[What follows is the text of a report that was published in The New York Times on this date in 2007:]
A Scottish judicial review body ruled Thursday that a former Libyan intelligence official jailed for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing might have been wrongfully convicted and was entitled to appeal the verdict against him.
After an investigation lasting nearly four years, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission delivered an 800-page report — much of it still secret — that identified several areas where “a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.”
The commission cast doubt on the testimony of a witness, who changed his story several times and had been shown a photograph of the Libyan official days before picking him out of a lineup. It also challenged evidence presented at the trial that the official had purchased the clothes found in the suitcase that held the bomb.
The ruling has potentially major ramifications both legally and emotionally for the victims’ relatives, reviving an array of questions and theories about the explosion on board Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec 21, 1988, that killed 270 people, including 179 Americans.
While the decision does not guarantee the success of the appeal, the commission’s findings are often upheld. Since its establishment in 1999, the commission says on its website, it has considered 887 cases and recommended 67 of them for appeal. Of those appeals, 39 have been heard, 25 of them successfully.
Some families expressed dismay at the ruling. But other people have long harbored misgivings about the official version of events, with some directing suspicions at a militant Palestinian group with ties to Iran, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence officer, was jailed in 2001 for the bombing after a trial under Scottish law at a special court in the Netherlands. He was the only person convicted in connection with the terrorist attack, Britain’s bloodiest. Mr Megrahi, who has always proclaimed his innocence, lost an initial appeal in 2002 and is serving a 27-year sentence in a Scottish prison.
Graham Forbes, the chairman of the Scottish commission, said the panel was “of the view, based upon our lengthy investigations, new evidence we have found and new evidence that was not before the trial court, that the applicant may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.”
A spokesman for the commission, who spoke in return for anonymity under the organization’s rules, said the next stage was for Mr Megrahi’s lawyers to present their case to the Appeal Court for a hearing date to be set. “It will be heard,” the spokesman said in response to a reporter’s question about the possibility of the court refusing to hear the case.
The section of the commission’s findings made public centered on evidence relating to purchases of clothing at a shop called Mary’s House in Sliema, Malta, on Dec 7, 1988; the clothing was said to have been wrapped around the bomb. The bomb was said to have been put on board a plane in Malta and then transferred to a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to London before it was loaded onto Flight 103 at Heathrow Airport.
The original trial found that the bomb was hidden in a Toshiba radio cassette player placed inside a brown, hard-shell Samsonite suitcase with clothing traced to Mary’s House. The trial court found that Mr Megrahi bought the clothing at the shop on Dec 7, 1988. But, the Scottish commission ruled, new evidence relating to the dates when Christmas lights were switched on in Malta suggested that the clothes had been bought before Dec 6, 1988, before the time when there was evidence that Mr Megrahi was on Malta.
Additionally, the commission questioned the reliability of evidence by the shop’s proprietor, Tony Gauci, who singled out Mr Megrahi in a lineup. It said that additional evidence, not available to Mr Megrahi’s defense in the original trial, indicated that four days before the lineup “at which Mr Gauci picked out the applicant, he saw a photograph of the applicant in a magazine article linking him to the bombing.”
“In the commission’s view, evidence of Mr Gauci’s exposure to this photograph in such close proximity” to the lineup “undermines the reliability of his identification of the applicant at that time and at the trial itself,” the commission said.
In Scotland, Mr Megrahi’s lawyer, Tony Kelly, read a statement from his client: “I was never in any doubt that a truly independent review of my case would have this outcome. I reiterate today what I have been saying since I was first indicted in 1991: I was not involved in the Lockerbie bombing in any way whatsoever.”
Some of the victims’ families in the United States questioned the timing of the commission’s findings and whether it was linked to a recently announced agreement between Britain and Libya that could permit the extradition of Libyans serving prison terms in Britain. Some families say they are worried that the agreement may allow Mr Megrahi to be repatriated, ostensibly to serve out his term in Libya, or to be sent there for the duration of the appeal.
“It’s nonsense,” said Dan Cohen, whose only child, Theodora, a student at Syracuse University, was killed in the bombing. If Mr Megrahi is sent back to Libya, Mr Cohen said, “he’ll go back a hero, and a rich hero, I would assume.”
“It’s very depressing, ” he added.
The spokesman for the commission said the probable date for the publication of its findings had been made known last February. Any move to free Mr Megrahi from a Scottish prison, the spokesman said, would depend on whether his lawyers applied for “interim liberation” while his appeal was heard. The spokesman said it would be “normal practice” for Mr Megrahi to remain in prison in Scotland while his appeal was being heard. Mr Megrahi’s lawyer, Mr Kelly, said it was “premature” for his client to seek release on bail. “That’s something that will take a few months to determine,” he said.
In its statement, the commission also played down many conspiracy theories that had surfaced over the years. The commission, for instance, said it had “serious misgivings” about claims by a Scottish police officer, identified only as “The Golfer,” that the authorities had manipulated evidence. It also rejected claims of involvement by the United States Central Intelligence Agency.
The Scottish panel insisted that it had “found no basis for concluding that evidence in the case was fabricated by the police, the Crown, forensic scientists or any other representatives of official bodies or government agencies.”
The reaction among victims’ families was mixed. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the bombing, said the commission’s decision was a “new chapter in our 18-and-a-half-year search for the truth.” In a television interview he alluded to speculation that Iran had orchestrated the bombing. Five months before the Lockerbie attack, he noted, the United States Navy mistakenly shot down an Iranian passenger jet over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people.
Other families of Lockerbie victims in the United States said they were disappointed by the ruling, but several sought to minimize its importance.
“I think it’s just a review commission that’s covering all their bases,” said Kara Weipz, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, a family group. “From my understanding, it’s much like the Supreme Court of the United States. I don’t think that they even have to take the case.”
The spokesman for the Scottish panel, however, said it was “incumbent” on the Appeal Court to permit Mr Megrahi a further hearing.