Friday, 27 May 2016

Lockerbie: The bid to suppress evidence

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

It would have been an action unheard of in the Scottish press - the UK Government pulling an entire edition of a newspaper in a bid to suppress a secret document.
But that's exactly what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) threatened to do to The Herald in 2012 when it sought to publish details of a report implicating a Palestinian terror group in the Lockerbie bombing.
The full details of what happened were published yesterday in Kenny MacAskill's new book on the atrocity - and the FCO is again taking action.
The government department has said it is "considering the contents" of the book, The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice, amid claims it may breach of Official Secrets Act.
Mr MacAskill reveals that at the time the Herald was seeking to publish the information, he took a call from Tory MP Alistair Burt, who was working with the FCO.
"He threatened not just to pull The Herald's story, but to pull the whole edition of the newspaper," he said.
"I was incredulous. I told him that the people of Scotland would definitely notice if there was no Herald the next day.
"It really showed the extremes the UK Government was prepared to go to to stop the publication of something fundamental to Scotland's leading criminal case."
The document was subject to Public Interest Immunity, which prevented its release to the defence in the trial of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the bombing.
After taking legal advice, The Herald ran the story detailing the main points of the document, including that it came from Jordan and implicated the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in the December 1988 attack.
Certain information was not available to The Herald at that time, however it has all now been revealed in Mr MacAskill's book.
It is understood that the FCO requested a copy of the book on Sunday ahead of Thursday's publication, but were not provided with one as officials refused to rule out seeking an injunction.
The PFLP-GC were the original suspects in the investigation into Lockerbie, however by 1991 police and prosecutors were entirely focused on Libya.
This document naming the terror group was repeatedly suppressed at a high-level, despite sources claiming it presented little risk to national security.
In 2012, a source told The Herald: "The contents are very important but what makes them so much more significant is the lengths the UK Government and others have gone to in order to prevent anyone from seeing the document.
"This is the most remarkable piece of evidence. It does not rule out the Libyans but it does indicate that others were involved."
Mr MacAskill, who claimed the suppression of the document had more to with keeping the Jordanians happy so that radical cleric Abu Qatada could be deported from the UK, admits in his book that he believes the PFLP-GC were involved in the plot which killed 270 people.
The former politician, who made the controversial decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009, also raises doubts over the identification of Megrahi buying clothes from a shop in Malta that were found wrapped around the bomb.
However, he is now facing claims it is "dumbfounding" and "hypocritical" for a former justice minister to make such assertions that the case against Megrahi was flawed.
Robert Black QC, one of the architects behind Megrahi's trial who now heads up the Justice for Megrahi campaign, said: "Many of the things that Kenny is saying are the things that we've been saying for years.
"He said on the radio that there should be a new inquiry into Lockerbie - we've been asking for that for years, and it was him we were asking.
"It's only now that he doesn't actually have any power to do something that he's agreeing with us."
Mr Black added that it could be open to the FCO to try to secure a prosecution against Mr MacAskill for breaching the Officials Secrets Act, but he believes it would be highly unlikely.
He said: "Given that The Herald already published much of the detail in 2012, and they got away with it, I can't see how a case could be brought against him."
[RB: The above should be read along with the immediately preceding blogpost.]


  1. The headline over the story on The Herald's website has now been changed to read: "Kenny MacAskill: Tory MP threatened to 'pull edition of Herald' over Lockerbie story".

  2. Comment to this Herald article: Lorna Campbell 10:04am Fri 27 May 16
    "What comes out of this story and the many others about the British state and American foreign policy is that the whole world is viewed as one giant chess board, with the big powers making the moves and the rest of us, apart from the prime establishment and security pieces who act as king, queen, knight, etc., as mere pawns. These people supposedly act in our best interests, but it is hard not to come to the conclusion that they act solely in their own best interests and call it foreign policy, security and defence. I do not know what Mr MacAskill knew or didn't know, but one thing I am certain of is that the Scottish government and the people of Scotland were pawns on that chess board, and any deviation from the established line that could affect longer-term goals, such as security trade agreements and the ultimate fall of Libya to enable them - engineered like all the others in the Middle East, by the Western powers - is to invite Nemesis to the party. The Scottish government did what it could to help Scotland, to avoid reprisals against the Scottish people and to help a dying man, almost certainly innocent of the crime of which he was convicted, return home to his family by the quickest route. That may not play well with the steadfast moralists and those who would always play with a straight bat, but it is how politics works, and sometimes, it is the only mitigating thing that can be done. If the British government was willing to censor The Herald, it would have been quite willing to damage a Scottish administration for which it had infinite distaste. I can only surmise that this fact was communicated, in whatever way, to the Scottish government. That appeal was not going to be heard, whatever the circumstances. I can only wonder at people like Willie Rennie and others on these threads who are trying to make political capital out of this. Look at the Middle East, folks; look at the WMD myth; look at Chilcot, and face reality. The truth will emerge, but only when the establishment wills it necessary and unavoidable to save its own skin. It will throw anyone to the wolves in that pursuit."
    Last edited: 5:10pm Fri 27 May 16
    Score: 14

    1. Hi

      Lorna Campbell is a very civil lady and an intelligent one, however, like many on the Herald site she is firstly committed to the SNP and will not admit they could have done things very differently in this case. She, like MacAskill, wants to blame everyone else. I'm sorry. That's just ridiculous. I have tried to reason with her on the Herald forum but she will not accept anything other than that the SG were bullied, helpless, without authority and utterly blameless. We know that just isn't true. She makes excuse after excuse and frankly I just find that pathetic. She is the very last person I would quote on this subject.

      Who said the original verdict and investigation were sound and solid? MacAskill! Whose office coerced Megrahi into dropping his appeal? MacAskill's! Who altered the remit of the SCCRC to make sure any new appeal couldn't be directed back to the appeal court without the say so of a judge? MacAskill! (He sneaked that legislation through in emergency legislation designed to deal with the fallout from Cadder and in doing so altered the rights, not just of Megrahi, but every other prisoner in Scotland who will bring an appeal before the SCCRC. He changed the Act of Parliament which allowed the SCCRC to scrutinise cases "without political or judicial interference" by using both to clip its wings.

      Lorna Campbell has defended MacAskill to the hilt. She is SNP, he is SNP and that's all that matters. The dead of Lockerbie are irrelevant to people like that. I've voted SNP for a long time but I utterly condemn their handling of this. The appeal was in the pipeline and should have been untouchable and that was all the SG had to say to the UK and the US. It should have been heard. Instead, they co operated in order to get rid of it. Anyone who can't see that is blind and watching MacAskill now trying to portray himself as some sort of hero is excruciating. He is no hero! He obstructed the course of justice in this case. Of that there is no doubt.

  3. Clayton, I've responded on the Herald site to Lorna's post as follows:

    "More excuses from you Lorna to justify the behaviour of the Scottish Government at the time when there was a valid appeal waiting to be heard which meant they were in a position of power. Yet MacAskill's office helped to bury that appeal which, had it been heard, would almost certainly have acquitted Megrahi. You constantly claim they were powerless when that is just not true and the dead of Lockerbie don't even interest you, nor does justice. Your priority is to defend a Justice Secretary who utterly obstructed justice , exceeded his authority by interfering with the judicial process and even altered the SCCRC's remit to make sure that any new appeal by Megrahi's family on his behalf could be stopped by a judge! Shame on you Lorna. I understand loyalty to a political Party but in this case you callously set aside all those dead people, justice and the truth in order to cheerlead for MacAskill and the Scottish Government. That's so nauseating. I hope that I will never be willing to do that for any political Party. For to do so means that I'm willing to lie in order to protect them and say the truth and justice and the dead don't matter."

    Keep an eye on the thread. I will get pelters for it. For so many on the Herald forum now are SNP first and to hell with everything else, even when we're talking about nearly 300 dead people and a man who was wrongly convicted of the atrocity that killed them and Scots Law being utterly corrupted.

  4. "It is understood that the FCO requested a copy of the book on Sunday ahead of Thursday's publication, but were not provided with one..." Really? The FCO (read SIS/MI6)were unaware of what Kenny had written and had not discussed it word by word with other interested parties? This is simply not credible. On the very day the UK government sends a warship to Libyan waters and admits that British Special Forces are operating on the ground in Libya and a matter of days after siding with a self-appointed grouping calling itself the government of Libya; the UK governemnt isn't much bothered that MacAskill may be undermining much of the justification for the destruction of LIbya and the killing of Gaddafi. What is rather more credible, I suggest, is that Kenny's semi-literate, folksy version of events has been carefully orchestrated so that new charges can be brought against various Libyans and Megrahi's false conviction can be explained as a mistake, while maintaining that he was still involved in the bombing but got someone else to do his clothes shopping for him. What I think will now happen is that there will be an admission to the effect that: "It is now known that Megrahi did not buy the clothes and therefore shouldn't have been charged on that basis. However, he was involved in the bombing and so was guilty anyway. We made a mistake when we said the Megrahi bought the clothes. It was actually another Libyan, but Megrahi was a member of the group of Libyan state terrorists who bombed Lockerbie." This will build on Dornstein's film which also implicated other Libyan government figures. The current UN-backed "government" in Libya will go along with this in order to receive financial and military aid and in order to further denigrate Gaddafi. The members of the group are likely to be:

    Megrahi, Fhima, Abdulla Senussi, Nassr Ashur, Badri Hassan, Ezzadin Hinshiri, Mohamed Abouagela Masud, Said Rashid and possibly Mohamed Marzouk and Mansour Omar Jaber. All of these, except Senoussi, were mentioned by name in the original indictment in November 1991.

  5. Yes, but we can prove the bomb was never on KM180. They can't bury that forever.