[What follows is excerpted from a review in The Observer on this date in 2001 by investigative journalist Bob Woffinden of John Ashton and Ian Ferguson’s Cover-Up of Convenience:]
Last year, the case against two Libyans, Abdel Al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was heard at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands before three Scottish law lords. Gadaffi would have been briefed about the vagaries of British criminal justice processes, but he could hardly have appreciated that they would be this enfeebled.
It might have been anticipated that only the most reputable forensic scientists would be used. In fact, the Crown employed the services of three men whose credentials were in some doubt. The evidence of Dr Thomas Hayes in previous trials had contributed to the convictions of several innocent people. At the same time that Sir John May's public inquiry was condemning the laboratory staff for 'knowingly placing a false and distorted scientific picture before the jury', Hayes was retiring to become a chiropodist.
Allan Feraday, whose qualifications extended no further than a 1962 Higher National Certificate in applied physics and electronics, was criticised by the Lord Chief Justice in 1996 in a separate explosives case. Then there was the American Tom Thurman, who was criticised in a Department of Justice report for 'routinely altering the reports... in the FBI explosives unit', with the result that they, albeit unintentionally, became more favourable to the prosecution case.
Earlier this year, Fhimah was acquitted, although Al-Megrahi was convicted on the basis that he had placed the bomb on board a feeder flight in Malta. Not only was there no evidence that the bomb had been put on board in Malta, but Air Malta had won a libel action in 1993 establishing that it wasn't. So the trial led inexorably to the wrongful conviction of Al-Megrahi and the final betrayal of the bereaved families.
If Cover-Up of Convenience occasionally loses narrative focus, that is hardly surprising bearing in mind the difficulties with co-authors on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and the speed with which this book has been produced. It's an admirably thorough, exhaustively researched and gripping exposé of the complete Lockerbie scandal. Someone should use it as a basis of a screenplay. Even if Hollywood did its worst, what remained would still be more accurate than the flagrantly distorted picture put forward in Camp Zeist.