A commentary on the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted of the murder of 270 people in the Pan Am 103 disaster.
Friday, 4 May 2018
Lockerbie case review is a welcome step in the interests of justice
[This is the headline over an editorial published today in The Herald. It reads as follows:]
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission’s decision that it will look again at the conviction of the Lockerbie bomber is welcome.
The SCCRC has decided it is “in the interests of justice” to proceed with a review.
This paper has long argued for a public inquiry into the case, on the basis that there are a number of serious concerns about the way the guilty verdict against the late Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi was reached.
This includes the withholding of key evidence from the defence, doubts about the identification of Al-Megrahi, and the motivation of witnesses who were paid.
It is a matter of regret that Al-Megrahi chose to drop his appeal against conviction in 2009. The SCCRC has now accepted the widely held supposition that Al-Megrahi chose not to pursue his appeal because he believed it would help secure his release from jail on compassionate grounds, suffering from terminal cancer.
For Al-Megrahi, any vindication will be posthumous. He continued to deny his involvement until his death from prostate cancer in 2012.
The SCCRC review is not the public inquiry many still seek. But it is important the conviction is scrutinised. As we approach the 30th anniversary of the terrible event of December 21 1998, there will be concern that Scottish justice will not emerge from any review in a good light. But should mistakes have been made, it is important they are acknowledged.
Whether or not Al-Megrahi was guilty of involvement, others must have played a part too. Relatives of those who died have described this as “unfinished business”. This review could put to rest many of their unanswered questions. It is in their interests and in the interests of public confidence in Scottish justice for the truth to finally emerge.
[RB: A leader headed Honest Truthin today's edition of The Times reads in part:]
Those who witnessed the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing on December 21, 1988 will never forget it. An explosion in the baggage hold of Pan Am Flight 103 blew the 747 passenger jet to pieces in the skies above Dumfries and Galloway. (...)
Now the case of the only man convicted of the atrocity is to be re-examined. Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi was found guilty in 2001 after a trial held, under Scots law, in a special court constructed in the Netherlands. He died of terminal prostate cancer in Libya in 2012, after being released from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds after serving eight years of a 27-year sentence. Yesterday the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission said it would carry out a review of al-Megrahi’s conviction. It will consider whether the case should be referred for a new appeal.
Those who lost loved ones in the Lockerbie tragedy have been forced to grieve in public and their desire for justice has manifested itself in a range of different ways. Many of the bereaved, particularly in the United States, believe al-Megrahi’s conviction was just. They largely accept the version of events presented by Scottish prosecutors and supported by the UK and US governments. Other relatives have been troubled by what they see as inconsistencies in the evidence and to varying degrees they have lost confidence in the authorities’ handling of the case. Meanwhile an entire Lockerbie industry has grown up and the story has become a magnet for cranks, activists, self-publicists and conspiracy theorists. They have commandeered the known facts and embellished them to their own purpose. [RB: Magnus Linklater really is a sore loser! I predict that he will eventually have a lot more to be sore about.]
The Lockerbie story has remained in the public eye in the years since al-Megrahi’s conviction because the world keeps changing, casting new light on the facts as they are known. There have been revelations about the circumstances in which Colonel Gaddafi, after talks with Tony Blair in what became known as “the deal in the desert”, surrendered the Lockerbie accused for trial. Investigative journalists have spent much time weighing the evidence supplied by Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who was a key witness for the prosecution. The collapse in 2011 of the Libyan regime opened up the possibility of discovering more details of the state-sponsored operation which, according to the Crown Office’s version of events, led to the destruction of Flight 103. Despite the chaos wreaked on Libya by a brutal civil war, those inquiries are still continuing.
This move by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission adds a new twist to an already tangled tale. Some critics of the Scottish authorities’ handling of the Lockerbie case will view it as vindication of years of campaigning. They insist a miscarriage of justice has taken place and that this is the first step to a remedy. Others will observe this development with a weary sigh, wondering when the Lockerbie dead will finally be allowed to rest in peace.
This newspaper welcomes the commission’s decision to hold a review. If there are weaknesses in al-Megrahi’s conviction then it is the duty of the Scottish criminal justice system to acknowledge them. If the conviction is sound, then it does no harm to apply persistent accusations to rigorous analysis by some of the finest minds in Scots law. In both scenarios, what matters is openness, clarity and truth. We owe nothing less to the memory of those who died on that fateful winter’s night. [RB: An opinion piece by Justice for Megrahi's Iain McKie in the same edition of The Times reads as follows:] As this year’s 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster approaches Justice for Megrahi (JfM) believes the decision by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to hold a full review into the conviction of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi to be truly momentous. After years of the Scottish justice system trying to consign this tragedy to history the commission, having reviewed the available evidence, has accepted that when al-Megrahi abandoned his appeal it was the last resort of a terminally ill man who longed to return home to his family. It would have been easy to conclude in the interests of justice there could not be another bite of the cherry. It is courageous and wise of the commission to decide otherwise. In 2012 JfM made allegations about the conduct of persons involved in the investigation and trial of al-Megrahi, which became the subject of a four-year inquiry by Police Scotland. The findings of Operation Sandwood are about to be submitted to the Crown Office. In the past the Scottish government turned down JfM’s requests for a public inquiry into what we believed to be a massive miscarriage of justice. Thankfully the Scottish parliament’s justice committee continues oversight of the situation and our petition for an inquiry remains open. We believe there now is real hope that this deep and abiding shadow over Scotland’s justice system will finally be removed. [RB: An accompanying opinion piece by Magnus Linklater can be found here. It contains the usual slurs and misrepresentations that have been frequently countered in articles featured on this blog, including this one by John Ashton. A further article in The Times headlined Verdict 'was probably unsafe' reads as follows:] Senior figures in the Scottish legal and political establishment believe that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi should not have been convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. Al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah went on trial in 2000 in a Scottish court, convened in the Netherlands, for the mass murder in 1988. Mr Fhimah was acquitted. Observers were shocked when al-Megrahi was found guilty. Critics of the verdict have focused on the testimony of Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who said that al-Megrahi “resembled” a man who bought clothes in his store that were later found to have been wrapped round the bomb that destroyed the plane. It emerged that Mr Gauci was paid $1 million by the US justice department. Kenny MacAskill, the former justice secretary, has described the verdict as probably “unsafe”. Robert Black, emeritus professor of law at Edinburgh University, said that the Scottish judges had come under pressure to convict. “This was the most important criminal case in Scotland ever,” he said. “If there was not a conviction, the Lord Advocate really would have egg all over his face. The judges were not prepared to give the Lord Advocate a bloody nose.”