Saturday 17 September 2016

Only a child would believe such a story

[What follows is the text of a report published in The Scotsman on this date in 2008:]

Two leading authorities on the Lockerbie trial have called for a new public inquiry to reinvestigate the atrocity, which killed 270 people nearly 20 years ago.

Dr Hans Koechler, the United Nations observer at the trial, has been strongly critical of the original proceedings and conviction of Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who is serving life for the killings.

Professor Robert Black, professor emeritus of Scots Law at Edinburgh University and an adviser on setting up the trial in the Netherlands, has also spoken out against the hearing.

Both now expect Megrahi, who is seeking to appeal his sentence, to be sent home to Libya and fear the circumstances of the tragedy and who is responsible could remain a mystery.

This week they will urge the Scottish legal system to assert its independence and re-examine the case, and were in Skye yesterday, on the invitation of campaigners.

Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie on 21 December, 1988, killing all 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 people on the ground. After a three-year investigation by Dumfries and Galloway Police and the FBI, indictments for murder were issued for Megrahi and al-Amin Khalifah Fhimah.

They were tried at a Scottish court convened at Kamp Zeist in the Netherlands. Fhimah was acquitted but Megrahi was sentenced to 27 years in jail.

Last year the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission said Megrahi had grounds for an appeal, including a possible miscarriage of justice because the Crown had not disclosed a document which an unidentified country had provided to the UK government in 1996.

Dr Koechler said the Kamp Zeist trial was not independent or impartial, and that the presence of FBI agents in the court added to the "appearance of outside influence". He also said there is evidence "rewards" involving millions of dollars were paid to prosecution witnesses.

He added: "Irrespective of the outcome of the current appeal, there should be a reinvestigation of the incident by the Scottish authorities." This, he said, should be at least another fatal accident inquiry, but a wider-ranging public inquiry would be more appropriate.

"It is extremely frustrating that with regard to such an incident just one person has been presented as the culprit and no further questions asked. Only a child would believe such a story."

Prof Black said Megrahi could go home if his appeal succeeds or if a fair appeal cannot be achieved. He said he is not convinced there is the political will to have the case reinvestigated, but added: "One of the things we have been trying to do is to insert some backbone into those politicians who have the power to make it happen."

Vocal and influential critic of 'flawed' case
Dr Hans Koechler's forensic dismantling of the legal procedure of the Lockerbie trial has led to him becoming a leading critic of the case.

The president of the Vienna-based International Progress Organisation was the only international observer to submit comprehensive reports on the trial and appeal proceedings to the Secretary General of the United Nations. These in turn were forwarded to the Registrar of the Scottish Court in the Netherlands.

Their publication triggered international debate, including in the House of Commons.

He said the initial trial verdict which acquitted one of the accused was "inconsistent" and "arbitrary". He also said the rejection of Megrahi's initial appeal was a "spectacular miscarriage of justice".

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