[This is the headline over a report published in today’s edition of The Sunday Times. The following are excerpts:]
Kenny MacAskill, the former justice minister, has cast fresh doubt on the strength of the crown case that led to the conviction of the Lockerbie bomber, writes Jason Allardyce.
Although he remains convinced of the guilt of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, he says the case was based on circumstantial evidence and was “weak in many ways”.
Last week Dr Jim Swire, the father of one of the Lockerbie victims, claimed that the official case against Megrahi was “falling to pieces”.
Swire’s comments came after this newspaper reported that MacAskill’s forthcoming book claims that clothes used to carry the bomb which brought down Pan Am Flight 103 “were acquired in Malta, though not by Megrahi”, before adding: “But if Megrahi didn’t buy the clothes, he was certainly involved”.
The testimony of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci that Megrahi bought the clothes in his shop was considered important evidence in securing the conviction and some campaigners believe that the case would have collapsed without it.
MacAskill writes: “The problem was not with the system of law, but the case itself. It was circumstantial evidence and weak in many ways. However, there was evidence for the court to consider all the same.”
Noting that the court at Camp Zeist commented on the lack of evidence of the Samsonite suitcase carrying the bomb being placed on board an Air Malta flight before being routed onto the Pan Am jet, he adds: “It certainly seems that is where it started and that Megrahi was at the airport at the time with a pass that allowed him access. [RB: This is false: Megrahi did not have an airside pass. The co-accused, Lamin Fhimah, had retained his airside pass, but there was no evidence that he was at Luqa Airport on the day in question.]
“But, beyond that, there really is no evidence other than that he was there. It’s understandable how, once loaded at Malta, it would work its way through the system unchecked and with only cursory checks at Frankfurt and Heathrow. But there is no direct evidence that Megrahi placed the bag on board.
“Even greater doubts are expressed regarding the identification of Megrahi by Tony Gauci. Again, the court itself expressed its own concerns but was prepared to put them aside, having been persuaded of what they saw as his general honesty and good intentions. However, beyond that, his identification is far from clear.”
MacAskill argues that the court was required to deduce that December 7 was the day of the purchase, a day when Gauci claimed it had been raining, in the face of evidence that cast “huge doubts due to the lack of apparent rain in Sliema” at that time.
“That does appear much more problematic,” writes MacAskill.
However, he adds: “It’s very easy to look at pieces of evidence in isolation and be critical, but those deciding must look at the case in its entirety. There may be aspects that cause concern but they need not be fatal.
“There may also be parts that can never be explained but, again, it need not always result in an acquittal,” he writes.
The Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission, which considers miscarriages of justice, upheld a challenge to the reasonableness of the verdict on some grounds related to the evidence of Gauci and the clothes having been bought on December 7. (...)
The commission was worried about the apparent inconsistencies regarding the weather when Megrahi was said to have bought the clothes and about the initial identification parade, where evidence later came to light that Gauci had seen a photo of Megrahi in a magazine story linking him to the bombing.
MacAskill points out that the commission referred to other issues that challenged the credibility of Gauci’s testimony that had not been put before the courts, such as evidence that he had been paid by the US authorities for his testimony, with Gauci receiving $2m (£1.37m) and his brother $1m.
[A further article in the same newspaper is headlined Clinton role questioned in Lockerbie bomber release. In it Kenny MacAskill says (a) that Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, was “simply going through the motions” when she voiced concerns about the release of Megrahi; and (b) that Megrahi’s survival for considerably longer than expected was due to his being treated in Libya with Abiraterone, a drug not then available on the NHS in Scotland, and that being returned to his family gave him the will to live.]