Tuesday, 17 May 2016

MacAskill concession destroys foundation of Megrahi conviction

[Today’s Scottish newspapers have at last latched on to the most important revelation in the extract from Kenny MacAskill’s Lockerbie book that was published in The Sunday Times this week:]

The National:  Campaigners who believe Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was innocent of the Lockerbie bombing have reported former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to Police Scotland over his new book on the atrocity and the compassionate release of the only man ever convicted of it.

Justice for Megrahi had previously made a series of criminal allegations concerning the investigation and trial which they said would throw serious doubt on Megrahi’s conviction and “point to possible malpractice by Crown Office personnel, police and other prosecution witnesses”.

A spokesman for the group told The National yesterday: “We have made a formal report to Police Scotland in respect of Mr MacAskill’s book as we believe that some of the contents relate directly to our nine criminal allegations which are currently being investigated by the police.”

In a statement, a Police Scotland spokesman said: “We are aware of the imminent publication of the book and will assess any new information should it come to light.”

MacAskill’s book The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice is being serialised by a Sunday newspaper but has already come under fire from the architect of the Camp Zeist trial of Megrahi, the only man to be convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. Professor Robert Black QC said the book casts further doubt on the conviction.

MacAskill took the decision to release Megrahi in August 2009 on compassionate grounds. He was suffering from terminal prostate cancer and died three years later in Libya.

Black, emeritus professor of Scots Law at the University of Edinburgh, told The National the most important thing to emerge from the book’s early extracts concerned the clothes that linked Megrahi to the bombing of PanAm flight 103.

He said MacAskill had written that “clothes in the suitcase that carried the bomb were acquired in Malta, though not by Megrahi. But if Megrahi didn’t buy the clothes, he was certainly involved”.

However, Black said: “This is huge. If the trial court hadn’t concluded that Megrahi bought the clothes in Gauci’s shop, he couldn’t have been convicted. This finding was absolutely crucial to the verdict.

“So Kenny is saying that the court was wrong on a matter absolutely essential to its verdict.”

Black also said MacAskill had cited among the reasons for his belief that Libya and Megrahi had been involved in the bombing “an alleged interview given by Colonel Gaddafi to The Washington Times in 2003”.

But he said: “There was no such 2003 interview. What MacAskill is referring to is the claim by the editor-in-chief of The Washington Times, Arnaud de Borchgrave, that in an off-the-record conversation in 1993 Gaddafi admitted that Libya played a part in a scheme to destroy an American aircraft which had been instigated by Iran.”

Black added there had been no mention of findings from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission that the conviction might have amounted to a miscarriage of justice on six grounds. He said they included evidence in Dr Morag Kerr’s book Adequately Explained by Stupidity? Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies.

This, he said, established beyond reasonable doubt “that the suitcase containing the bomb did not arrive at Heathrow as unaccompanied baggage from Malta via Frankfurt but was already in the relevant luggage container before the feeder flight arrived”. (...)

Controversial identification was key to Megrahi's conviction

Central to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction was his identification by Tony Gauci, a Maltese shop-owner, who testified that the Libyan had bought clothes that were later deemed to have been packed in the lethal suitcase bomb that brought down the PanAm flight.

In 19 separate statements made to police before the trial, Gauci had failed to positively identify Megrahi as the purchaser. During the trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, the shopkeeper was asked several times if he recognised anyone in the courtroom, but could only answer when a prosecutor pointed to Megrahi sitting in the left of the dock.

Gauci had also told police that the man who bought the clothes on either November 23 or December 7 was 6ft tall and more than 50 years of age. Megrahi was 5ft 8in tall, and in 1988 he was 36.

The shopkeeper said the buyer also purchased an umbrella because it was raining heavily outside. Yet Maltese meteorological records introduced by the defence team showed that while it did rain all day on November 23, there was almost certainly no rain on December 7.

If it did rain on the later date, the shower would have been barely enough to wet the pavement.

The Herald:  Campaigners claim a former Scottish minister has called into question the conviction of the only man found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing.
Former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill controversially released Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds after he was diagnosed with cancer.

But in a new book Mr MacAskill appears to dismiss crucial evidence that helped to convict Mr Megrahi.

He writes that he does not believe the claim he bought clothes in a store in Malta that were packed around the bomb.

He maintains, however. that Mr Megrahi played a role.

All 259 people on board and 11 on the ground where killed when a Pan-Am airliner exploded over Lockerbie in 1988.

James Robertson, of the Justice for Megrahi campaign group, said that MacAskill’s comments raised serious questions.

He said: “The most interesting thing in all this is that Kenny MacAskill has said that he does not believe that Megrahi was the man who bought those clothes.

"But this calls into account the whole Camp Zeist judgement and it would mean that Megrahi could not have possibly been behind the bombing.

“As Justice minister Kenny MacAskill repeatedly stuck to the line that he had no doubt Megrahi was guilty, but now appears to be saying the opposite.

“Alex Salmond also stuck to this line, and the Justice for Megrahi campaign will be asking if what was said in public was the same as was said in private.”


  1. Mr MacAskill's book is now police evidence. I imagine, therefore, that he will be interviewed by the Operation Sandwood team and that it may be some time before he will be signing autographs in the nation's bookshops.

    1. I don't see why that would stop him holding book signings. Embarrassment might, though. The book is appallingly badly written.

  2. I hope people leave his book on the shelf. It's the very least he deserves.