Wednesday, 18 May 2016

'Door wide open' for appeal against Lockerbie plane bombing conviction

[This is the headline over a report published this evening on the website of Sputnik International. It reads as follows:]

Prominent human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar has called into question the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for 270 counts of murder in the case of the Lockerbie plane bombing, and has suggested that there is "serious consideration" to launch another appeal against the conviction of the alleged Libyan intelligence officer.

Following the publication of extracts from a soon to be released book by former Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, family members of the victims of the worst ever act of terrorism to occur on Scottish soil have said the case against Megrahi is now "crumbling."

Mr Anwar, who previously represented the families of the Scottish victims, and Mr Megrahi, told Sputnik on Wednesday that the door was still open for an appeal against the conviction.

"The families have never given up on pursuing a second appeal, it was simply the case that the Commission [Scottish Criminal Cases Commission] refused to refer it back to the Court of Appeal. But the door is still left wide open for a potential appeal," Mr Anwar told Sputnik.

"There are concerns over the conviction, that was revealed by Kenny MacAskill [ex-Justice Secretary for Scotland] and Alex Salmond [former First Minster of Scotland], in regards to the identification evidence that was critical to Mr Megrahi's conviction.

"There's serious consideration of whether to go back to the commission again in light of the shocking revelations that we've seen over the last 48 hours."

The conviction of Megrahi for the bombing of the Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, killing 270, was based on key evidence from Maltese shop owner, Tony Gauci, who testified that he had sold Mr Megrahi clothing that was found in the wreckage.

Previews of Kenny MacAskill's book, The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice tell that he does not believe that Mr Megrahi bought the clothes, and raised serious concerns over the legitimacy of the testimony given that Mr Gauci had later been unable to identify Mr Megrahi.

When asked if he believed that the conviction could have occurred without this key evidence Mr Anwar said: "That's a matter for the Lordships, but the testimony was significant.

"Had we known then, what we know now it might have put a different slant on matters. At the end of the day, in any court in this land, if you were to subsequently find out that a witness has been offered money to give positive testimony in court, or if you found out that they had been unable to identify an individual and they had been cajoled into recognizing someone — and there were all these problems with that identification evidence, then it's unlikely that that evidence would have been allowed into court," Mr Anwar told Sputnik.

Kenny MacAskill wrote that he received numerous death threats for the decision that the he and the SNP government made in 2009 to release Mr Megrahi to the Libyan authorities on compassionate grounds when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Mr Megrahi died three years later in Libya.

Mr MacAskill has now revealed that at one stage he and the then First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, tried to use the planned transfer of Mr Megrahi to secure further powers for the Scottish Government in Holyrood. Mr Anwar suggested that this raises further questions over the previous attempts to bring this case to the Court of Appeal.

"At the time of Mr Megrahi's release it was always denied vociferously that it had anything to do with shady oil deals in the desert or weapons contracts, we now know that to be different, but there was also a denial that any pressure had been put on Mr Megrahi [to drop the appeal in return for release on compassionate grounds], so one wonders what is it that we are no supposed to believe."

Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the explosion, has campaigned to uncover the truth behind the bombing for several years.

He told Scottish newspaper, The National, that the case against Mr Megrahi was now "falling to pieces."

Mr MacAskill's book will not be published in full until the [26] May 2016.

[RB: Aamer Anwar is understandably and commendably cautious on the issue of whether Megrahi could still have been convicted if the court had not found that he was the Malta purchaser. "That's a matter for the Lordships, but the testimony was significant,” he is quoted as saying. 

Unlike Mr Anwar, I have no need to be circumspect on this matter. If the trial court judges had not treated the evidence as establishing that Megrahi was the purchaser I confidently assert that they would not, and in law could not, have returned a verdict of guilty. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission shares my view. In para 21.100 of its Statement of Reasons in the Megrahi application the Commission states: “It is sufficient to say that in the Commission's view any finding that a reasonable court could not have inferred that the applicant was the purchaser would render the remaining evidence against him insufficient to convict.”]


  1. The point many commentators are failing to get about the identification evidence is that Megrahi being identified as the clothes purchaser was an essential underpinning for the finding that the bomb suitcase travelled on KM180.

    The judges were faced with an investigation that had focussed hugely on Frankfurt and Malta, and had dismissed the Heathrow evidence with "phooey, not interested" and a wave of the hand. However, the evidence from Heathrow was substantial. A suitcase matching the description of the bomb suitcase was seen in the container, more or less in the position of the explosion, an hour before the feeder flight landed. Airside security was very lax, people were coming and going all afternoon, and the baggage handler in charge of the container testified that "anyone who worked at the airport" could have put a suitcase into the container during that time. The prosecution had no answer to the question "if that wasn't the bomb suitcase, what was it?" and merely relied on pointing to Frankfurt and Malta and shouting "look over there!" The main argument against that case being the bomb seemed to be that the police had never thought it was worth following up.

    In contrast the evidence from Frankfurt was anything but compelling. Partial records that survived after the main dataset was lost were very difficult to interpret. A record existed that suggested an undocumented, unaccompanied item had been transferred from KM180 to PA103, but then there were records that suggested undocumented items had been transferred from flights from New Delhi, Berlin Tegel and Warsaw as well as Malta. The only thing that made Malta special in that respect was that the man who bought the clothes was present at the airport when that flight departed. (There is no record of the Lockerbie investigation showing the slightest interest in the goings-on at New Delhi, Berlin Tegel or Warsaw that morning.) It was on that basis that the judges decided that was what had happened, despite complete, clear and coherent paperwork from Malta showing pretty definitely that no such suitcase existed.

    I have no idea whether Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was a bad guy in the Libyan regime, or an ordinary Joe trying to get by as best he could in a difficult economic climate. I never met him. He says one thing, others say another, and there's precious little evidence either way. Nevertheless, the middle east and indeed the world is full of bad guys. They didn't all bomb that plane. The police can't just go out and arrest some random known housebreaker after a burglary, they have to prove that the accused actually did the crime in question.

    So there is really no relevance in repeating a litany of which known Libyan bad guys Megrahi knew or was related to. So he had a Swiss bank account. The Libyan passport office had given him a passport in a false name. He had had business dealings with Edwin Bollier. He was cheating on his wife. What does any of that have to do with the price of fish?

    If he didn't buy the clothes, and the bomb didn't travel on KM180, he could have been swanning round Malta with a passport in the name of Al Capone, treating half the Libyan secret service to a party in a night-club with his Swiss bank account money, and it wouldn't have the slightest relevance to the Lockerbie disaster.

  2. True words said could not have said them better.