Monday, 13 August 2012

John Ashton and Steven Raeburn respond to Magnus Linklater

[1. What follows is John Ashton’s response to Magnus Linklater’s article in today’s edition of The Times:]

Magnus Linklater’s article in today’s Scottish edition of The Times, ‘Has Scotland really swallowed this crazy conspiracy?’, misrepresents my position on the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. It claims that I, and certain others who believe that Mr Megrahi was wrongly convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, have alleged a grand conspiracy to frame him and Libya, in which the police, the Crown Office, witnesses, judges, senior politicians and the intelligence services were all complicit. As I pointed out to Mr Linklater at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday, had he read my book, Megrahi: You are my Jury, carefully, he would know that I have done no such thing.

Like the majority of Mr Linklater’s fellow audience members on Saturday, I have not swallowed a crazy conspiracy theory about Mr Megrahi’s conviction. Rather I have noted, among other things, that the Crown failed to disclose to Mr Megrahi’s defence team at least seven key items of exculpatory evidence; that two of the most important Crown witnesses were secretly paid millions of dollars by the US Government; and that the trial court’s judgment was, according to no less an authority than the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, unreasonable. All these facts Mr Linklater’s article omits to mention.

If Megrahi was framed – a big ‘if’, but not inconceivable given their extraordinary antics in the 1980s – it would almost certainly have been done by one of the US intelligence services, without the knowledge of the other protagonists listed by Mr Linklater. It is a matter of public record that during the Eighties the US National Security Council and CIA waged a massive covert campaign against Libya, which involved, among other things, spreading disinformation. During the same decade the same organisations made secret deals with the original prime suspect in the bombing, Iran. One of the Crown’s most important witnesses was revealed to be a CIA informant and prior to Lockerbie the CIA had at least one of the Swiss timing devices that the Libyans were alleged to have used to detonate the bomb. As my book revealed, new forensic evidence proves that the famous fragment of circuit board found within the bomb debris could not have been from one of the timers that, according to the undisputed Crown case, had been supplied to Libya. We don’t know the origin of the fragment, but it is by no means crazy to suggest that it was a plant. According to the head of the FBI’s Lockerbie investigation, Richard Marquise, his opposite number in the Swiss police believed this to be the case.  Indeed, Marquise admitted that this possibility also crossed his mind.

Whatever the truth about the fragment, in my view Mr Megrahi was convicted, not because of a grand conspiracy, but, primarily, because the police, Crown and judges, while no doubt all acting in good faith, failed to pursue the truth objectively. It’s a flaw to which newspaper columnists are equally vulnerable.

[2. What follows is a response to Magnus Linklater from Steven Raeburn, editor of Scottish lawyers’ magazine The Firm:]

Magnus makes some challenging points: thankfully, diligent reporting allows us to go through them. Shall we?
1) Magnus: “To demonstrate that Libya was framed, they have to prove that there was a calculated decision to do so….”
01 Mar 2012 Swire seeks meeting with Cameron: "Deliberate concealment of the truth" in Pan Am 103 case (link)
29 Mar 2011 What's Libya Got to Do With It...? (link)'s_Libya_Got_to_Do_With_It...%3F.html
2) Magnus: “That decision would have had to lead to the planting or suppression of forensic evidence…”
26 Mar 2012 Crown Office under pressure to explain withheld Pan Am 103 evidence (link)
06 Jan 2010 UN explosives consultant says Pan Am 103 circuit board fragment could not have survived explosion (link)
19 Dec 2011 Minister’s testimony ignored for 19 years is “nail in the coffin” of discredited Megrahi conviction (link)
3) Magnus: “the control of witnesses by intelligence services…”
09 Jun 2011 Former Lord Advocate concedes key Pan Am 103 witness was bribed (link)
Exclusive: US Department of Justice won’t rule out investigation into FBI bribery of Pan Am 103 witnesses (link)
4) Magnus: “the approval of senior politicians….
24 May 2011 Exclusive: Guildford Four and Birmingham Six solicitor condemns Tony Blair’s role in the “layers and layers of deceit” in Pan Am 103 case (link)
07 Sep 2011 Megrahi release linkage to oil deals confirmed to BBC (link)
10 Sep 2009 "Al Megrahi was not the Lockerbie bomber" - former UK Ambassador (link)
08 Dec 2010 Political interference in “compassionate” release laid bare (link)
5) Magnus: “the complicity of police officers….”
31 Dec 2011 Scottish police’s “desperate attempts” to block Megrahi miscarriage report to “hide” bribery revelations (link)
Scottish MP Says Lockerbie Evidence Destroyed - Libyan Innocent (link)
6) Magnus: “a prosecution team prepared to bend every rule to secure a conviction….”
27 Oct 2008 Crown Office guilty of "obstructionist wheeze" and "appalling" treatment of Megrahi (link)
22 Dec 2011 “Blinkered” Lord Advocate “failing in his duty” over Pan Am 103 (link)
08 May 2012 Exclusive: Crown Office under fire over “corruption of the trial court” in Pan Am 103 case (link)
7) and a set of senior Scottish judges willing to go along with that….
13 Oct 2010 Justice system "available to manipulation" (link)
02 Oct 2009 Exclusive: Lockerbie judges under pressure to convict, despite unprecedented denial (link)
Now, any good sportsman knows that you should always play the ball, and not the man, but diligence also obliges me to point out a fascinating fact that Magnus Linklater himself revealed to us.
14 Aug 2009 Exclusive: Former Scotsman editor confirms government and CIA influence over Lockerbie investigation
Perhaps Magnus would consider debating these with me [Steven Raeburn] at a public event.


  1. The odd thing about the "timer" fragment, if it was a CIA plant, is why the non-standard tinning? If you're going to plant something you know will be subjected to a full battery of forensics tests, why slip up like that?

    The pure tin tinning is unusual enough to have been remarked on by the Scottish investigators quite early in the process. As the control samples were normal, why make the fake unusual?

    I have no idea what that fragment was and I have no idea whether or not it fell from the sky. All we really know is that it wasn't what the prosecution said it was, and the forensics guy lied about it in court.

    I have no idea what the CIA were up to either. The Frankfurt cops were an incompetent joke. The British cops were scarcely more impressive, and were studiously ignoring what appeared to be the lead of the century (Bedford's evidence) for no readily apparent reason. The CIA? I don't know what they were doing behind the scenes and I don't imagine they're going to tell us.

  2. Most accidents are due to pilot error or mechanical/design faults and seldom due to bombs.

    And yet when I contacted Magnus Linklater many years ago and questioned whether there really was a bomb, he replied it was the first time he had heard and presumably considered that explanation.

    You would expect a News Editor of a distinguished paper to have a far more enquiring mind and not simply rely on official reports and guidance from the CIA.

    Perhaps he is not really puzzled by events at the Edinburgh Book Festival, but simply echoing his Master’s voice in defence of Murdoch’s business interests in America?

    He could prove the contrary by taking up Steven Raeburn’s challenge and by supporting a public inquiry!

  3. Most accidents are due to pilot error or mechanical/design faults and seldom due to bombs.

    Which is of course true. Does that mean we can safely conclude that no plane has ever been brought down by a bomb? Don't be silly.

    The craziest conspiracy theory of the lot is the one that says that when faced with a pretty run-of-the-mill aviation accident, a huge organisation was assembled encompassing everyone from humble evidence-gatherers right through all the ranks of the police and the AAIB and the forensics experts, all to promote the scenario that it was a terrorist attack.

    And all these people submitted false reports and a hell of a lot of them stood up and lied in court under oath. And nobody ever broke ranks, and it was all covered up.

    Why? To conceal an ordinary accident, and pretend to the public that it had been a terrorist attack.

    Never mind the shedload of evidence that there WAS a bomb/IED on that plane, why on earth would anyone in authority prefer a terrorist incident to an accident? It's senseless.

  4. I also spoke to Sir Teddy Taylor and he said he too had not considered the non-bomb explanation. Again this was odd, because the most common causes should be considered, if only to be discounted.

    I believe the reason for this acceptance of the official line is because we trust our own government and because the bomb explanation was an easy sell, in view of the on-going conflict in the Middle-East.

    It is only recently after the lies about Iraq WMDs that this trust has taken a severe blow.

    But Rolfe your right, why lie, why not just tell the truth that it was an accident, which is how both Madeleine Albright and Sir Malcolm Rifkind have described it.

    Perhaps they hoped the issue would just fade away! But it’s the old problem of the cover-up being worse than the lie.

    But if they lie about who did it, why not about what caused it?

  5. Er, because the evidence that a bomb had exploded was scattered all over the landscape and being brought in piecemeal by the search parties?

    Finding out who actually planted the IED/bomb, and how and where, is quite a challenging task. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that they got it wrong. They did get it wrong, actually.

    The evidence that there was an IED/bomb in a suitcase in baggage container AVE4041, near the bottom on the front left-hand side, was and is incontrovertible. The first bits of it were brought in to the investigation headquarters on 24th December, that's just three days after the crash. That's when they realised it was a terrorist incident and not an accident.

    Next you'll be saying it must have been an accident becuse the AAIB investigated it. Maybe murder victims shouldn't be taken to A&E?

  6. Magnus Linklater versus Steven Raeburn. That i'd love to see. All my money would be on Steven. Linklater is part of the problem. Just following orders from above. Go get him Steven you'll beat that "placeman"hands down.