Monday, 22 August 2022

HMP Barlinnie and Abdelbaset Megrahi

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined Glasgow Crime Stories: The many stories behind HMP Barlinnie published today on the website of the Glasgow Evening Times:]

It's been known by many names The Bar-L, Bar Hell, Glasgow's Alcatraz, the Big Hoose, or simply HMP Barlinnie.  (...)

Barlinnie's most high-profile prisoner was the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi. (...)

In 2001 Barlinnie was back on the world's stage with the arrival by helicopter of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, which killed 270 people.

Megrahi was provided with a £1.5million purpose-built cell, dubbed Gaddafi's CafĂ© situated in the former specula unit.

It has a private toilet and shower, a TV, kitchen facilities for the Libyan to cook his own halal meals.

There was also an exercise area and a room where Megrahi coud be visited by human rights officials to make sure he was being treated fairly. 

The cost at the time of keeping him in solitary confinement was thought to be around £100,000 a year. 

That compared to the £18,000 annual cost for a regular prisoner at Barlinnie.

In 2002 Megrahi was visited by Nelson Mandela who called for a fresh review of his conviction and for him to serve his sentence in a Libyan prison.

Mandela himself spent 18 of his 27 years in jail on Robben Island after being locked up by the South Africa's apartheid government. 

What he thought of the conditions at Barlinnie compared to Robben Island is not known.

However, he did describe Megrahi's imprisonment in Barlinnie as psychological persecution 

Megrahi was later moved to Greenock prison in 2005, before being sent home to Libya in 2009 on compassionate grounds with terminal cancer.


Friday, 15 July 2022

UK Supreme Court refuses leave to appeal Megrahi conviction

[The Scottish Crown Office have issued the following statement:]

Re: Decision of the UK Supreme Court in Al Megrahi (Appellant) v Her Majesty's Advocate and another (Respondents) (Scotland) UKSC 2021/0091

On 14 Jul 2022 the UK Supreme Court refused the appellant Ali Abdelbaset Al Megrahi's direct application for leave to appeal.

This means that Mr Abdelbaset Al Megrahi’s original conviction for murder stands and the appeal process is at an end.

[RB: The background can be found in this item posted on this blog on 1 April 2021: Megrahi family to apply to UK Supreme Court for leave to appeal after Scottish court's refusal.

Now that all domestic remedies have been exhausted, the only judicial avenue now open for the Megrahi conviction to be challenged is an application to the European Court of Human Rights.

[What follows is excerpted from a report just published on the website of The Herald:]

In January last year, Megrahi’s son, Ali al-Megrahi, lost an appeal against his late father’s conviction.

The Supreme Court has ruled that permission to appeal against that decision should be refused, saying the “application does not raise an arguable point of law”.

Lawyer Aamer Anwar, representing the Megrahi family, insisted this was not the end of the matter as he would take the case back to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) and “continue to pursue an appeal”.

Mr Anwar said: “I spoke today to Ali, the son of the late al-Megrahi, and he said he was deeply disappointed in the decision of the UK Supreme Court.

“Ali told me he was eight years old when his father went to the Netherlands to stand trial. When his father returned to Libya to die, Ali spent most of his time next to his father and said that until his dying breath he maintained his innocence.

“The Megrahis regard their father as the 271st victim of Lockerbie.”

Megrahi was released from prison in Scotland in 2009 on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, and died in Libya in 2012.

The Libyan had originally lodged an appeal against his conviction in 2007, but this was abandoned in 2009 before he was granted compassionate release.

Mr Anwar said: “Ali said as a son he will not give up on his father’s dying wish to clear his name and that of Libya, and has instructed myself as his family’s lawyer to continue with a further application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.”

In March 2020 the SCCRC referred Megrahi’s case to the High Court as a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

However, in what was the third appeal against Megrahi’s conviction in November 2020, at the High Court in Edinburgh, a panel of five judges rejected the claim.

Mr Anwar said that after having spoken to Megrahi’s son “this is not the end of the matter” as the “reputation of the Scottish criminal justice system has suffered badly both at home and internationally because of widespread doubts about the conviction of Mr al-Megrahi”.

The lawyer said: “On December 21 1988, 270 people from 21 countries were murdered in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, the worst terrorist atrocity ever committed in the United Kingdom.

“Since then the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man ever convicted of the crime, has been described as the worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

“For my legal team it has been eight long years but for the families we represent it has been 33 long years of struggle for truth and justice. Sadly that struggle is not over.”

Saturday, 25 June 2022

Complicit in deceit, dishonesty and decadence

[What follows is the text of a review in Lobster (issue 84, 2022) by John Booth of The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father’s Search for Justice:]

Jim Swire prefaces his powerful and moving book with this arresting question: ‘How could initial faith in the establishment take thirty years to convert into distrust towards all those touched by that addictive drug we call power?’ 

This is much more than the anguished grief of the father of Flora, one of the 270 victims of the 1988 Pan AM Flight 103 disaster. The 23- year-old medical student had left Heathrow on December 21 to spend Christmas with her American boyfriend. She died when Clipper Maid of the Seas exploded over Lockerbie, killing all its 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 residents of the small West Scotland town. 

It is the painful saga of a traumatized parent being denied access to the truth of his daughter’s death – of a humane community doctor forced to confront the ugly realities of realpolitik on both sides of the Atlantic. 

With his fellow author, Swire details Flora’s promising life and the cost to him and his family of his pursuit of the truth about its abrupt and brutal termination. They take us from his initial struggle to gain entrance to the temporary morgue where Flora’s body was taken, via the Lockerbie visit of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, through the decades-long fight to establish what really happened to the trial, imprisonment and death of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan found guilty of causing the death of his daughter. 

If Thatcher, who fails even to describe Lockerbie in her memoirs, had wanted a more doughty foe than Dr Swire she’d have been hard put to find one. A former Army officer and BBC television engineer who then retrained as a general practitioner, Flora’s father was just the kind of honourable, hard-working and patriotic figure Thatcher told us was the very best of British. 

The book details her refusal not only to meet him after Lockerbie but to deny an inquiry into what caused her and the grieving relatives from around the world to visit the crash scene. This isn’t so much the Iron Lady as the craven, lily-livered one, prepared to do anything to gratify the power of the United States ahead of the decent demand of her own citizens for truth and understanding. 

The story The Lockerbie Bombing tells is too long and complex to summarise in a short review. But the theme running through it is well expressed by Swire in its preface: 

"After many years running the British Empire we have evolved all sorts of subtle ways of concealing truth when it is inconvenient for government to admit failure. Supposedly even these subtle secrecies are limited by a ‘thirty-year rule’; but now we sail into a future where up to fifty Lockerbie documents are sequestered from public view well beyond that thirty-year limit with no explanation as to why. There seems no sign of conscience or even knowledge of right and wrong. My daughter and all those who died with her deserve better; it is as though their deaths did not matter." 

The author visited Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi and spent time with the imprisoned al-Magrahi before he was released to die in Libya in 2012. He also closely observed his Zeist trial and is properly shocked by its verdict and the subsequent failure of his appeals against it. 

Along the way Swire observes the servile performances of Thatcher, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Jack Straw and David Miliband – none willing to challenge the determination of Washington to pin the blame for Lockerbie on Libya. He is no less critical of senior political and legal figures in Scotland while paying tribute to those north and south of the border who offered strong practical support, including veteran Labour MP Tam Dalyell and emeritus law professor Robert Black of Edinburgh University. 

The Lockerbie Bombing lacks an index but is well footnoted in support of a powerful narrative of the painful personal and political journey Swire has made. It is also the story of many in British public life paid to defend and uphold the safety and welfare of its citizens yet complicit in deceit, dishonesty and decadence.

Thursday, 9 June 2022

The true perpetrators of this attack will probably never be known

[The Florida-based Pan Am 103 Lockerbie Legacy Foundation's re-vamped website contains a letter written by Victoria Cummock, the founder and CEO of the organisation. Her husband was a passenger on Pan Am 103. The letter reads in part:]

At the outset, various international groups claimed responsibility for the attack, which broadened the investigative scope beyond the 845-square-mile Lockerbie crime scene, to include various international state sponsors of terrorism and dozens of inter-continental suspects. 

There are significant differences between US and Scottish criminal law for admissibility of evidence, witness testimony and sentencing, and multiple jurisdictions routinely try criminals under applicable national/local laws. Aside from issuing the 1991 criminal indictments and 2020 criminal charges, why haven't US authorities ever arrested or prosecuted ANY suspects for the mass murder of 190 American citizens and the 69 others aboard a US flagship?

The 2001 Scottish criminal trial against two Libyan officials acquitted one, convicted the other and then was ultimately released after eight years on compassionate grounds. No one believes that if al-Megrahi did have a hand in this, he could have acted alone to perpetrate an attack of this magnitude. After decades of US politically pragmatic foreign policy, the true perpetrators of this attack will probably never be known since the US long ago quietly closed its investigation. Informants and witnesses die, memories fade, and evidence deteriorates or disappears.

Is the real culprit for all terrorism capitalism and the corruption and violence it fosters? Is political expediency for commerce, or business as usual, the only brand of American justice? Is this a case of deflected culpability for US military attacks such as the July 3, 1988, USS Vincennes warship missile shoot down of Iran Air flight 655, which killed 290 civilians in Iranian airspace? Or were the CIA agents aboard the targets and our loved ones merely collateral damage?

To date, the story of the terrorist attack against the US on December 21, 1988, is incomplete and in many ways inaccurate. The Foundation will explore our history more fully, via thematic timelines, to ensure the attack and its victims do not become a footnote that the memory of time erases. Our Community Forum will, for the first time, digitally connect the entire global Pan Am 103 Lockerbie community.

Sunday, 29 May 2022

"A wonderful bit of forensic investigation"

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined Truth about Lockerbie will never be known … it’s Scotland’s JFK in today's edition of The Herald:]

Cliff Todd was the head of Britain’s Forensic Explosives Laboratory. Now retired, he breaks his silence on the Lockerbie case, talking of the unanswered questions to our Writer at Large, Neil Mackay, who covered the terrorist atrocity and got to know the bomber

Cliff Todd once came so close to death that a mere sneeze in a room full of al-Qaeda explosives would have blown him to smithereens. He’s helped solve some of the world’s most infamous bomb attacks: the 7-7 terror atrocities, the shoe-bomber case, multiple IRA operations like Warrington, the Bali mass murders, the assassination of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the neo-nazi nail bomb campaign in London. But the one crime he’s never been able to fully resolve is the Lockerbie bombing which killed 270 people when Pan-Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town in December 1988.

Todd was head of investigations with the Ministry of Defence’s Forensic Explosives Laboratory (FEL). Every bomb incident in Britain fell under his watch – from schoolboy pranks with explosives, to bombings by organised crime gangs or bank robbers, bobby traps set by love rivals, and of course, all high profile terror attacks. Ahead of the release of his memoir – Explosive: Bringing the World’s Deadliest Bombers to Justice – Todd sat down to talk with the Herald on Sunday.

Questions still remain over Lockerbie, he says. Todd believes it’s impossible to say for sure that Libya alone lay behind the atrocity. Todd thinks Lockerbie is destined to become “another JFK”, so steeped in conspiracy theories the full truth will never be known.

Before he retired, Todd was the FEL manager of the Lockerbie case. He immersed himself in the fine detail, poring over every document and piece of evidence in the laboratory’s vaults. “I made it my business to go through everything from beginning to end, for my own satisfaction to know what was done, when it was done, why is was done, and what it meant.”

In 2001, following a sensational trial at a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands, the Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was jailed for life for the Lockerbie bombing. Libya was accused of masterminding the attack in revenge for American air raids in 1986, in which Colonel Gaddafi reportedly lost his daughter. The air raids were a reprisal for a bomb attack on a Berlin disco which targeted American troops, believed to have been carried out by Libya.

Many – including some relatives of the British victims – never accepted the official version of events surrounding Lockerbie. There’s long standing claims that a Palestinian terror group – the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) – carried out the attack, with the assistance of Iran. Tehran was said to have funded the Pan-Am attack in revenge for America shooting down an Iranian passenger plane over the Persian Gulf, in which 290 people died, the summer before the Lockerbie bombing.

Megrahi later died after being controversially freed from jail in Scotland on compassionate grounds as he was suffering from cancer. I corresponded with Megrahi while he was in Greenock Prison and he insisted he was innocent. Todd, though, doesn’t believe Meghrai’s claims that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice – however, he does still think there’s plenty of questions around Lockerbie which remain unanswered.

“Will the truth ever be known?” Todd asks. “That’s a big question.” He says all the forensic evidence points towards Libya being behind the bombing, and he’s “satisfied with the court’s decision. There are some questions, but in essence I’m content that [the bomb] originated from Libya. Now, as to why, and who else might have been involved – I’ve no idea. Did Libya do it as a proxy for Iran? Who knows?”

The forensics point to the bomb being smuggled onto Pan-Am 103, in an international terrorist operation, crucially linked to Malta. The bomb went onboard the plane in Frankfurt, hidden within a Toshiba cassette recorder, placed inside a suitcase which was then stored in a luggage container in the hold of the plane. Pan-Am 103 flew to London before finally exploding over Scotland en route to America. Fragments of trousers, linked to the bomb, were bought in the Maltese town of Sliema in a shop called Mary’s House. Megrahi was identified as the man who bought the trousers. A fragment of timer device, alleged to have been used in the bomb, was said to have been sold by a Swiss company to Libya.

However, claims were made that the Swiss timers didn’t in fact match the bomb fragment. The Herald also uncovered claims that Tony Gauci, the owner of the Maltese shop where Megrahi was said to have bought the crucial pair of trousers, had been paid $2 million by American authorities.

Todd is sure, though, that the timers match and the trousers can indeed by traced to the Maltese shop. On the connection to Megrahi, however, he’s more cautious. “Gauci says he identified Megrahi, well okay, people can argue about that, I can’t have a fixed opinion on that one way or another,” he says. “So on the theory that the bomb went from Malta to Frankfurt to London and on, I’m happy with that. Who instigated that, however, I don’t know.”

Operation Autumn Leaves poses the biggest questions around the Lockerbie case, Todd feels. The operation took place just two months before Lockerbie, and saw German security services bust a PFLP-GC terror cell in Frankfurt. A number of bombs were found, with at least one inside a Toshiba Bombeat radio cassette recorder, making it almost identical to the Lockerbie bomb. Some relatives of the British victims believe the similarities are too stark to be easily explained away.

The initial stages of the police inquiry into Lockerbie focused on the PFLP-GC. There’s been speculation that Libyan agents may have been connected to the Palestinian terror cell. Former head of CIA counter-terrorism, Vincent Cannistraro, who worked on Lockerbie, believed the PFLP-GC planned the attack on behalf of Iran. There’s a theory that after the Autumn Leaves arrests, the plot was sub-contracted to Libyan intelligence.

Operation Autumn Leaves, Todd says, “was very much the focus initially. There were similarities there. It was the Malta connection that moved the investigation away from Palestinians towards Libya”.

The forensics, he believes, point clearly to ‘the Malta connection’ but, he feels, questions remain, due to events such as Operation Autumn Leaves, about the wider geopolitical motivations behind the crime and whether Libya may have acted for another organisation or state. “We didn’t say that our evidence pointed directly to Megrahi because it doesn’t, it points directly to Mary’s House selling the material that went into the bomb case. Somebody obviously got those trousers from Mary’s House, who that somebody is, is not for the FEL to say.”

On the timer, Todd adds: “The FEL only ever made conclusions in respect to the fragment belonging to the timer. We never made any conclusions regarding Libya and that’s kind of the overall point. The FEL looks at the evidence and says what the evidence shows, and in Lockerbie we didn’t make any conclusions about ‘this must have been Libya who did it’ … Right from day one is was clearly going to be very political and that will never go away.”

Todd believes “you’d have to be deluded or a liar to think that everything is known that we can know about Lockerbie. I wouldn’t claim that for a second”. So does Todd think the truth will ever be known? “Personally, no. I think it’s a bit like JFK. It’ll never go away, there will always be another angle.”

Does he think Megrahi ‘did it’? “I don’t know. It’s not for me to say. The evidence pointed, it seems to me, to Libya. That’s it.”

At the time of Lockerbie, Todd was a junior investigator. It was his two bosses who worked solely on the investigation. Today, “there would certainly be many more people working on it”, Todd explains. “It was realised very early on that it was likely to become very political, and they were deliberately told to keep it within themselves and so they didn’t use as much help as they otherwise might.”

However, he insists this in no way hampered the investigation’s integrity. “It might have made the investigation a bit longer than it needed to be, but the integrity is beyond question.”

The FEL has been accused of cover-up over Lockerbie. Todd remains furious about such claims. “All that mud was slung and it makes me really angry,” he says. He does, however, empathise with the families of relatives who don’t believe the official version of events and continue their search for truth. Todd feels they remain tragically “trapped in the moment in 1988” when their loved ones died. “My heart goes out to them but that isn’t a place from which you can be entirely objective,” he adds.

Does he think reports of Tony Gauci receiving payments fed conspiracy theories? “Possibly, but as forensic scientists we ignore that and let the police get on with what they do and we do our stuff. Gauci – is he reliable? Nothing to do with us really.”

The FEL’s work on Lockerbie, Todd maintains, “was a wonderful bit of forensic investigation. It was tremendous”. Before he retired, he complied an extensive study on Lockerbie for his staff so they could learn from the investigation. Today, nobody who worked on the bombing is still at the explosives lab. “The expertise cannot be lost,” he says. “Once I left all that expertise would have been gone.”

Forensics teams faced an unimaginably complex task with Lockerbie. A bomb in a cassette recorder, in a suitcase, inside a luggage container, within the hold of a jet exploded over Scotland, scattering debris from coast to coast.

Astonishingly, Todd explains, the components of a bomb “don’t get vaporised”. Rather it shatters into microscopic fragments. Search teams recovered every scrap of debris from the ruined plane. Once all debris was gathered and sorted into batches – bits of wing, under-carriage or fuselage – “you then start looking for specific explosive damage”.

Examining luggage containers seemed “a good place to start” as the theory was that the bomb had been in the airplane’s hold. “Fairly soon, we found bits of a luggage container which showed explosive damage known as micro-cratering.” That meant the luggage container had been peppered with tiny particles of exploding bomb. A timer fragment was also found, and scraps of the tell-tale trousers from Malta – completing the main elements of the forensics case.

Todd is courageous enough to own up to the fact that he’s made forensic mistakes, though. During the investigation into whether Portuguese Prime Minister Francisco de Sa Carneiro had been assassinated by a bomb on a plane, Todd accidentally cross-contaminated evidence with explosive residue. As soon as he realised his mistake, however, he admitted it right away. “Always hold your hands up,” he says. “Never cover anything up. Everyone makes mistakes at some point.”

While he admits that forensic science isn’t perfect because “people are humans and humans make mistakes and so no process can ever be 100% reliable”, he’s clear that no FEL staff would, in his opinion, ever act in a corrupt way by manipulating, planting or covering up evidence.

[RB: Cliff Todd paints a very rosy picture of the work of FEL in the Lockerbie case. As I wrote on 11 August 2021 in an item headed The Forensic Explosives Laboratory and the Lockerbie case  "Anyone familiar with the forensic scientific evidence provided by FEL in the Lockerbie case may be forgiven for regarding today's tribute with a distinct measure of scepticism." A further item headed The same bad science and the same bad scientists sets out the views of Gareth Peirce on the work of the laboratory in a number of high-profile cases, including Lockerbie.]

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Widespread implications for the meaning of justice

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today in the Irish Mirror:]

Oscar-nominated film director Jim Sheridan wanted to work again with Daniel Day-Lewis in his next drama – but the actor wouldn’t come out of retirement.

Sheridan is spearheading a new Sky drama with his daughter Kirsten on the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which will be based on the search for justice by Dr Jim Swire and his wife Jane whose 23-year-old daughter Flora died in the Scottish air disaster.

The Mirror can reveal Sheridan is busy casting for the highly-anticipated project – but wanted Daniel Day-Lewis to play a lead role in the drama, after the pair worked together in Sheridan’s award-winning My Left Foot.

Day-Lewis retired in 2017 saying: "It was something I had to do".

He said at the time: “I need to believe in the value of what I’m doing. The work can seem vital. Irresistible, even. And if an audience believes it, that should be good enough for me. But, lately, it isn’t." (...)

Set for release next year, the five-part TV series Lockerbie is in the early stages of production – but Jim and Dr Swire are writing all episodes of Lockerbie, while Naomi Sheridan will guest-write one.

On December 20, 1988, all 259 passengers and crew died when a bomb planted on board Pan Am Flight 103, from Frankfurt, Germany to Detriot, exploded.

A further 11 residents in the town of Lockerbie also died when the plane crashed, bringing the total number of fatalities to 270.

Dr Swire campaigned for the truth behind the attack as he fought for justice as he was a spokesperson for UK Families Flight 103, a group of families who lost relatives in the bombing.

In 1990, in a bid to demonstrate a lax in airport security, Swire carried a fake bomb onto an British Airways flight from London Heathrow to JFK in New York and then on a plane from New York to Boston.

He lobbied for a solution to the difficulties in bringing the suspects to trial.

During his fight for justice, Dr Swire went on to meet Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, who in 2003 accepted responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the families of the victims. [RB: What Libya accepted was "responsibility for the actions of its officials". The full text can be read here.] 

He later advocated for the retrial and release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was originally convicted for the crime.

The series was commissioned by Gabriel Silver, Director of Commissioning for Drama at Sky Studios and Zai Bennett, Managing Director of Content at Sky UK.

"The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was one of the world’s deadliest terror attacks that continues to have widespread implications for the meaning of justice in the US, Scotland and Libya," said the Sheridans in a previous statement.

"Over 30 years on, this series takes an intimate and very personal look at the aftermath of the disaster, and we are grateful to all of those, particularly Jim and Jane, who have entrusted us to tell their story, and the story of their loved ones, on screen.”

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

How did Pan Am Flight 103 explode?

[This is the headline over an article published yesterday on the Rebellion Research website. It is a fairly typical, superficial, American account of the Lockerbie case. However, it contains the following interesting paragraphs:] 

According to the US Justice Department: 

“In the winter of 1988, [Abu Agila] Masud was summoned by a Libyan intelligence official to meet at that official’s office in Tripoli, Libya, where he was directed to fly to Malta with a prepared suitcase. He did so, where he was met by Megrahi and Fhimah at the airport. After Masud spent approximately three or four days in the hotel, Megrahi and Fhimah instructed Masud to set the timer on the device in the suitcase for the following morning, so that the explosion would occur exactly eleven hours later. 

"According to the affidavit, the suitcase used by Masud was a medium-sized Samsonite suitcase that he used for traveling. Megrahi and Fhimah were both at the airport on the morning of Dec 21, 1988, and Masud handed the suitcase to Fhimah after Fhimah gave him a signal to do so. Fhimah then placed the suitcase on the conveyor belt. Masud then left. He was given a boarding pass for a Libyan flight to Tripoli, which was to take off at 9:00 a.m.” 

The bomb was a hidden plastic explosive concealed inside the audio cassette player within the cargo section, set to be exploded when the plane achieved 31,000 feet high altitude. 

[RB: It appears that the author of the article cannot make up his/her mind whether the explosion was detonated by a pre-set timing device or by a barometric pressure device (or by both?).]

Saturday, 2 April 2022

"Gaddafi and Megrahi both told me he was innocent"

[What follows is excerpted from a long article by Peter Oborne published today on the Middle East Eye website:]

In a wide-ranging interview with Middle East Eye following publication of her memoir, The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi, [Daad] Sharab talked about how the Libyan leader sent her on secret missions around the globe, during which she dealt directly with US President George HW Bush and visited alleged Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi in jail. (...)

Talking to MEE at her London home, Sharab excoriates former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who she says spoke highly of Gaddafi when the pair met privately over an intimate dinner in New York - only to publicly gloat later when the dictator was killed. (...)

She dismisses another western leader who embraced Gaddafi, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as “a vulture hovering over Libya”.

When asked by MEE to explain, she said that Blair “made a deal with Libya to make money for his country, and not to be fair” - an apparent reference to the so-called “deal in the desert”, agreed with a handshake between the leaders in a tent outside Tripoli in 2004.

The deal cemented security and intelligence ties between the countries, including the British-orchestrated rendition of Libyan dissidents by the CIA to Tripoli - and also secured trade and oil deals for British firms.

Sharab says she “never fully trusted” Blair’s motives, even though she says he had a warm relationship with Gaddafi. (...)

Blair’s relationship with Gaddafi had been made possible by Libya’s admission of responsibility in 1999 for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York in 1988, which exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing all 259 passengers and crew, along with 11 people on the ground.

With Libya identified as a possible culprit in the weeks after the bombing, Gaddafi sent Sharab as his envoy to then-US President George HW Bush, who told her to deal not with the United States but with the British.

Eventually a deal was struck, with Libya accepting responsibility and paying $10m to each of the families of the dead in return for the removal of sanctions.

Megrahi, an alleged former Libyan intelligence officer who had been made a suspect in the case since 1991, was handed over to stand trial at a special Scottish court convened in the Netherlands and jailed for life in 2001.

Sharab insists that the deal was “all about money, not justice,” adding that the West needed a “victim to blame”, while Gaddafi wanted “a way out of the mess of sanctions”.

She told MEE that Gaddafi told her “they framed Libya and he had done nothing. He said if he had done it, he would admit it, but he didn’t do it.”

Speculation over who was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing has continued in the decades since Libya admitted responsibility.

In 2014, an Al Jazeera investigation alleged that an Iranian-funded Syria-based Palestinian organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), had carried out the attack to avenge the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by a US warship in the Gulf in 1988.

Sharab is deeply sympathetic to Megrahi, who she visited in prison in Scotland prior to his release on compassionate grounds in 2009 after a terminal cancer diagnosis. He died at home in Tripoli in 2012.

Today she says that the West framed an “innocent man” who resembled a “mild-mannered accountant”.

She attacks Gaddafi’s son Saif for publicly taking credit for Megrahi’s return to Libya. She says he was barely involved in his release and “never once bothered” to visit Megrahi in jail.

MEE put to Sharab the claim, made by Libya’s former justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil in 2011, that Gaddafi personally ordered the bombing.

She replied: “He knows nothing. He was minister when Gaddafi was president. Why would you work with the guy if you were sure he did that?”

“In my eyes,” states Sharab, “Al-Megrahi was the 271st Lockerbie victim.”

She accuses British intelligence of knowing the truth about Megrahi - but covering it up. Asked by MEE for evidence to support this assertion, she said it was “based on what Gaddafi told me and what Megrahi told me in prison. Both said he was innocent. And if Megrahi was guilty Britain would not have released him.”

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Wrongful conviction with falsified evidence

[What follows is taken from the Very Rev Prof Iain Torrance's obituary of the Rev Dr John Cameron in today's edition of The Scotsman:]

In retirement, desperate to maintain an active brain, he turned to the newspapers. Over the years he took pleasure in being able to reach more people through his letters than he ever did from the pulpit and built a loyal following. He used to send these to me, always with the email heading, ‘Warblings’ or ‘More Warblings’. He was particularly proud to have supported his friend Margo Macdonald in her efforts to legalise Assisted Dying in this country, as well as Abdul Basset Ali al-Megrahi and his wrongful conviction of the Lockerbie bombing with falsified evidence. And I know that Abdul Basset Ali al-Megrahi used to send John Christmas cards from Barlinnie in gratitude for his kindness.

Friday, 18 March 2022

New TV series on Lockerbie bombing

[What follows is the text of a report published today on the website of the Dumfries and Galloway Standard:]

A new five-part TV mini series based on bereaved father Dr Jim Swire’s search for justice over the Lockerbie bombing is being created.

To be called “Lockerbie,” it is being written by Academy Award nominees Jim Sheridan (In The Name of The Father, My Left Foot) and Kirsten Sheridan (In America, Dollhouse) with information from the book The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father’s Search for Justice which was written by Dr Swire and Peter Biddulph, along with multiple other sources.

Dr Swire and his wife Jane lost their beloved daughter, Flora, in the air disaster in 1988 and have been outspoken activists in the search for “truth and justice” over the bombing ever since.

Dr Swire is also no stranger to Lockerbie which he has visited on a number of occasions and was at the 30th anniversary memorial service in Dryfesdale Cemetery.

His campaign has taken him to the sand dunes of Libya to meet face-to-face with Colonel Gaddafi, to 10 Downing Street to meet with successive Prime Ministers and to the corridors of power in the US where he worked with the American victims’ groups to mount pressure on Washington for tighter airport security, well before 9/11.

The series is expected to air in 2023 on Sky in the UK, Ireland, Germany and Italy. It will stream on Peacock in the US. NBC Universal Global Distribution will be handling international sales.

It is expected to explore events from 1988 to the present day, “while providing an intimate account of a man, a husband, and a father who pushes his marriage, his health and his sanity to the edge”.

Writers Jim and Kirsten said: “The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was one of the world’s deadliest terror attacks that continues to have widespread implications for the meaning of justice in the US, Scotland and Libya.

“Over 30 years on, this series takes an intimate and very personal look at the aftermath of the disaster and we are grateful to all of those, particularly Jim and Jane, who have entrusted us to tell their story and the story of their loved ones, on screen.”

Sunday, 6 March 2022

Dad of Lockerbie victim 'will never stop trying to get the truth'

[This is part of the headline over a report published today on the Daily Record website. It reads in part:]

Lockerbie campaigner Dr Jim Swire has said he’s behind a new TV drama about the atrocity because he will never stop trying to get to the truth.

His daughter Flora, 23, was a passenger on Pan Am Flight 103 that blew up 31,000ft above Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground.

Thirty-three years on from Britain’s worst terror attack, Jim and his wife Jane, 82, are helping with a new Sky mini-series based on his memoir and the couple’s tireless search for justice.

Jim, 85, said: “When I first decided I would risk going to see Colonel Gaddafi, who I and everyone else believed was virtually the devil-incarnate and the originator of the atrocity at Lockerbie, I remember wondering, ‘What would Flora think of me if I should die now?’

“I’m sure she would have thought, ‘At least my father is trying to find out the truth about why I was murdered.’

“This TV series is another part of that journey and I’m sure Flora would approve of it too.”

Just after the tragedy, some family members of those who died launched a campaign for truth and justice.

Jim became the public face of the group and accused the UK and US governments of a cover-up.

His investigations and ongoing battle to uncover what happened saw him not only meet Gaddafi several times but meet successive prime ministers and even befriend Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who he believes was wrongly convicted of the bombing.

Last year he published a memoir with writer Peter Biddulph, The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father’s Search For Justice.

The story has inspired a five-part TV series which will be written by Academy Award nominee Jim Sheridan, who directed My Left Foot, and his daughter Kirsten Sheridan.

The drama will focus on Jim – and how his fight for justice pushed his marriage, health and sanity to the edge. (...)

Jim, who has a family home on Skye, said: “If we can draw attention to the failures that happened in this case, and if we can do anything to improve on those failures, then that’s always worth striving for, even if it brings a little discomfort to those who lost loved ones in this catastrophe.”

Screenwriters Jim and Kirsten said: “Over 30 years on, this series takes an intimate and very personal look at the aftermath of the disaster, and we are grateful to all of those, particularly Jim and Jane, who have entrusted us to tell their story, and the story of their loved ones, on screen.”

Thursday, 3 March 2022

Just fancy that ...

This is the headline over a letter in the current issue of Private Eye I am grateful to John Ashton for drawing it to my attention.

John's Cover Up of Convenience co-author was, of course Ian (not David) Ferguson.

Friday, 25 February 2022

Lockerbie bombing TV drama to go into production this year

[This is the headline over a report published in today's edition of The Scotsman. It reads in part:]

A major new TV drama based on the Lockerbie bombing and the long search for justice by Dr Jim Swire and his family is to go into production this year.

Sky is joining forces with an American streaming service to make the five-part series, which is expected to be aired next year.

It is being written by Oscar nominees Jim and Kirsteen Sheridan, the Irish father-and-daughter writers and directors, whose credits include In The Name of the Father and In America.

The series will explore the impact of the disaster on the Swire family following the loss of their 23-year-old daughter Flora in the disaster.

It has been announced less than a year after the publication of a book charting Dr Swire’s efforts to establish the truth about Lockerbie.

He has led a campaign that maintains the only man ever convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. (...)

As well as Sky and Peacock (NBC Universal’s streaming service) the Lockerbie drama is also being co-produced with the Universal Studio Group.

An official announcement on the series from Sky and Peacock states: “All 259 passengers and crew were killed when the bomb exploded over Lockerbie 38 minutes after take-off, with a further 11 residents losing their life as the plane came down over the quiet, Scottish town.

"Thirteen years later, in 2001, Libyan national Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of the crime and later released on compassionate grounds in 2009.

“Shortly after the Lockerbie bombing, one of the worst terrorist attacks in history, some families of the victims joined together to launch a campaign for truth and justice.

"Among them was Dr Jim Swire, whose campaign has taken him to the sand dunes of Libya to meet face-to-face with Colonel Gaddafi, to 10 Downing Street to meet with successive prime ministers and to the corridors of power in the US where he worked with the American victims’ groups to mount pressure on Washington for tighter airport security, well before 9/11.”

Jim and Kirsteen Sheridan said: “The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was one of the world’s deadliest terror attacks that continues to have widespread implications for the meaning of justice in the US, Scotland and Libya.

“Over 30 years on, this series takes an intimate and very personal look at the aftermath of the disaster, and we are grateful to all of those, particularly Jim and Jane, who have entrusted us to tell their story, and the story of their loved ones, on screen.”

Jim Sheridan has been linked with a Lockerbie film or drama for years.

Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter in 2014, two years after Megrahi passed away, he said: “It’s scary what they didn’t reveal to us at the time. It doesn’t really matter, the people are dead and you can’t bring them back to life. But in the future, we need clear investigations of these things.”

Monday, 31 January 2022

How long, O Lord, how long?

Twenty-one years ago today the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist convicted Abdelbaset al-Megrahi of the murder of 270 people in the Lockerbie disaster (and acquitted Lamin Fhimah). The unjustness of the Megrahi conviction was demonstrated in two of the earliest postings on this blog: see Lockerbie: A satisfactory process but a flawed result and The SCCRC Decision. The conviction has also since then been fatally undermined by John Ashton’s Megrahi: You are my Jury and Dr Morag Kerr’s Adequately Explained by Stupidity? Just how much longer are we going to have to wait until this shameful blot on the Scottish criminal justice system is expunged?

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Explain guilty verdict at Lockerbie trial

[This is the headline over a letter by Rev Dr John Cameron published today on the website of The Courier and Advertiser. It reads as follows:]

The guilty verdict issued on January 31 2001 by the three Scottish judges – Lords Sutherland, Coulsfield and Maclean – at the conclusion of the Pan Am 103 trial was unsound by all normal legal criteria. After 84 days of controversy, questionable evidence as well as weeks of adjournments, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi was found guilty of the atrocity while his sole alleged accomplice, Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted on all charges.

In their 82-page verdict, the three law lords – who had acted not only as judge and jury but all too often as prosecutor – exposed the weakness of the prosecution case and how they ignored a mass of contradictory forensic and circumstantial evidence when it suited them to bring a guilty verdict against Megrahi. Significantly they rejected out of hand the defence argument that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) was responsible.

Initial police investigations suspected it was a reprisal for the shooting down of an Iranian plane with 290 civilians on board by the US warship Vincennes six months before Lockerbie. There was a money trail between Iran and the Syrian-backed PFLP-GC however, in 1990, then-US president George H Bush placed huge pressure on Margaret Thatcher to drop this line of inquiry.

Mrs Thatcher later refused a public inquiry on the grounds that it was against the “national interest”.

The question remains as to why there was such a discrepancy between the standards applied to defence arguments implicating Iran, Syria et al and those employed by the prosecution against the two Libyans. The latter’s case was just as circumstantial and unconvincing, a fact acknowledged in part by the acquittal of Fhimah.

I suspect an explanation as to why a guilty verdict was delivered lies far in the future and should be sought in the political rather than the judicial arena.