[What follows is excerpted from an article by Alan Taylor published in today’s edition of The National:]
Megrahi served little more than eight years before he was sent back to Libya diagnosed with terminal cancer. The person solely responsible for a decision that angered and bemused many people – not least the majority of the victims’ families – was Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s then Justice Secretary. This book is his attempt to explain how he came to that decision, and to justify it. It makes for painful, disturbing and difficult reading. For if, as MacAskill still appears to believe is the case, Megrahi was instrumental in the Lockerbie bombing, and the verdict was safe, then the rationale for treating him with a compassion alien to his actions is hard to swallow. (...)
All of which, of course, presumes that Megrahi was culpable. Much of the first half of MacAskill’s book is devoted to a reprise of events that will yield little new to those familiar with the Lockerbie saga. Drawing on a limited number of sources, mainly the Scottish Government’s in-house website, and airily dismissing the work of authors such as John Ashton, who was a member of the legal team representing Megrahi, the former Justice Secretary would have us believe that his faith in the Scottish judiciary is unshaken. “I accept the conviction and sentence imposed,” he said in the course of announcing his decision to release Megrahi.
Elsewhere, however, he acknowledges that had the crucial evidence of Tony Gauci –the Maltese shopkeeper who said he sold Megrahi the clothes that were found among the debris from the Pan Am plane – been dismissed from the prosecution case it “would have resulted in an acquittal”.
This, then, is where one finds MacAskill’s argument unpersuasive. There is no doubt that Gauci – described by Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, a former Lord Advocate, as “not quite the full shilling” and “an apple short of a picnic” – was a poor and unreliable witness. For instance, when first asked to detail what Megrahi looked like he described someone who was quite different from the police’s chief suspect. He also had trouble fixing on a date on which Megrahi had visited his shop. Apparently, Megrahi paid for his purchases in cash which Gauci said cost £76.50 which, had there been a receipt, would have saved a lot of head-scratching. Ultimately, he identified Megrahi after he was shown photographs of him by the police. Was he influenced by the fact that he’d previously seen pictures of him in a magazine? Or did the promise of a $2m reward help jog his memory? The depressing fact is that after 28 years, the true story of Lockerbie remains untold.
[Today’s edition of The Herald runs a report that reads in part:]
In Mr MacAskill's book, The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice, which is due to be released on Thursday, he reveals details of a classified document which implicates the terror group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in the Lockerbie bombing carried out on December 21, 1988.
The document was the subject of a legal wrangle during Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi second appeal against conviction.
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred the case to the High Court on the basis that there may have been a miscarriage of justice.
That conclusion was reached after the SCCRC team that investigated Megrahi’s conviction discovered the existence of the document during their four-year probe which concluded in 2007.
Their 800-page report explains that their investigative team was allowed to access the document in Dumfries police station but they were prevented from removing the notes they made on it and the document itself.
The SCCRC was only able to access the document after signing up to a special agreement not to divulge the contents and was told by the Crown that “a conclusion was reached that the documents did not require to be disclosed in terms of the Crown’s obligations”.
When Megrahi’s defence team pushed for the recovery of the information the Lord Advocate took the view that it would be appropriate to disclose the document.
However, the Advocate General, representing the UK Government, produced a public interest immunity (PII) certificate signed by then Foreign Secretary David Miliband, which blocked the disclosure on the grounds of national security.
A spokeswoman for the FCO has confirmed that “the [PII] certificate is still active” and “if the material protected by the certificate were disclosed, it might constitute a breach of the Official Secrets Act”.
Willie Rennie [leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament] said: “Kenny MacAskill should be investigated by the authorities.
“His cavalier approach to justice has left many casualties in its wake. He should not be profiting from any breach of the Official Secrets Act.”
Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for justice, Douglas Ross, added: “Questions need answered as to whether he has broken the Official Secrets Act.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Office declined to offer further comment yesterday but it is understood officials are seeking legal advice.
Victoria Gilder, publicity director at Biteback, the publisher of Mr MacAskill’s book said the former justice minister “can’t comment”.