Wednesday 7 March 2012

BBC Scotland and the Maltese mistress

[This is the headline over an article in today’s edition of the Scottish Review by the editor, Kenneth Roy.  It reads in part:]

I woke up on Monday morning to the exciting headline on the BBC:  Lockerbie bomber Megrahi 'visited Malta for sex'

It has taken 23 years for sex and Lockerbie to become strange bedfellows. We have had the deaths of 270 people, the life sentence imposed on the families of the victims (grief, without parole), the trial in the Netherlands, the disputed conviction, the visit of Kenny MacAskill to Greenock prison, compassionate release, the long campaign to prove Megrahi's innocence, Jim Swire's heroic stoicism, Megrahi's refusal to die. Heaven sakes, the story has everything – except sex. But now it's got that too.

Lockerbie bomber Megrahi 'visited Malta for sex'

What was anyone supposed to make of this? Before reading the text, I assumed that Megrahi must have gone there in search of prostitutes. It is conceivable that Malta runs to one or two. 

It wasn't like this. It seems that Megrahi had an extra-marital relationship with a woman on the island, a woman whom the BBC describes as his mistress. How does BBC Scotland know about all this? Ah. It has now 'seen previously secret documents' – a reference to the 800-page unpublished report of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission in which Megrahi makes a frank confession of his infidelity by way of explanation for his visits to Malta.

But just how secret are these documents? They are all over the place. Indeed they form the basis of John Ashton's book, 'Megrahi: You Are My Jury'. In response to a comment in this column, Mr Ashton has written to me to clarify how he acquired access to the SCCRC report: 'I got to see it with Megrahi’s approval, when I worked alongside his legal team. He allowed me to keep it and gave me his authority to present its contents in the book'. Well, that's clear enough. (...)

Of course there is a bit more innuendo to the story than Baset in bed. There is the suggestion that, since he was allowed to visit the island without a passport, a fact previously known to students of the case, he could have been slipping in and out, able to visit Tony Gauci's shop on any number of occasions to buy the clothes to wrap round the explosive device to blow up the aircraft. On the other hand – always a hand worth inspecting in the Lockerbie case – it could be argued that the existence of the mistress removes any hint of a dark ulterior motive for Megrahi's visits to Malta. 

The recent pattern of events has been fascinating. Mr Ashton's book reveals a huge evidential base pointing to Megrahi's innocence. SR then publishes an article by Mr Ashton disclosing for the first time the heavy involvement of the Scottish police in negotiating three million dollar payouts to Gauci and his brother, negotiations with which the Crown Office was familiar but chose to do nothing about. I wouldn't have called it implicit approval of the deals, but it came close. The Scottish media fail to pick up on Mr Ashton's story. Mr Ashton himself confesses to be mystified by the lack of interest. But the Scottish media still can't see past the terms of the compassionate release and the role of the fall guy, Scotland's justice secretary. The huge evidential base is anyway too boring to examine in detail. Let's just have another go at Kenny. Oh, and here's Megrahi in bed with a woman. Fabulous.

It is now clear that the selective unofficial publication of the SCCRC report is taking this case nowhere. It is a dreadful way for any mature democracy, far less one making such grand claims for the future as Scotland's, to conduct itself. The report must be published in full and be available for scrutiny by fair-minded people of all instincts and persuasions so that an intelligent judgement can be formed. The alternative is the present recriprocal bad-mouthing. 

Is this really how we want Scottish justice to be conducted – by leak and smear?

[The following comes from Justice for Megrahi's secretary, Robert Forrester:]

Congratulations to the BBC, they have finally discovered a sex angle to Lockerbie! That certainly ought to be the clincher which proves once and for all that Megrahi did it. Whatever next? It has taken them till now to publicise the fact that Libyans could go back and forth to Malta without passports. This information was freely available to anyone reading John Ashton's book, 'Megrahi: You are my Jury', a week ago. Think too what it says about DCI Bell's detective skills when he was conducting his investigations on Malta all those years ago and failed to discover this. Perhaps if he and his colleagues hadn't been spending so much time getting "pissed" in celebrations and looking after "wee" Toni Gauci to keep him sweet, they might have, but it's doubtful. The facts remain that there is no evidence for the primary suitcase at either Luqa or Frankfurt, the forensics are shot to hell, anything connected with Gauci is like taking a funfair ride on the ghost train, none of the much trumpeted 'new evidence' has been forthcoming from the NTC (with the exception of Abdel-Jalil's spectacular April Fools' Day joke on Newsnight last year) and the Crown is rapidly recutting its cloth with the BBC chipping. This is a very cheap move on their part. And the biggest problem of all? Any member of a paramilitary/terrorist organisation suggesting such a method as the Crown maintain was used to bring down 103 would be quietly shot as a potential liability. Hoping that an unaccompanied item of luggage could evade detection at 3 international airports and end up in exactly the right location in the hold of 103 so that that a 1lb Semtex charge, detonated by the most primitive of timing devices (which has now been established not to have been employed anyway) would destroy the plane is, frankly, bonkers. These people have been watching far too many Mission Impossible films. While the Crown is chasing its tail, perhaps our esteemed media would serve us better by focusing on the reams of evidential problems surrounding the investigation and the prosecution case against Mr al-Megrahi.

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