockerbie, which have occupied a great deal of time and space over the last 20 years maybe," said Magnus Linklater, a prominent Scottish political commentator who has become a noted critic of those advocating Megrahi's innocence.

Linklater told Al Jazeera that those who promote the notion of the Libyan's innocence - and the innocence of Libya itself in the Lockerbie bombing - are "misguided". (...)

The main focus of Linklater's wrath - and that of others who share his views - is Scottish-based Justice for Megrahi (JFM), an organisation that has called into question Megrahi's guilt - and is calling for a public inquiry into the bombing.

It makes no apology for pushing its line that Megrahi's conviction may constitute one of the gravest miscarriages of justice in modern legal history.

Len Murray, a retired Scottish criminal court solicitor and committee member of the group, told Al Jazeera that any notion that the case against Megrahi was "overwhelming", "could not be further from the truth".

"It is worth bearing in mind that while the three [Scottish] judges [who tried the case] were experienced judges, judges in our High Court have never ever had to determine guilt or innocence - that's always left to the jury," he added. "But, when for the first time in modern legal history, it's left to three judges, they get it appallingly wrong.

Many observers share this view. (...)

JFM (...) contends that, far from being conspiracy theories, the weight of evidence casting doubt on the Libyan's guilt has been arrived at convincingly.

Retired police officer Iain McKie, who is also a JFM committee member, told Al Jazeera that his two JFM colleagues, signatory John Ashton and committee member Morag Kerr, authors of Megrahi: You Are My Jury and Adequately Explained by Stupidity? - Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies respectively, had backed up their various assertions - which have become central to the group's miscarriage of justice case - with hard evidence.

"Scotland's shame is quite clearly the way the whole affair has been conducted from the beginning - from the investigation, the prosecution, the judicial process and the aftermath. That's Scotland's shame," added McKie.

Supporting Linklater's position is the continuing work of Police Scotland.

It told Al Jazeera that Lockerbie "remains a live investigation" - and that, "along with the Crown Office", it was "committed to working with our colleagues at the FBI, the Department of Justice and the US Attorney's Office in Washington DC to gather any information or evidence that identifies those who acted along with al-Megrahi to commit this despicable act of terrorism".

Yet JFM is itself awaiting the final report of Operation Sandwood - Police Scotland's investigation of nine allegations of criminality levelled by the group at Crown, police and forensic officials who worked on the Lockerbie case. JFM is publicly calling for the inquiry’s final report to be assessed by an independent prosecutor.

As Lockerbie itself remains a live case, JFM awaits the results of Operation Sandwood and continues to campaign against the findings of the 15-year-old verdict, the events of December 21, 1988, will continue to cast a very long shadow.

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