Friday, 28 April 2017

Lockerbie accused's health deteriorates as appeal hearing opens

[This is the headline over a report published on the website of The Guardian on this date in 2009. It reads as follows:]

Doubt over evidence against Libyan convicted for bombing that killed 270 people during 1988 flight over Lockerbie

The health of the Libyan convicted of planting the Lockerbie bomb, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, has worsened and he is experiencing increasing levels of pain, his lawyers said today.

The opening day of Megrahi's appeal against conviction for killing 270 people in the 1988 bombing heard that he is to undergo a new course of treatment for his terminal prostate cancer, which has already spread to his spine and other parts of his body.

His lawyers claim he was wrongly convicted in 2001 on insufficient evidence, and is innocent of the bombing.

He was jailed for life for playing a prominent role in the atrocity when a suitcase bomb killed 259 passengers and crew on Pan Am flight 103 and 11 people in the Scottish town of Lockerbie on 20 December 1988.

Today's appeal hearing in Edinburgh came nearly two years after the case was referred by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. The commission raised substantial doubts about the reliability of the key witness against Megrahi, a Maltese shopkeeper called Tony Gauci, and said Megrahi may have been wrongly convicted.

Much of Megrahi's trial had focused on forensic evidence linking blast-damaged clothing to the suitcase that contained the bomb.

Megrahi was said to have visited Gauci's shop on 7 December 1988, but the commission said new evidence indicated the clothing was bought at an earlier date. There had been no evidence at the trial that Megrahi was in Malta on that date.

Last November judges rejected an application for Megrahi, who is dying of cancer, to be released on bail on compassionate grounds before the appeal after medical experts said he could live for some years.

Megrahi said afterwards: "I wish to reiterate that I had nothing to do with the Lockerbie bombing and that the fight for justice will continue regardless of whether I am alive to witness my name being cleared."

Many relatives of Lockerbie victims support his protestations of innocence.

Megrahi's first appeal was rejected in March 2002. Since he was jailed in Scotland, a prisoner transfer agreement has been reached between the UK and Libya. The agreement was formally put before parliament on 27 January but the justice ministry said last night that the treaty could not enter into force until the instruments of ratification had been exchanged.

"Ratification will happen shortly. In the case of prisoners in Scottish jails, including Megrahi, and respecting the devolution settlement, any decision to transfer under this agreement would be for Scottish ministers and Scottish ministers alone," it said.

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