Wednesday 27 January 2016

Lockerbie and the claims of Magnus Linklater

[On 6 January 2016 an article by Magnus Linklater headlined We can be confident that the Scottish prosecutors got the right man appeared in the Scottish Review. On 23 January John Ashton responded to that article on his Megrahi: You are my Jury website. In The Cafe section of today’s issue of the Scottish Review John Ashton and Dr Morag Kerr reply as follows to the Linklater article:]

Magnus Linklater’s article on the Lockerbie case 'We can be confident that the Scottish prosecutors got the right man’ (6 January) makes a number of inaccurate claims, including the suggestion that, when writing the biography of the alleged bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, I deliberately suppressed evidence that was unfavourable to Mr Megrahi.

This was that on the morning of the bombing, and on a couple of occasions prior, he shared a flight with Libyan Abouagela Masud, who was alleged by a Libyan witness to be the bomb-maker responsible for the La Belle night club bombing in Berlin in 1986. This particular flight was from Malta, which the prosecution alleged was the launchpad for the bomb.

The book examined the evidence used to convict Mr Megrahi. Like the Scottish Police and prosecutors, I was unaware of Mr Masud’s alleged connection to La Belle until told of it by filmmaker Ken Dornstein well over three years after completing that book. Mr Linklater could easily have checked this with me before defaming me, but chose not to. How, I wonder, could I have suppressed something of which I had no knowledge? My book did not dodge the fact that Mr Megrahi was connected to some unsavoury characters within the Gaddafi regime, including the alleged mastermind of La Belle and Said Rashid, yet Mr Linklater fails to mention this, preferring instead to accuse me of burying inconvenient truths.

As anyone who has followed the Megrahi case knows, it is the Crown that suppressed important evidence – lots of it – all of which was helpful to Mr Megrahi. On this scandal Mr Linklater has consistently remained mute.

He also suggests that my claim that Megrahi suffered a miscarriage of justice is based on speculation, rather than hard evidence. Had he read my book properly, he would see that all of its key claims are founded on hard evidence, the bulk of which was from the Crown’s own files. The same goes for Dr Morag Kerr’s book Adequately Explained by Stupidity?, which he breezily dismisses, without naming it, as having 'no concrete evidence’ to back it up.

He implies that I believe Mr Megrahi was the victim of a giant conspiracy in which judges and lawyers knowingly participated in a miscarriage of justice. As I have repeatedly made clear, including to Mr Linklater, I hold no such belief. If there was a conspiracy to frame Mr Megrahi – a big if, but by no means impossible – I don’t believe it would have involved the knowing participation of the Scottish criminal justice system.

Mr Linklater tells us: 'I like the famous Sherlock Holmes quote: "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth"', yet applies it selectively. Hard evidence that has emerged since Mr Megrahi was convicted demonstrates the impossibility of the main planks of the prosecution case: that Mr Megrahi bought the clothes for the bomb suitcase from a Maltese shop a fortnight before the attack; that the fragment of bomb timer found at Lockerbie matched timers supplied to Libya by Swiss firm Mebo; and that the bomb began its journey In Malta. In contrast, the only evidence to support the conviction in 15 years is that concerning Abouagela Masud.

Two years ago I wrote an open letter to Mr Linklater, which posed a number of questions. He promised to reply, but never did. Maybe he would like to in the Scottish Review – he has had plenty of time to think of answers.

John Ashton

I’m getting more than slightly tired of Magnus Linklater’s repeated attacks on me and my Lockerbie book (Adequately Explained by Stupidity?, Matador 2013). He uses his entrée as a journalist to disparage and dismiss my work over multiple platforms, without at any point addressing the substance of what I have written. His latest sally is perhaps the weakest to date: '...suggestions that Heathrow Airport was where the bomb was loaded again have no concrete evidence to back them; an entire book has been written on the Heathrow connection, but nothing has emerged to give it the kind of validity which would stand up in court'. (In a supreme discourtesy he doesn’t even cite my book by name to allow readers to access it and judge for themselves.)

My book is stuffed to the eyeballs with concrete evidence that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow. I have repeatedly begged proponents of Megrahi’s guilt to explain to me in what way I am mistaken or what inferences I have missed that might admit of any plausible scenario whatsoever whereby the bomb suitcase might have flown in on the feeder flight. Nobody has answered me. I have specifically begged Mr Linklater in person to address this point, but he has ignored me in favour of yet another sally in the press denouncing 'conspiracy theorists'.

He repeatedly states that no evidence has emerged that would stand up in court. I am quite certain that the analysis I present would stand up in court, as would other evidence being highlighted by other interested parties. The problem is that it has not come before any court. Attempts to bring it to court have been mounted and indeed are ongoing, but so far these have been thwarted by procedural obstacles.

It is not enough simply to hand-wave away a detailed, evidence-based and non-conspiratorial dissection of the Lockerbie evidence with vague platitudes about 'nothing has emerged to give it ... validity'. What does he expect to emerge, from where and from whom, before he will do me the courtesy of actually addressing the substance of my thesis? One might imagine that it would be of some interest to a journalist who repeatedly invokes the name of the respected Sunday Times Insight series, but apparently not.

If, as I contend, detailed and logical analysis of the evidence gathered at Lockerbie (with no allegations of fabrication, substitution, evidence-planting, corruption, conspiracy or deliberate malpractice) demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow, not Malta, this flips the entire 'was Megrahi guilty?' conundrum on its head. Rather than placing him at the scene of the crime, it provides him with a rock-solid alibi.

Ken Dornstein’s work, which impresses Mr Linklater so profoundly, relies absolutely and fundamentally on the unexamined assumption that the Lockerbie bomb was introduced at Malta. If it wasn’t, then he might as well produce eye-witness evidence that Elvis was checking in for a flight at Luqa airport that morning for all the relevance it would have. It doesn’t matter if Megrahi knew, or travelled with, or was related to any number of rank bad guys implicated in unrelated atrocities – if the scene of the crime that day was a thousand miles away, he didn’t do it. Worse still, the entire multi-million-pound Lockerbie investigation was up a gum tree from its earliest weeks, and due to its failure to investigate the real scene of the crime we simply have no idea who carried out the atrocity.

I challenge Mr Linklater to put up or shut up. To explain in detail where he thinks the mistakes or omissions are in my analysis that invalidate my conclusion that the bomb suitcase was already in the container an hour before the flight from Frankfurt landed, or to refrain from disparaging my work and myself in print.

Morag Kerr


  1. Excellent reply Morag. The bomb was never put on at Malta, commonsense would ditact that and the barometric timer, yet Linklater and the Crowns Mullholland insist it was, which sugguests some form of collusion here to ensure Megrahi gets the blame. I haven't read your book but you have laid out enough in your letter to convinc3 me that you know what you are talking about. Putting the Lockerbie investigation up a gum tree (re Malta)allowed the real perptrators to cover their tracks. This helped the CIA to proceed with the planned regime change in Libya which was the real purpose from the very start. You laid your case out very well.

  2. I have lost count of the number of times I have read Dr Kerr's 'Adequately Explained by Supidity? Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies', it takes a sledgehammer to the Crown's Libya case as was accepted by the judges to convict Mr al-Megrahi. Unless there is some evidence which was not revealed at the Zeist tribuneral, Dr Kerr's thesis is unassailable and light years beyond reasonable doubt in demonstrating that the bomb was ingested at Heathrow. The manner in which Mr Linklater consistently deals with Dr Kerr's arguments leads me to strongly suspect that he hasn't even gone so far as to read Terry Waite's foreword. Linklater is a mediocre scribbler at best, whose raison d'être is the preservation of the establishment at all costs.

    1. He told me on Twitter that he had read the book, but to be honest I didn't believe him at the time. This was shortly after he'd published an article which significantly misrepresented the content of the book. I suppose he'd had time to read it in between my challenging him and his claim to have read it (he doesn't answer tweets promptly), but I had my doubts.

      That was all some time ago though. The book isn't particularly long, and he's had ample opportunity to read it. It's impossible to tell from what he's writing now. He's stopped claiming that I base my case on Manly's evidence, but that could simply be because John Ashton and I both called him out on it and told him in no uncertain terms this was not the case.

      His dismissal of the book is so off-hand and so vague I really don't know where he's coming from. It's almost as if he's saying, well the Crown Office didn't read it and immediately throw the towel in, so there can't be anything significant in it. Which' coming from someone who claims to value investigative journalism, is quite bizarre.

      In the past week I have tweeted to him three or four times asking him to explain why he thinks I'm wrong, based on the physical evidence, but of course he hasn't responded.

  3. It's not common sense that shows it, or the assumed barometric timer. It's a very precise reconciliation of all the blast-damaged suitcases to their owners and their travel arrangements, and then an equally precise study of the patterns of explosion damage on a number of key items.

    There is no doubt whatsoever that the bomb was in the case Bedford saw in the container at quarter to five, an hour before the feeder flight landed. It may be that this was missed by an inquiry very reluctant, or indeed under some political pressure, not to implicate poor security at Heathrow as the cause of the disaster.

    The Crown Office is currently trying extremely hard not to look at this uncomfortable fact, and not to acknowledge it. They are in a powerful positon of course.