Friday, 12 April 2019

Lockerbie case: campaigner and lawyer hit out at 'withheld' evidence

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The National. It reads as follows:]

A prominent figure in the fight to prove the innocence of Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing has said keeping the contents of a 1991 telegram to then prime minister John Major secret until at least 2032 is not in Scotland’s – or any other nation’s – public interest.

Dr Jim Swire was speaking to The National after the claim about the document resurfaced. Its contents have been in the public domain for more than three years.

It was said to have been written by the late King Hussein of Jordan, who said the group originally suspected of carrying out the December 1988 atrocity – the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) – was responsible.

And Aamer Anwar, the Scottish lawyer who is leading the Megrahi family’s bid to clear his name, told The National it was a “vital piece of evidence” that had been withheld from Megrahi’s defence.

That view is shared by Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing. He said: “I can’t make out why it should be in the public interest of the Scots or any other nation for this to remain under public interest immunity (PII) after this long – unless you believe it is in Scotland’s interest to continue to conceal the failure of her biggest international criminal investigation of recent years.

“It was the concealment of items such as this which led Professor Hans Koechler [UN observer to the Camp Zeist trial] to describe the proceedings as not representing justice, largely because of the Crown Office’s failure to share evidently significant material with the defence.

“The King of Jordan’s communication had been made available to the Crown Office for years before [then foreign secretary] David Miliband placed the PII certificate on it, at the Crown Office’s request. [RB: The Crown Office did not oppose release of the communication. It was the Advocate General for Scotland, acting on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that did so.] I think it is in the Scottish public’s interest to know how Whitehall connived with the Crown Office to ensure that justice was not done at Zeist.

He added: “It was Lady Thatcher who originally forbade an inquiry. Could it have been in part because her then recently privatised Heathrow was the showpiece of her privatisation programme?”

Anwar said the Megrahi family case was still with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) which he expected to report by the end of summer, when he hoped to return to the Appeal Court.

He said: “What is incredibly frustrating is the fact that the British government, the authorities, seem to still be maintaining attempts to continue what would be seen as a cover-up and deny critical information to the defence, because we remain the defence lawyers for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi posthumously.

All of this information which would go to proving his innocence continues to be denied us. The finger of blame as always pointed at the PFLP-GC.

“It is ... shocking behaviour, whether it be from the Crown Office or others in authority who seem to be conducting themselves in this manner.”

Meanwhile, The Telegraph yesterday named four members of the PFLP-GC – allegedly hired by Iran to bring down Pan Am flight 103 as revenge for a US naval attack on an Iranian Airbus in July 1988. They were: Ahmed Jibril, its potential mastermind; Hafez Dalkamoni, his right-hand man; Jordanian-born bomb-maker Marwan Khreesat, who possibly made the Lockerbie device; and Mohammed Abu Talb, who could have delivered it. [RB: I cannot find this Telegraph article. But the newspaper did publish an article naming these four men on 10 March 2014. It can be read here.]

The Crown Office said the PFLP-GC link was considered and rejected at the original trial. A spokesperson added: “The court concluded that the conception, planning and execution of the plot which led to the bombing was of Libyan origin. The only appropriate forum for the determination of guilt or innocence is the criminal court, and Mr Megrahi was convicted unanimously by three senior judges.

“His conviction was upheld unanimously by five judges, in an Appeal Court presided over by the Lord Justice General, Scotland’s most senior judge. As the investigation remains live, it would not be appropriate to offer further comment.” [RB: My commentary on the grave shortcomings of the trial verdict and the appeal can be read here.]

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