Monday, 23 January 2017

Lockerbie judges “misdirected themselves”

[What follows is the text of a report that was published on the website of The Guardian on this date in 2002:]

The Libyan jailed for the Lockerbie bombing today launched his appeal against his conviction.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was found guilty of carrying out the 1988 atrocity in a lengthy trial at a specially-convened Scottish court in Holland last year.

But Megrahi's lawyers say that fresh evidence has since emerged which casts doubt on the guilt of the Libyan, who was ordered to serve a minimum of 20 years in prison.

The defence team opened its case this morning at the beginning of the appeal hearing, at the same special Scottish Court at Camp Zeist in Holland were he was convicted.

Megrahi, 49, who has been held in prison at the camp, a former US air base, since being sentenced last January, was granted leave to appeal in August.

A panel of five judges, headed by Lord Cullen, the Lord Justice General, was selected last week to hear the appeal, which is expected to last about three weeks.

Megrahi's lawyers issued a nine-page submission at the start of today's hearing, detailing their grounds for appeal.

The defence will launch a new attack on the evidence of Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who identified Megrahi as a man who had bought clothing at his store a few weeks before the bombing. The clothing was packed in the same suitcase as the bomb.

Defence lawyers at the trial had questioned the reliability of Mr Gauci's evidence, and the panel of judges admitted he had not made an "absolutely positive" identification of Megrahi either in court or from photographs. There was no jury, and the judges decided the verdict in the case.

According to the prosecution's version of events, which was accepted by the judges in the trial, the suitcase carrying the bomb was loaded on to a plane in Malta. From there it was taken via Frankfurt to Heathrow, where it was loaded onto Pan Am flight 103.

Megrahi's defence team has always insisted the bomb suitcase was more likely to have been placed on board the plane at Heathrow and wants to introduce new evidence to support that claim.

The defence has fresh testimony from Heathrow security guard Ray Manly, who has claimed there was a break-in at the baggage area at the airport on December 21 1988, the same day Pan Am flight 103 took off from there bound for America.

William Taylor QC said that with the exception of the new evidence, the grounds of appeal constituted criticisms of the findings of the judges in their 82-page opinion, which was issued at the end of the original trial.

Mr Taylor said: "A judgment of this sort has never in modern times been issued in a criminal trial in this country." He added that he intended to show that the three judges had effectively misdirected themselves as jurors and led to a miscarriage of justice.

He said that a reasonable jury in an ordinary trial could not have reached that verdict if it was given proper directions by the judge.

Alan Turnbull QC, for the Crown, argued that the evidence was not sufficient to justify being heard in the appeal.

All 259 passengers and crew on Pan Am 103, as well as 11 people on the ground, were killed when the plane was blown out of the sky over the Dumfries and Galloway town in December 1988.

Megrahi's co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, a former station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines, was acquitted at the end of the original trial after the judges ruled there was no evidence he had helped plant the bomb.

Today's hearing made legal history as its opening scenes were shown live on television and the Internet, although broadcasters will be subject to a number of restrictions, including a ban on televising evidence from witnesses.

Yesterday the Foreign Office said US, British and Libyan government officials had met earlier this month to discuss compensation for the victims of the bombing. A spokesman said the talks, on January 10, had been held in a "constructive atmosphere".

No comments:

Post a Comment