Tuesday 28 April 2015

Critical inferences not sufficiently supported by evidence

[The appeal permitted by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission began at the High Court of Justiciary on this date in 2009, twenty-two months after the SCCRC reported and five years and seven months after Abdelbaset Megrahi’s application to the SCCRC was submitted.

A report in The Herald of 28 April 2009 reads in part:]

A previously-unseen witness statement is expected to undermine the identification of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, the long-awaited appeal which begins today will unveil. (...)

These will include the previously unseen statement of David Wright, a friend of Tony Gauci, the Maltese shop owner whose identification of Megrahi was crucial to the conviction.

Mr Wright allegedly gave a "remarkably" similar description of a sale made at Mr Gauci's shop in Malta to the one used to implicate Megrahi. He gave a statement to English officers in December 1989.

A source said: "The new witness provides an account which is startling in its consistency with Mr Gauci's account of the purchase but adds considerable doubt both to the date of the purchase and the identification by Mr Gauci of Megrahi as the purchaser." (...)

The hearing before the Scottish Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh, is due to sit for four weeks at a time with a month's break in between.

The defence team will question why the original trial excluded the incrimination of a terrorist cell that was operating in Germany shortly before the tragedy and why an inconsistent witness paid financial reward, could have been credible.

They will raise concerns about the trial's exclusion of the defence case to incriminate Abu Talb, who was subsequently convicted in Sweden of terrorist offences, and other members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), the terrorist cell that was operating in Germany before the Lockerbie bombing.

They will argue that his right to a fair trial has been breached and that the original case was not proven.

The appeal will also scrutinise the trial court's finding that the suitcase carrying the bomb was put on the plane at Luqa airport in Malta.

The case was referred back to the appeal court in June 2007, following a long investigation by the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission which concluded it may have been a miscarriage of justice on six separate points.

However, Megrahi, who is suffering from terminal prostate cancer, could be transferred home to Libya under an agreement being rushed through parliament by Jack Straw, the UK Justice Secretary. While he is keen to clear his name in court, there is concern that he may not survive the long appeal process.

[A report later the same day on the BBC News website reads in part:]

Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi, 57, who has prostate cancer, was not in court as his second appeal got under way.

However his QC, Maggie Scott, said he could follow proceedings via live video link to Greenock Prison.

She told the Court of Appeal that it remained Megrahi's view that he had suffered a "miscarriage of justice". (...)

Miss Scott said that because of his cancer Megrahi would need to take breaks due to the pain and was set to see doctors later this week for a new course of treatment.

She told the court: "The appellant's position is that there has been a miscarriage of justice.

"The trial court, on the basis of wholly circumstantial evidence, concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant was involved in the commission of this crime.

"Our submission is it was wrong to do so".

She argued that the guilty verdict against Megrahi depended upon four "critical inferences" drawn at his trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

Miss Scott said these included that Megrahi was the buyer of clothing remnants of which were found in the suitcase containing the bomb and that the purchase was made on 7 December, 1988.

She said it was also inferred that the purchaser knew the purpose for which the clothing was bought and that the suitcase containing the improvised explosive device was "ingested" at Luqa airport in Malta.

The defence counsel argued that they were not sufficiently supported by accepted evidence and relied on defective reasoning.

She said: "In this wholly circumstantial case the critical inferences are not the only reasonable inferences that could have been drawn from the accepted evidence."

She said they were insufficient in law to support the guilty verdict returned against Megrahi.

The first part of his hearing is expected to last four weeks with further stages in the process taking it into next year.

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