Relatives of Lockerbie victims were denied their final chance of discovering the truth yesterday when the only man convicted of the atrocity abruptly dropped his appeal.
The decision of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, who is expected to be freed from prison in Scotland next week allowing his return to Libya, sparked charges of a top-level cover-up.
Politicians, relatives and experts accused the Scottish government of striking a deal with the convicted terrorist: that in return for his repatriation he would abandon an appeal that might have exposed a grave miscarriage of justice. “It’s pretty likely there was a deal,” said Oliver Miles, a former British Ambassador to Libya, who told The Times that the British and Scottish governments had been very anxious to avoid the appeal.
Christine Grahame, a member of the Scottish Parliament, said: “There are a number of vested interests who have been deeply opposed to this appeal because they know it would go a considerable way towards exposing the truth behind Lockerbie.”
Robert Black, the Edinburgh law professor who was one of the architects of al-Megrahi’s trial before a special Scottish court in the Netherlands, said: “There would have been strong pressure from civil servants in the justice department and the Crown Office to bring this appeal to an end . . . I’m convinced they have never wanted it to go the full distance. Legitimate concerns about the events leading up to his conviction will not be heard.” (...)
The Libyan’s decision to drop his appeal gives Mr MacAskill the slightly less controversial option of transferring him to a Libyan jail under a prisoner transfer agreement that Britain and Libya finalised in April. Such transfers cannot take place until all legal proceedings have ended.
Either way the Obama Administration will be angered, and the victims’ relatives will be deprived of an appeal that they saw as their last chance, short of the independent public inquiry that they have long demanded, of finding out who really killed their sons, daughter, spouses and parents when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie in December 1988.
They and other experts have long doubted the evidence used to convict al-Megrahi and asked how a single man could have carried out such a deadly attack. They have questioned whether Syria or Iran was really responsible. (...)
Pamela Dix, of Woking, Surrey, whose brother died in the bombing, said she felt “great disappointment . . . At the moment there is no other process or procedure ongoing to tell us how the bombing was carried out, why it was done, the motivation for it and who ordered it.”
Martin Cadman, of Burnham Market in Norfolk, who lost his son, said: “If this means that this is the end of the story then I’m very disappointed. It’s been nearly 21 years since the event and where are we? Nowhere.”
Al-Megrahi’s lawyers said he had dropped his appeal because his health had deteriorated sharply, though Scottish law would permit the appeal to continue even after his death.
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, strenuously denied that any pressure had been put on him. “We have no interest in pressurising people to drop appeals. Why on earth should we? That’s not our position — never has been,” he said.
But the Scottish government faced a wave of scepticism. Mr Miles called al-Megrahi’s original trial “deeply flawed” and said that both Scottish and British governments wanted no appeal because it would be very embarrassing.
Ms Grahame, a backbench member of Mr Salmond’s Scottish Nationalist Party, had visited al-Megrahi in prison and said he was desperate to clear his name. She claimed to have seen a leaked e-mail from the Scottish justice department showing that senior officials were pressing him to drop his appeal.
Tam Dalyell, the former Labour MP who has long proclaimed al-Megrahi’s innocence, said: “If he abandons his appeal, it means that Lockerbie will be one of those mysteries like the assassination of President Kennedy that will remain unsolved for a long time — possibly forever.”
He added: “It would come as a mighty relief to officials at the Crown Office in Edinburgh, to certain officials in the stratosphere of Whitehall, and above all to officials in Washington.”
[The above are excerpts from a report in The Times. The full text can be read here.]