Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Blair urged Mandela not to raise ‘sensitive subject’ of Lockerbie at 1997 summit

[This is the headline over a Press Association news agency report as published today on the website of the Central Fife Times. The following are excerpts:]

Tony Blair failed in his attempts to stop Nelson Mandela raising the Lockerbie bombing at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Scotland, despite being warned by aides the South African leader’s intervention over the terror attack would be “pretty disastrous”, new files show.

Downing Street officials warned the then-prime minister ahead of the 1997 summit in Edinburgh that Mr Mandela was visiting Libya, which later admitted responsibility for the airliner disaster, before heading to CHOGM, and urged Mr Blair to speak to him.

But Mr Blair’s efforts – including a personal letter to Mr Mandela a week before the CHOGM, urging him to “avoid a discussion” about Lockerbie – failed, and the enduring controversy over a failure to bring any perpetrators to justice ended up being one of the key themes of the leaders’ summit.

A tranche of previously classified files released by the National Archives at Kew shows a handwritten note from Downing Street aides urging Mr Blair “to speak to” his South African counterpart.

Mr Blair duly wrote to Mr Mandela, explaining the complexities of bringing suspects to justice, having resisted calls to hold a trial in a different country.

Mr Blair wrote: “Lockerbie is of course a particularly sensitive subject in Scotland because of the deaths on the ground of 11 inhabitants of the small town of Lockerbie, in addition to the 259 people on board the aircraft.

“So I hope we can avoid a discussion of the issue at CHOGM itself – we have a lot of other things to talk about.

“But I would welcome a further private discussion when we meet next week.”

The letter ended with the handwritten sign-off: “Very best wishes. Yours ever, Tony.”

Mr Blair’s hopes were in vain when Mr Mandela was asked about the subject, claiming justice would not be seen to be done if any trial was held in Scotland itself.

He said: “I have never thought that in dealing with this question it is correct for any particular country to be the complainant, the prosecutor and the judge.

“Justice, it has been said especially in this country, should not only be done but should be seen to be done.

“I have grave concern about a demand where one country will be all these things at the same time. Justice cannot be seen to be done in that situation.”

The move, however, provided an unlikely fillip for Mr Blair – as his subsequent invitation to meeting grieving families at Downing Street was seen as an intention to listen after years of refusal.

[RB: The events surrounding CHOGM and President Mandela's attitude towards a Lockerbie trial are described in The Lockerbie Bombing by Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph, pages 97 to 101. Further information can be found on this blog here and here.] 

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Lockerbie incriminee Ahmed Jibril dies in Damascus

[Ahmed Jibril has died in Damascus at the age of 83. What follows is the report published today on the Middle East Monitor website:]

Ahmed Jibril, leader of Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command passed away in the Syrian capital Damascus yesterday at the age of 83.

Jibril and his family were forced out of Yazour neighbourhood in the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Yafa in 1948.

In 1965, he established the Palestinian Popular Front, which was later merged with other leftist Palestinian factions and became the Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

In 1969 he defected and formed the PFLP-General Command, which ten years later agreed to a prisoner swap with Israel

In 1979, the PFLP-General Command held a prisoner swap with Israel. Some 76 Palestinian detainees were released in exchange for one m Israeli soldier.

Jibril negotiated a prisoner swap between the PLO factions and Israel in 1985 when 1,150 Palestinian prisoners were released in return for three Israeli soldiers.

In 2002, Israel assassinated his eldest son Jihad in Lebanon.

Jibril was criticised for his support for the Assad regime in Syria, which didn't waiver in spite of the current war.

[None of the reports of Jibril's death that I have seen so far have mentioned his and the PFLP-GC's alleged responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. What follows is a report by Richard Norton-Taylor and Ian Black in The Guardian on 4 May 2000:]

The finger of suspicion after the Lockerbie bombing was first pointed at Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, the very group implicated yesterday, more than 11 years later, by the two Libyan defendants.

In another extraordinary twist, they also implicated Abu Talb, once regarded by the Scottish police as a prime suspect but now a prosecution witness.

For years, western intelligence agencies believed in a simple explanation. The bombing was funded by Iran in retaliation for the mistaken shooting down of an Iranian airliner by an American warship, the USS Vincennes, over the Persian Gulf in July 1988, five months before the Lockerbie bombing.

It was assumed that the Iranians paid Jibril's Syria-backed group to carry out a revenge attack. The assumption appeared to be backed up by the arrest a few months before the bombing of 17 people in Frankfurt, where the bag containing the bomb is alleged to have been placed on the Pan Am airliner. It was reported later that those arrested in the operation, called Autumn Leaves, included Hafez Dalkamoni, a prominent member of the PFLP-GC with links to Palestinians in Uppsala, Sweden.

They also included Marwan Kreeshat, a Jordanian, found with explosives and a Toshiba cassette player in his car similar to the one believed to have contained the bomb that destroyed the Pan Am airliner. British intelligence was later astonished to learn that he had been released for lack of evidence.

Iran appeared to be further implicated in the bombing when a US intelligence report referred to Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, a former Iranian interior minister who supervised Iranian funding of Middle East terror groups, paying out "10 million in dollars in cash and gold ... to bomb Pan Am flight 103 ... in retaliation for the US shoot-down of the Iranian Airbus".

The existence of the report, which was given to lawyers representing Pan Am, became known in 1995. This was after the two Libyans were indicted and officials in Washington and London played down its significance, describing it as low-grade information found to be incorrect.

The trail to Talb began when he was linked to a car belonging to to one of those arrested in Frankfurt. Talb was found guilty at Uppsala in December 1989 of planting a bomb at a synagogue in Copenhagen four years earlier.

Swedish police were reported to have found at Talb's Uppsala apartment an air ticket from Malta to Stockholm indicating that he was on the island at the time children's clothes - part of the evidence against the two Libyans - were bought.

British Lockerbie investigators were also alleged to have found clothes bought in Malta during a later raid on Talb's flat. Also found there was a diary with December 21 1988 - the date of the bombing - circled. He was named in the Uppsala court as being suspected in Scotland of murder or as an accessory to murder.

Yesterday, Egyptian-born Talb was described in the Camp Zeist court as a member of the Palestine Popular Struggle Front and witness number 963 for the Scottish prosecution. The PPSF was founded in 1969 with backing from Syria, and split in 1981. One of its two founders, Samir Ghosheh, left in 1981 to join the mainstream PLO and is now a minister in Yasser Arafat's Palestine Authority in Gaza.

Experts said last night that the PPSF was defunct and that little had been heard of it for at least two years.

According to Israel's Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies, the PFLP-GC, which rejects a political settlement with Israel, has maintained links with Syria, Libya and Iran, serving as a proxy for those states in attacks in the international arena. It was suspected of carrying out the bombing of a French airliner in 1989 over Niger.

Ahmed Jibril declined to comment last night.

Some commentators say that attention over Lockerbie turned to Libya when the west wanted to improve relations with Iran and Syria after the Gulf war against Iraq. Washington and London dismiss this as conspiracy theory.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

The Tundergarth drugs suitcase

A persistent rumour relating to the immediate aftermath of the destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie involves the alleged discovery by farmer Jim Wilson at the Tundergarth site of a suitcase containing drugs. 

Here is a snippet from an article in The London Review of Books in 2007: "Jim Wilson, a farmer from the village of Tundergarth, reported shortly after the bombing that he had found in his field a suitcase packed with a powdery substance that looked ‘like drugs’. He last saw the suitcase when he handed it over to the police, he said; he was never asked about it again." And this is from the Morning Star in 2014: "Another farmer at Tundergarth Mains, Jim Wilson, found his fields were littered with bodies and debris from the airliner. The mess included a suitcase, neatly packed with a powdery substance that looked like drugs. Wilson was one of the first witnesses to give evidence when the fatal accident inquiry started in October 1990. Yet no-one asked him about the drugs suitcase."

The Rev'd John Mosey has today kindly provided me with the following account of this fascinating story.

Here is my recollection of events and conversations with farmer Jim Wilson regarding the finding of drugs on his land.

It was Mrs Wilson who first took us across their fields to the spot where our daughter’s body had fallen on land belonging to their close neighbour. This was in the very early days and a warm relationship grew up between us. Whenever we visited Lockerbie we would try to fit in a short visit to the Mains farm.

It was during one of these visits earlier in the year, before the Fatal Accident Inquiry which was held in October 1990 that, while we were drinking tea in the farmhouse kitchen, Jim asked me to go into the sitting room with him as he had something he wanted to tell me. We sat together on the sofa and, with some agitation and emotion, he said that there was something that he needed to tell someone about. I supposed, in a way, to “get it off his chest”.

He told me that one day shortly after the disaster he had come across a suitcase which had landed in either a bed of nettles or of brambles. (I don’t recall which). The lid had sprung open and he said that he was afraid that his animals might get their noses into it. He examined it a bit more closely and found, beneath a small layer of clothing, a broad plastic ‘belt’ (that was the word he used as he showed its approximate dimensions and format with his hands). He said and signified that the ‘belt’ was divided into compartments, each filled with a white powder, and was folded backwards and forwards in the suitcase. He told me that he licked his finger and tasted the powder adding, “it wasn’t sugar”. He continued to tell me that he phoned the police and they sent out a local police officer (he could remember the number on his uniform) accompanied by an American.The American was very angry that this case had been missed. They took it away handcuffed to the police officer’s wrist.

During the Fatal Accident Inquiry, (which I attended) Jim Wilson was questioned but this matter was not raised. I approached the government appointed lawyer who was representing our interests and he took me through the security into the court where I was received by two august gentlemen one of which, I was told, was the senior police officer in charge of the case and the other the Lord Advocate or Procurator Fiscal. (I forget which, but think it was the former.) [RB: John Mosey's description of this person leads me to believe that it was not the then Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie.] I told them about my conversation with Jim Wilson and asked why this matter had not been raised. I was told that they would send senior officers up to Tundergarth to question Jim about it. Brian Gill QC, our appointed legal representative, said that if I continued to pursue the matter he would cease to represent me.

About a year later, towards the end of 1991 (probably on the 21st December) we visited the Wilsons and I asked Jim about the police visit following the FAI. He replied that they hadn’t been near him. There had been no visit.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Jim Swire's 32-year worldwide fight for justice

[Today's edition of the Daily Mirror newspaper contains a long article headlined 'My 32-year worldwide fight for justice for the girl I lost in Lockerbie bombing'. It reads in part:]

The one thing Jim Swire treasures the most also causes him the most pain. A 50-year-old tape recording, now transferred on to a compact disc, and carefully stored away in a special drawer in his Oxfordshire house.

In it, Jim is singing along with and his seven-year-old daughter Flora as she plays the guitar during an idyllic break on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. (...)

Flora had been flying to the US to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, and from where she planned to surprise her parents with the news she had been accepted for a coveted place to complete her medical training at Cambridge University.

But she never got to do either. Thirty-eight minutes into the long-haul flight, the airliner exploded as it flew 31,000ft over Lockerbie, killing all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground. (...)

His world suddenly torn apart by grief, Jim, a GP, was determined to find answers, and set off on an unforgiving journey that would take him all around the world – including inside the desert tent of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi.

More than 32 years later, and now aged 85, Jim is finally releasing a full account of all he discovered in a new book, The Lockerbie Bombing. His memoirs are also being made into a TV series, released next year. (...)

Jim dealt with his grief by spending every waking hour searching for information. And it wasn’t long before he began to suspect a cover up.

First, he came across a communication sent from German police to the British government in October 1988 - two months before the attack, warning that Palestinian terrorists were planning to explode a bomb on a plane heading to the US.

The information came after the arrest of a Palestinian bomb maker Marwan Khreesat, who was later released by a German judge. 

Next, he discovered a classified telex sent by the then British transport secretary James Jack to Heathrow airport, two days before the bombing, with a photo of the type of bomb they believed would be used, hidden inside a radio cassette player to make it difficult to detect on X-ray equipment.

Incredibly, the message told airport staff that if they had suspicions about any object it should be “consigned to the aircraft hold” – exactly where the Lockerbie bomb exploded.

Jim also discovered that, days before the disaster, a notice had been put up in the US embassy in Moscow warning staff of a threat to Pan Am aircraft in the run up to Christmas and advising them to rebook with another airline. (...)

Jim’s investigations led him to believe the Lockerbie bombing was actually ordered by Iran, in retaliation for an incident in July 1988, when American warship The Vincennes destroyed an aircraft in flight containing 290 pilgrims on their way to Mecca.

He believes Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who publicly swore revenge, commissioned a Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [-General Command], to take down an American plane.

He thinks that, despite knowing the truth, the US and the UK decided to blame Libya, an oil-rich country which was in America’s sights.

Convinced that Libya, and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in January 2001, wasn’t behind his daughter’s murder, Jim has visited the country, meeting Colonel Gaddafi several times and making friends with al-Megrahi.

Of his first meeting with Gaddafi, who was overthrown and killed in 2011, he says: “I was terrified. A GP from the middle of England shaking hands with the man who was supposed to be the devil incarnate. We met in his tent in the middle of the desert.

"We were surrounded by his female bodyguards holding AK47s and as I went over to him I could hear the safety catches all clicking off. We got on and even became friends.”

Does he now have all the answers he was so desperate to find? “Yes, but I don’t have the ability to do what I feel is desperately important to be done with those answers.

“I would love to go and talk to the Ayatollahs in Iran, and the men they used, and tell them I forgive them and explain why.

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Evidence weak, key winesses highly suspicious

[What follows is excerpted from a long article by Dr Jim Swire published today on the Mail Online website:]

... in August [1989], the British and American relatives started a campaign for an inquiry into the bombing and I found myself appointed their British spokesman. I knew I couldn't just sit and think about Flora; I'd go mad. So I began to channel all my emotional energy into a campaign to find the truth.

As my recipe for survival, I searched tirelessly and single-mindedly for details of the political events that had led to the outrage. This led to extensive travels — to Malta, Germany, France, Sweden, the US and Libya — as the trail grew ever more murky.

I also campaigned to tighten up the lax airline security systems that had allowed the bombing to occur. At one point, I even flew to America with a fake bomb in my luggage — with a slab of marzipan doubling for the Semtex. No one challenged me, even when I took an internal flight in the US.

Eventually, in 2001, the former Libyan secret agent Abdelbaset al-Megrahi — a man I passionately believed to be innocent — was convicted of the bombing. The verdict left me in such despair that I fainted in the courtroom. [RB: The only evidence that Megrahi was a Libyan intelligence agent came from Majid Giaka, a witness assessed by the trial judges as wholly devoid of credibility except, for some unexplained reason, on this one single issue.]

I'd watched every moment of the year-long trial, yet to me the evidence was weak, and the key witnesses had seemed highly suspicious.

It was clear by then that the intelligence services were concealing important evidence. Would I go to my grave, I asked myself, without ever knowing who murdered my daughter?

On August 20, 2009, al-Megrahi, who was suffering from prostate cancer, was released from his Scottish jail on compassionate grounds. Later I visited him in Libya as he lay dying.

He clasped my hands. 'I am going to a place where I hope soon to see Flora,' he said. 'I will tell her that her father is my friend.' He died barely six months later.

Even now, in spite of deeply compromised witnesses — two of whom were paid millions of dollars for their testimony — and disproven evidence, our repeated calls for an inquiry into our greatest terrorist atrocity in modern times have been rejected by multiple prime ministers from Margaret Thatcher to David Cameron.

So much evidence points to the bomber being a Jordanian terrorist, but that man was also a valuable CIA asset.

It's my belief that the US and British governments collaborated to pin the blame for Lockerbie on Libya, and that the two countries worked together to ensure any evidence undermining the case against al-Megrahi would never see the light of day.

Has there ever been a greater outrage with less action taken? Do transatlantic national interests trump all other values? Are the dead of Lockerbie not to be weighed in the balance?

Jane and I are now in our 80s — but we will not cease campaigning for the truth about the Lockerbie disaster to be revealed.

THE LOCKERBIE BOMBING: A FATHER'S SEARCH FOR JUSTICE by Dr Jim Swire, published by Birlinn at £14.99

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Verdict has inflicted catastrophic damage on Scotland’s criminal justice system

[What follows is excerpted from a long article headlined Lockerbie bombing: Murder victim’s father blames Iran for atrocity and accuses the West of ‘sinister’ cover up published today on the website of the Dundee newspaper The Courier:]

More than 32 years have passed since Jim and Jane’s hearts were torn apart by the terrible events that took place in the skies above Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.

A terrorist bomb, loaded into the hold of their beloved daughter’s New York-bound aircraft, exploded 38 minutes after take off from Heathrow Airport, murdering 270 people.

At first, Jim accepted American claims that Libya was responsible.

But during the trial of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man eventually convicted of the atrocity, he began to have doubts. (...)

Over three decades, Jim’s search for the “truth” on behalf of Flora and all those who died has taken him from the corridors of power in London and Washington to the United Nations and Egypt, as well as to the inner sanctum of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Now having released his new book, co-written with Peter Biddulph, The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father’s Search for Justice, Jim explains why he remains disillusioned with the British and American establishment and why he firmly believes it was Iran – not Libya – that was responsible for the atrocity.

He also believes the 2001 Lockerbie trial verdict has inflicted “catastrophic” damage on Scotland’s criminal justice system.

“What matters most about Lockerbie is that 270 people died in a clear cut revenge attack launched at the behest of Iran, and our government both failed to take any notice of the warnings and failed to allow any inquiry into why the attack hadn’t been prevented,” says Jim, now 85, in an interview from his home in the North Cotswolds.

“It’s my view having studied the evidence very carefully over 32 years that the device never came from Malta, never came through Frankfurt airport but was delivered overland to Heathrow and put aboard there, despite the government having been warned about it.

“There’s plenty supporting evidence to show that, which leaves the question of how did it come about that the West mounted the trial that resulted in the conviction of one of one of those two Libyans when clearly that’s not how it was carried out at all?

“I think that’s a really sinister background.

“But the other thing that is monstrous, apart from the murders themselves, is the fact that for whatever reason the West, which really means America and Britain, decided that it was going to create an entirely false story to conceal the fact that they had other ambitions of the outcome from Lockerbie to serve some kind of purpose other than the truth.” (...)

He talks about his view – backed by Scots lawyers he’s spoken to – that the evidence at the Camp Zeist Scottish Court trial was “not coherent”.

While he thinks police in Scotland “did their best”, he believes a fundamental error was made when clothing wrapped around the bomb traceable to Malta was presented as evidence the bomb had come from Malta.

Jim believes that for geopolitical reasons, instead of looking for justice, politicians “wanted to divert blame away from Iran” and they “needed a scapegoat” which they found in Gaddafi’s Libya. Gaddafi admitted responsibility but maintained he did not order the attack.

Jim believes the conviction of al-Megrahi was “one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the history of Scottish law” and believes future historians will piece together “what really happened” when confidential documents are made public. (...)

Flora, a brilliant medical researcher just a day short of her 24th birthday, was on her way to see her boyfriend in the USA for Christmas when she was murdered.

Describing bereavement as a “life sentence”, Jim admits he and his wife quietly reflect on the children their daughter might have had and the career she might have led.

But as a member of that unwanted club of families who have been affected by terrorist atrocities, he also reveals one of the worst things that happened to him during the last 32 years was when he received an email from a relative of one of the American victims whose daughter had been killed on the flight – sent at a time when it was known al-Megrahi had incurable prostate cancer.

“What she said to me was ‘Dr Swire, you are a doctor over there. Will you speak to the doctors over there and tell them that we don’t want painkillers to be provided to Megrahi. We want that man to die in the utmost agony’.

“What that told me was that poor lady: the hatred she had for the man she at that time very reasonably believed had murdered her child.

“That was another victory for the terrorists – her personality had been destroyed by the hatred that had been generated by the terrorist atrocity.

“One of the things that all of this nonsense about Malta and Libyans and all the rest of it has done is deny us so far the ability to even forgive those who really did murder our children who in this case was essentially the Ayatollahs of Iran and their minions.

“To be denied that and to protect those people from the wrath of international justice is one of the most dreadful things to have fallen out of this, apart from the dreadful murders themselves.”

Thursday, 13 May 2021

"Hard to have confidence in the integrity of our law"

[What follows is excerpted from a review by novelist and journalist Allan Massie in today's edition of The Scotsman of Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph's book The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father's Search For Justice:]

It is now more than 32 years since a bomb placed in the cargo hold of a Pan-Am flight exploded over Lockerbie 38 minutes out of Heathrow, and 270 people were killed. One of them was Dr Jim Swire’s 23-year-old daughter Flora. Ever since, he has devoted his life to trying to establish who was responsible for the crime. He has, by his account, written here with the collaboration of Paul Biddulph, been thwarted at every turn. Consequently, he has developed a deep distrust of the British and American governments and their secret services, and, sadly, a like distrust of the working of the Scottish justice system, both the courts and the police. (...)

Obviously it was an act of terror. But who were the terrorists? From the start the assumption was that it was not the act of a lone terrorist group like the Red Brigade in Italy or the Badaar-Meinhoff gang in West Germany, but had been planned or at least authorised by a hostile state – a state hostile to the USA. The two favoured candidates were Iran and Libya, both of which had recent reason to plan the atrocity.

Meanwhile, the British Government refused requests to hold a Public Inquiry. Dr Swire was, and still is, naturally indignant. Yet, though there were other murky reasons for this refusal, the stated one was good. Can you properly hold such an enquiry, with witnesses on oath, without compromising an ongoing criminal investigation and any subsequent trial?

The investigation eventually focussed on Libya, and then on identified suspects. Where could a trial be held? Professor Robert Black of Edinburgh University proposed staging it a third country, but with Scottish judges and according to Scots Law. It seemed improbable that Libya would find this acceptable. With great courage, Dr Swire went to Libya himself, with a photograph of his murdered daughter, to make a personal appeal to the dictator, Colonel Gaddafi. Politics, and a desire to have economic sanctions lifted, persuaded Gaddafi to give way. Two suspects were therefore delivered to the Netherlands and the trial was underway.

As we all know, one suspect, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment, the other not. Members off the bereaved American families expressed satisfaction, but, even as Dr Swire sat through the trial, his confidence in both the evidence offered and the verdict withered. This book tells us why. It tells, too, how he supported al-Megrahi’s appeals and requests for a re-trial, how he befriended him and called for his repatriation when he was diagnosed with cancer, and visited him in Libya before his death.

Though one distinguished Scots lawyer who observed the trial told me that on the evidence presented the only possible verdict had been delivered, an opinion which the Scottish courts have continued to uphold, it subsequently seemed clear that there were weaknesses it the Crown case and that the evidence of its chief witness was tainted and therefore cannot be thought reliable.

It is hard to read this book without concluding that Dr Swire is right, and that for reasons which are both understandable and shameful, successive British governments repeatedly obstructed the investigation and that they did so at the instigation of our American allies. That said, one has in any trial or account of an investigation to remember that things tend to be convincing when you are hearing only one side of the argument, one version of the story. This book recounts Dr Swine’s long and painful search for the truth about Lockerbie, and his version is persuasive. It is disturbing too because, if Dr Swire has it right, the Scottish judges who have now three times rejected appeals against the original verdict, have made it hard to have confidence in the integrity of our law. Lockerbie was a disaster; what caused it remains a mystery.

The Lockerbie Bombing, by Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph, Birlinn, 256pp, £14.99

Saturday, 8 May 2021

"Not a court of justice but a court of politics"

[What follows is excerpted from a very long article published today on the website of The Herald. The full article can (and should) be read here.]

[Dr Jim] Swire says his short-term memory is not so good, but on the details of the evidence around Lockerbie, on the events that devastated his life, he is as sharp as a tack. He believes he knows the story behind the bombing of Pan-Am 103 and that the wrong man was convicted, the wrong country blamed.

Fingers, he said, should have been pointed at Iran, who organised it through the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), not Libya. There was even a strong motive: revenge for the shooting-down of the Airbus carrying 290 pilgrims by the USS Vincennes. Swire no longer believes that the full truth will come out in his lifetime. The sadness and anger he feels is not just at the loss of his daughter – it is also the rage of disillusionment. He rails against the opacity of the British establishment, institutions in which he had faith.

“I was the son of an Army officer,” he says, “who had been trained to look after parts of the empire during his professional career in the Royal Engineers. I thought that the establishment was working for the protection, at the very least, of its citizens. My belief was that the establishment of the UK was honourable and sought right over wrong.”

He recalls: “It wasn’t really till the end of the Camp Zeist trial of Megrahi [in which he was found guilty] that I was forced to give up that fabulous belief. I realised that was not a court of justice but a court of politics that was being held to enable the Americans to achieve their aim of diverting blame to Libya, away from Iran. One of the things that really annoys me now is that Britain was acting as a lapdog for America.” (...)

In the months following Flora’s death, Swire submerged himself in a sea of information – including technical details of the bomb and its mechanism.

“I’ve always been interested in electronics. I learned a lot about nasty plastic explosives.” he says.

From early on, he became convinced that the bomb had been one whose timer had a pressure-related switch which would trigger shortly after take-off.

“Soon after Lockerbie I got hold of an illustrated brochure from West Germany which told the British Department of Transport that the German police had recovered some specialised bombs in an operation called Autumn Leaves,” he recalls.

“It told how these bombs had a switch that could detect a drop in air pressure when an aeroplane took off and that around seven minutes from the time the wheels left the tarmac it would switch the timer on in the bomb and that the timers ran for approximately 30 minutes.”

He did the maths. “That makes a total of 37 minutes from leaving the ground before the thing went off. It was exactly that timing, 38 minutes into the flight, at which Pan-Am 103 blew up.”

The explanation that the bomb involved was one with a long running digital timer, supplied by MEBO and including circuit board produced by the Zurich company Thuring, which was at the heart of the Megrahi conviction, is one he believes too elaborate. “I think of William of Ockham. He said the simplest explanation consistent with the known facts is the most likely to be true.”

He argues that the bomb was made by terrorists linked to the PFLP-GC and that the clothing from Malta was deliberately put alongside the bomb in order to mislead. “I think,” he says, “that it all worked out according to the plans that were laid by Iran through the use of their surrogate terrorist group, the PFLP-GC.”

Key evidence supporting his theory, published in his book, some of which comes from the John Ashton book Megrahi: You are My Jury, includes a metallurgical examination done by experts commissioned by the Megrahi defence team, which showed that the circuit board fragment used as evidence did not come from a particular set of bombs supplied by MEBO to Libya, as previously had been argued, because it contained the wrong metal coating.

They also question the reliability of the identification of Megrahi by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, given records that show his attempts to get, and eventually receive, substantial money from the United States. (...)

The Lockerbie Bombing by Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph is published by Birlinn.

Aye Write: The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father's Search for Justice: Jim Swire in conversation with Kate Adie will be on May 21, 6pm.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

"It is likely that the perpetrators are still at large"

[A long and detailed article headlined The Lockerbie Bombing: The Tragic True Story of Pan Am Flight 103 by Dr Michele Gama Sosa has been published today on the American Grunge.com website. It is well worth reading. The following are the first two and the last two paragraphs:] 

The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988, a mere four days before Christmas, continues to vex intelligence and law enforcement agencies in Europe and the United States. Although Libya and one of its former intelligence agents have been held responsible, the identity of the perpetrators is still far from certain. Politics, corruption, and special interests have dogged the victims' attempts to find justice and closure for the horrific incident that killed 270 people during one of the most joyous times of the year.

Since the day of the bombing, different governments, individuals, and institutions have put forward a host of theories regarding the identity of the perpetrators. The list of the accused and their sponsors ranges from the United States to Iran. This is the true, convoluted, and tragic story of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, one of the worst air disasters in aviation history.

...

The Lockerbie case has taken numerous twists and turns. When justice appeared served, it was revealed that special interests and economic expediency had tainted the trials of the suspects. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's family has continued to fight his conviction posthumously, and on January 15, 2021, Scotland rejected an appeal to vacate al-Megrahi's conviction.

In light of the doubts surrounding al-Megrahi's conviction, it is likely that the perpetrators are still at large. Al-Marimi's indictment has provided a hope that perhaps the perpetrator can still be brought to justice. As time passes, though, many of those involved in the Lockerbie case have died. It is quickly becoming a race against time to find and sentence the perpetrators, if for no other reason than to provide closure to the families of the victims and end their three-decade wait for justice.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

A self-blinded justice system

[What follows is from an email sent today by Jim Swire to a friend and supporter. It is reproduced here with Dr Swire's consent:]

There has been one quotation that I have been strengthened by throughout the last 35 years. It's from John Donne:

                                                     On a huge hill,
Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must and about must go,
And what the hill's suddenness resists, win so.
Yet strive so that before age, death's twilight,
Thy soul rest, for none can work in that night.

I fear that the message of the last two lines is now upon us.

As for American contributions to the deception, I have long believed that there is no way we can puncture that bubble, fragile though it is.

For us, ... and so many others, now knowing the broad picture of the truth, is part of the healing process. But that healing is so severely damaged by the strutting pomposity of most of those who trumpet that the case is solved when so many of them must know it clearly is not.

Nor can we get away from the fact that a great deal of further evil has been unleashed upon the world by the obstruction to allowing the truth to get out. That obstruction has fostered some of the most malevolent characters in the terrorist world by shielding them from the threat of prosecution and has destroyed for a generation any prospect of peaceful progress for nearly seven million Libyans. By protecting the Ayatollahs of Iran from investigation the obstruction must also have reinforced the horrors that eighty three million ordinary people in Iran will have to face if they are ever to shake off the bands of religious impenetrability. Through ‘faith’ religious belief is used as a ‘reason' for abandoning the need to look with honesty at developments in the one world we actually live in, and some of whose intrinsic laws we are privileged to know.

A good example of such an individual was the policeman [Stuart] Henderson, who before he died said publicly in front of the US relatives  that he would like to wring the neck of anyone who disagreed with the Scottish police findings in the case. He is now dead but the consequences of his force’s mistakes continues to blight and sometimes destroy all those lives in Libya.

A self-blinded ‘justice' system in Scotland together with a police force there which has also been blinded to the failure of its own hypothesis, partly through a deeply flawed verdict, partly by unjustified belief in their own infallibility, sails on. Like their  justice system, that force will not listen to their voices when people originally with no axe to grind are raised in dissent. 

However, John Mosey and I along with other UK relatives of the innocent dead have always wanted to force something of benefit for the future to emerge from that horrible toll of avoidable deaths at Lockerbie. That is worlds away from a desire for revenge against those who got things so grotesquely wrong in the investigation, many of whom are now dead anyway. 

Now common sense (if I may be allowed so vague an entity at all) suggests to me that Henderson and his men fell into a deliberate trap set for the searchers by Ahmed Jibril in Damascus, in case any forensic evidence should fall into their hands after the crash, and that trap of course was the clothing readily traceable to Malta, inserted into the bomb suitcase. Common sense can also be stretched a little further to suggest that Abu Talb from the Jibril team was the probable buyer and provider of those clothes as part of Jibril's carefully organised plot.

The headlong chase to Malta which had to be based on the transfer of the bomb at Luqa (false), the transfer of a bag from the Air Malta flight to PA103A at Frankfurt (false) the transfer of the bag from PA103A to PA 103 at Heathrow (false) and the allegation that a MEBO MST13 timer had been used (false: based on a carelessly and fraudulently introduced fragment of circuit board clearly copied from the pattern of an MST13 board, but manufactured after the industry had switched to using lead-free plating technology in the early 90s).

Then one cannot ignore the concealment from the trial by the Crown Office prosecution team of the Metropolitan Police's findings of an airside break-in at Heathrow. We know that the Scottish police were informed of the Met’s findings by February 1989. Whether or not that break-in was the route by which the bomb came to be put aboard at Heathrow we cannot know, (and the proximity of Iran Air personnel adjacent to Pan Am provides an alternative route), but the break-in and its concealment from the trial court looks mighty like the deliberate removal of an obvious ‘reasonable doubt', which any criminal court ought to have had the opportunity to evaluate as the case unfolded in front of it.

Unfortunately however, failure to identify Iran as the initiating country skews the interests of justice between the nations if indeed there is any. 

But perhaps we should leave to Scotland’s friends from “ the auld alliance”, her own poet Robbie Burns, to her philosopher David Hume to a recent Scottish Justice Secretary and also to a scion of the cream of British diplomacy, the last words.

Here’s freedom to him that wad read,
Here’s freedom to him that wad write,
There’s nane ever fear’d that the truth should be heard,
But they whom the truth wad indite. -- Robert Burns																										
				
There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice. -- Montesquieu

In our reasonings concerning matters of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence. A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence. ― David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

The Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission’s decision to refer the Megrahi case back to the courts really isn’t a surprise. Issues of concern in the Lockerbie bombing trial include not least the witness payments to Tony Gauci. So back the case goes and while it may resolve some aspects relating to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, I won’t hold my breath that it’ll cast any more light on Lockerbie. Sadly, this review will clarify some questions regarding Megrahi, but I very much doubt it’ll provide closure on Lockerbie.
Kenny MacAskill — Former Cabinet Secretary for Justice (2007–2014)

No court is likely get to the truth, now that various intelligence agencies have had the opportunity to corrupt the evidence.
Oliver Miles — Former British ambassador to Libya

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Megrahi family to apply to UK Supreme Court for leave to appeal after Scottish court's refusal

[What follows is the text of a Reuters news agency report published this afternoon:]

The family of a Libyan man found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing which killed 270 people will seek to appeal the conviction direct to Britain’s top court after being refused permission by the Scottish Appeal Court, their lawyer said.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, an intelligence officer who died in 2012, was jailed for life in 2001 for the murder of 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 residents of the Scottish town of Lockerbie in the deadliest militant attack in British history.

In January, the Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland rejected an appeal brought by his family, who had argued that there had been a possible misconduct of justice, and their lawyer Aamer Anwar said on Thursday the same court had now refused permission for them to appeal that decision.

“I have now instructed our legal team to seek leave to appeal directly to the UK Supreme Court which is the final court of appeal for my father’s case,” Megrahi’s son Ali said in a statement.

“I regard my father Abdelbasset Al-Megrahi as the 271st victim of Lockerbie.”

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in December 1988 en route from London to New York, carrying mostly Americans on their way home for Christmas.

Megrahi, who denied involvement in the attack, died in Libya in 2012 after being released three years earlier by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds due to prostate cancer.

Former leader Muammar Gaddafi accepted Libya’s responsibility for the bombing in 2003 and paid compensation to families, but did not admit personally ordering it.

However, Megrahi’s family and some relatives of the Scottish victims have always doubted his guilt and Libya’s responsibility, and say the truth has yet to come out.

[RB: The refusal by the Scottish High Court of Justiciary to grant leave to appeal was anticipated, and the necessity of a direct application to the Supreme Court was planned for.

A report in The Times on 2 April discloses the judges' reason for refusing leave to appeal: “Although the case is clearly one of public importance, the proposed grounds of appeal do not raise points of law of general public importance. The principles of law which the court applied were all well known, settled and largely uncontroversial.” [RB: The court's Statement of Reasons can be read here.]

A report in The National on 2 April contains the following:

[Aamer] Anwar said the appeal ... related to two challenges to the conviction. The first – that no reasonable jury properly directed could have convicted Megrahi on the evidence led – as it focused on that of Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who said Megrahi had bought from him clothing put in a suitcase containing the bomb that was planted on the plane.

The second was a failure to disclose information to the defence which led to an unfair trial and thus a miscarriage of justice. This related to Gauci’s identification of Megrahi.

He added: “I have no doubt that the new democratic Libyan government headed by Abdul Hamid Dabaiba will support this final appeal for justice on behalf of the al-Megrahi family and help in our efforts to prove the innocence of Libya and its people.”]

Monday, 1 March 2021

Megrahi petition to be considered by Scottish Parliament Justice Committee

Justice for Megrahi's petition PE1370 is on the agenda for the virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee to be held tomorrow, Tuesday 02 March, at 10.30. The meeting will be broadcast on www.scottishparliament.tv. What follows is Justice for Megrahi's submission to the committee.

On 28th June 2011 the Public Petitions Committee referred the Justice for Megrahi (JfM) petition PE1370 to the Justice Committee for consideration. Its terms were as follows.

‘Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to open an independent inquiry into the 2001 Kamp van Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988.’

On 6th June, 2013, as part of its consideration, the Justice Committee wrote to Kenny MacAskill MSP, then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, asking for the Government’s comments on our request for a public enquiry. In his reply of 24th June 2013, while acknowledging, that under the Inquiries Act 2005, the Scottish Ministers had the power to establish an inquiry, he concluded:

‘Any conclusions reached by an inquiry would not have any effect on either upholding or overturning the conviction as it is appropriately a court of law that has this power. In addition to the matters noted above, we would also note that Lockerbie remains a live ongoing criminal investigation. In light of the above, the Scottish Government has no plans to institute an independent inquiry into the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi.’

As you are aware the above petition was first heard by the Justice Committee on 8th November 2011 and has been kept open by the committee to allow various developments related to the Lockerbie case to be monitored.

On 6 March 2020 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC),following a submission by the Megrahi family, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal.

On 15 January 2021 that court dismissed the appeal and upheld the original conviction. Aamer Anwar, the Megrahi family lawyer, has stated that the family willnow appeal to the UK Supreme Court and will continue pressing for the UK government to release a secret document thought to implicate Iran and a Palestinian terror group.

The Crown Office, Police Scotland and the American law enforcement authorities have all confirmed that the investigation into the bombing remains open and that leads are being actively pursued.

As the Cabinet Secretary for Justice stated on 24th June 2013, the decision whether an independent inquiry should be held in Scotland depends on the criminal investigation being completed and matters having been fully determined judicially. Until this happens we believe it is vital that our petition remains under consideration in the Scottish Parliament.

Deep controversy still surrounds the whole circumstances behind the investigation of the Lockerbie bombing and the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi and until fully resolved this tragedy will continue to cast a shadow over the Scottish justice system nationally and internationally.

We greatly value the Justice Committee’s continuing scrutiny and political oversight, which we believe is very much in the public interest, and we would respectfully urge the Committee to allow Petition PE1370 to remain on the table.

UPDATE 02 March 2021

The Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee at this morning's meeting decided unanimously to keep Justice for Megrahi's petition open. It will remain on the new committee's agenda following the Holyrood election in May. There were strong supporting speeches from a number of committee members. A video of the proceedings can be viewed here.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

From Lockerbie to the downing of Flight PS752

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Mohammed al-Sulami, head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah), that was published yesterday on the website of the Saudi Arabian newspaper Arab News. The following are excerpts:]

On Jan 8, 2020, Iran’s air defense system was on high alert after the military launched a barrage of missiles targeting Iraqi bases housing US troops. Iran feared US retaliation. A year later, there has been no proof of any foreign intrusion into its airspace at the time when two TOR rockets pierced the fuselage of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752. After initial denials, Iran admitted that the aircraft was shot down “mistakenly.”

If the downing was a mistake, then it exposes the unprofessionalism and recklessness of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). However, there are other interpretations of the incident, linking it to a deliberate and calculated Iranian act intended to pin the blame on rival powers. But thanks to the almost immediate viral photographs and videos on social media, the IRGC had no room to blame hostile foreign forces.

Some 13 months later, a leaked audio of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif talking about the downing of Flight PS752 has stirred controversy inside Iran and abroad. In it, he can be heard saying that the incident was accidental, but later he says it is possible that two or three “infiltrators” deliberately downed the plane. In addition, he says a full investigation was not carried out and the truth of what happened will never be revealed by Iran’s Armed Forces and top leadership. He does not implicate his own government for hiding the facts, but seems to be scapegoating others by blaming “infiltrators” without providing details. Either way, Iran violated certain provisions of the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation and of the 1971 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation.

Iran had accused the US of doing the same in July 1988, when Iran Air Flight IR655 was shot down over the Arabian Gulf, killing all 290 people on board. Though the US agreed to pay Iran $131.8 million in compensation in February 1996, some mysteries still exist.

Five months after the tragic downing of the Iran Air flight, Pan Am flight PA103 exploded at 31,000 feet, with its debris scattering across an area of more than 2,000 sq km along the English-Scottish border. The crash over Lockerbie claimed 270 lives. Finding evidence for what caused the deadly blast that ripped the plane apart was comparable to searching for a needle in a haystack, but aviation experts termed it a terrorist act. The media then recalled Iran’s threat to retaliate for the downing of Flight IR655.

Years later, however, Libyan citizen Abdelbaset Ali Mohammed Al-Megrahi was convicted for causing PA103’s deadly end. He pleaded his innocence until his death in 2012. Owing to foreign pressure and political expediency, Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi admitted his country’s role in the bombing. [RB: Libya accepted responsibility for the acts of the official who had been convicted at the Zeist trial. It did not admit anything other than that.] Among others, the late Nelson Mandela, himself a lawyer, had cast doubt on the prosecution’s case and the resulting verdict. Three decades later, the Scottish courts admitted Al-Megrahi’s family’s plea for a third appeal, only to reject it on Jan 15.

If, as some claim, Libya did not down the Pan Am flight, then who did? The most obvious suspect since December 1988 has been Ahmed Jibril, head of a Palestinian-Syrian terrorist group — the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command — whose ties to Iran were no secret. Jibril, said to be living in Damascus, was allegedly paid ... for avenging the downing of Flight IR655. At the time, the George H W Bush administration preferred not to blame Syria or Iran as it was preparing to attack Iraq in 1991 and needed their support. It was also seeking to free some hostages. Hence, Libya was blamed via al-Megrahi.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father’s Search for Justice

[What follows is from 2021 Preview: History and Current Affairs on the website of Scottish publishers Birlinn:]

The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father’s Search for Justice, Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph (May)

The destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988 was the largest attack on Britain since World War Two. 259 passengers and 11 townsfolk of Lockerbie were murdered. Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of the crime. He maintained his innocence until his death in 2012. Among the passengers was Flora, beloved daughter of Dr Jim Swire. Jim accepted American claims that Libya was responsible, but during the Lockerbie trial he began to distrust key witnesses and supposed firm evidence. Since then it has been revealed that the USA paid millions of dollars to two central identification witnesses, and the only forensic evidence central to the prosecution has been discredited. The book takes us along Dr Swire’s journey as his initial grief and loss becomes a campaign to uncover the truth behind not only a personal tragedy but one of the modern world’s most shocking events.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

"A spectacular miscarriage of justice”

[What follows is excerpted from a column by Stephen Blease headlined Denial and conspiracy theories need to meet defiance published today on the website of Cumbrian Newspapers Group's title the News & Star:] 

Piers Corbyn is a meteorologist and notorious climate change denier, and it seems he has now emerged as an equally outspoken vaccination denier. He is behind leaflets distributed in London that liken the anti-coronavirus vaccination campaign to the Nazi concentration camps. (...) 

Now I don’t say that no-one should be allowed to defy the conventional wisdom, nor that all conspiracy theories are baseless. We should be allowed to question everything we’re told. 

For instance I happen to think that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man accused of the Lockerbie bombing, was the victim of a conspiracy himself, and was innocent. Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was one of the 270 people killed, doesn’t think Libya was even involved, and Hans Koechler, an observer at the trial, called al-Megrahi’s treatment “a spectacular miscarriage of justice”. 

The only witness who linked al-Megrahi to the incident was a Maltese shopkeeper who was later found to have been paid to testify against him. Many of those who have looked at it closely agree that al-Megrahi didn’t do it. 

But where events are shocking or unexpected or cause anxiety or just bafflement, conspiracy theories always thrive, as people feel a need for explanations.