Monday, 16 May 2016

Press reaction to first extract from MacAskill book

There is quite extensive media coverage this morning of the extract from Kenny MacAskill’s book that was published yesterday in The Sunday Times. The issue that the media concentrate on -- to the exclusion of virtually all else -- is Kenny’s disclosure that, once the Scottish Government knew that the UK Government was absolutely adamant that Megrahi could not be excluded from the prisoner transfer agreement being negotiated with Libya, the Scottish Government sought political concessions from the UK Government as the price for its participation in the prisoner transfer process once the PTA was in force. The concessions sought were not in fact obtained.

Examples of such press coverage can be found here: The Scotsman; The Herald; The Times; the Daily Record; and the Daily Mail.

The National by contrast emphasises fear of reprisals if Megrahi died in a Scottish jail as a major factor motivating the decision to repatriate.


  1. An interesting point which is being entirely ignored is the hypocrisy of both main Westminster parties, in particular Labour who were in power at the time. The Blair/Brown government kept extremely quiet in the run-up to the compassionate release. Nothing was said either to support or condemn the move. In private they were clearly extremely keen to get Megrahi back to Tripoli by whatever way they could accomplish. The Scottish government was aware of this.

    Then after Megrahi was safely on the plane that same Labour party unleashed a shit-storm of abuse on the Scottish government, castigating them in the strongest terms for letting a mass murderer out to die with his family and letting down the relatives of the victims. The UK government sided with the US government in attacking Salmond and MacAskill. Either Jack McConnell or Iain Gray told the world that if he had been First Minister at the time he would have ensured that Megrahi died in Greenock jail.

    It's pretty sickening behaviour.

  2. Pretty sickening behaviour. What else would one expect from politicians. All playing to the Gallery and a stupid public believeing their every word.

  3. I;ve just watched Alec Salmond on "Scotland Tonight". He emphasised the quality of the forensic evidenc, admitted some doubt about the identification of Mr al-Megrahi as the clothes purchaser, but claimed to be convinced that he was involved in a Libyan plot to place a bomb via Malta. I think Rolfe needs to have a word.
    Unfortunately, Magnus Linklater was the pundit interviewed next. No additional light was shed.

    1. I think Rolfe needs to have a word.

      OK, I'll give it a try. Third time lucky? (I tried with both Sturgeon and MacAskill, no dice.)

    2. The point Mr Salmond doesn't seem to get is that it isn't for him to say what he thinks about the conviction. His view is irrelevant. What I'd really like to ask him is why his government did not push for the second appeal to be heard and why it dragged on for more than two years. His Justice Secretary, Mr MacAskill, was then involved in coercing Megrahi to drop his appeal. Salmond has since said (once the appeal was safely out of the way and buried) that the only way to test the original conviction was in a court of law. So why get rid of the appeal? Why not let it follow its natural course? Tonight, on the news, he was at it again claiming that "three Scottish judges" had found Megrahi guilty. No mention of the second appeal, for him and for MacAskill it's as if it never existed. It is sickening. Worse than sickening.

    3. Rolfe: (I tried with both Sturgeon and MacAskill, no dice.)

      This is one of the most confusing things about the politics of the case. I would have thought that when the SNP became the Scottish Government, they would have been keen to clear things up. The only explanation I can think of is that whoever is in government, the Civil Service (in this case the Crown Office) is still in charge, and that Ministers can only act on the basis of the information and advice they receive from their departments.

    4. That's my impression too.

      We who obsess about Lockerbie often forget just how much time and intellectual effort it takes to get on top of the evidence and the issues. It's really essential to drill right down to the primary evidence and find out what it actually says, and this is a lot of work. For example, one might read a bald statement declaring that baggage records at Frankfurt showed an unaccompanied item of luggage being transferred from KM180 to PA103, and some accounts even say that the records showed the bomb suitcase being transferred. It takes months of research, including in this case gaining access to primary evidential material which wasn't loose on the internet, to discover just how false that statement is.

      That sort of research is what scientists do. It's not what politicians do, and especially senior ones. They simply don't have the time or indeed the inclination. They rely on briefings from the usual sources, in this case officials at the Crown Office. If Salmond says the forensics were well done, for example, you can be sure that's not his own genuine opinion from examining what was done, but a line fed to him by an advisor.

      Even if the politicians, or their own researchers, felt inclined to do a bit of reading for themselves, what are they going to read? The Crown Office and its tame mouthpieces like Magnus Linklater have done a good job portraying us as mad conspiracy theorists. They probably sneer at us. What politician then wants to read anything written by conspiracy theorists? Either it's really rubbish, or if it's not and they find themselves agreeing with some points, saying so will only invite the sneers to be directed at them. It's a cultural thing, done properly.

      The same thing applies to the politicians' own researchers. They aren't scientists either, they're young arts graduates who read secondary or tertiary sources to glean enough material to allow their bosses to sound well-informed. They're affected by the same culture. Megrahi was convicted by three senior judges who heard all the evidence and those who claim the judges were wrong are conspiracy theorists.

      On a superficial level it can easily be made to sound plausible. Megrahi was identified as the man who bought the clothes packed with the bomb suitcase. The baggage records from Frankfurt show the bomb suitcase being transferred from KM180 to PA103. Megrahi was a business associate of the man whose firm made the timer used to trigger the bomb. He was at the airport when KM180 departed, using a false passport. He was a Libyan security agent.

      All of these things are subject to challenge, or carry layers of nuance and innocent explanation that are being left out. The first two statements are demonstrably untrue, and in that context the rest doesn't amount to a stick of candy-floss, but it's all in the way it's presented.

      If would take an absolutely exceptional politician to see through all this and realise that the "conspiracy theorists" have the evidence on their side. I don't think such an animal exists - especially when Lockerbie is always way down their lists of priorities for the day.

      I believe the Crown Office now concedes privately that Megrahi didn't buy the clothes, hence Kenny's injudicious statement. They're still peddling the line of "but he did it anyway" because nobody has really clocked how central the clothes purchase is to the entire case. Right down to the point that if the man who bought the clothes wasn't at Luqa airport when KM180 departed, there's no reason at all to think the bomb was on that plane in the first place.

      I don't know how it's possible to get through to a working politician. When you approach them, the culture of "this is a mad conspiracy theorist, don't engage" kicks in. I try, but so far they've proved impervious.

  4. We're not allowed to watch Scotland Tonight on catch-up iplayers South of the Border. It's interesting that from what alan_b says, Salmond is also saying that Megrahi wasn't (or may not have been), the clothes-buyer. To say such a thing previously drew the extreme opprobriuim of Salmond and his ilk, the Crown Office, etc. This looks very much to me as phase one of a plan to re-write the Lockerbie story to ensure Libyan guilt is maintained. I suyspect they will have to big-up the (imagined) roles played by Senoussi, Abuagela Massoud, Hinshiri and others while Megrahi fades from the picture, no doubt with the help of some compliant new faces in power in Libya.

  5. I don't know who carried out the Lockerbie atrocity, or who masterminded it. All I know, really, is that the bomb suitcase most certainly did not fly in to Heathrow on the feeder flight from Frankfurt. I'm pretty sure it was actually introduced directly into the baggage container in the shed at Heathrow by one of the terrorists.

    Maybe it was a Libyan operation. That's way beyond my pay grade to determine. But they have to come to terms with the actual scene of the crime and the actual modus operandi before they try to pin it on anyone.

    Meanwhile, Megrahi didn't buy the clothes and he was 1000 miles away when the bomb suitcase was actually placed in the baggage container. That's the issue, not anything Senoussi, Masoud, Koussa and the rest may or may not have done.