Sunday, 5 March 2017

Differentiating between personal opinions and scientific fact

[On this date in 1997 Tam Dalyell MP asked a question in the House of Commons arising out of the soon-to-be-published US Department of Justice Inspector-General’s report The FBI Laboratory: An Investigation into Laboratory Practices and Alleged Misconduct in Explosives-Related and Other Cases. An FBI internal memo subsequent to that report contained the following:

"It is clear that SSA Thurman does not understand the scientific issues involved with the interpretation and significance of explosives and explosives residue composition. He therefore should realise this deficiency and differentiate between his personal opinions and scientific fact. An expert's opinion should be based upon objective, scientific findings and be separated from personal predilections and biases. (...) SSA Thurman acted irresponsibly. He should be held accountable. He should be disciplined accordingly".

The exchange in the House of Commons reads as follows:]

HC Deb 05 March 1997 vol 291 cc883-4
Mr. Dalyell To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, pursuant to the letter of the Lord Advocate to the hon Member for Linlithgow of 14 February, by whom the allegations were considered and the conclusions drawn that proof of the Scottish case against the two accused Libyans did not depend on evidence that Mr Thurman might give.
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) The allegations concerning Mr Thurman are a matter for the United States authorities. I am advised that the United States inspector general's report, after investigation of the allegations, has not yet been published. When the American allegations became known, Mr Thurman's role in the Lockerbie case was considered by the then Lord Advocate, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry. As long ago as October 1995, he advised the hon. Gentleman that proof of the Lockerbie case does not depend on evidence that Mr Thurman might give.
Mr. Dalyell Now we know that the Crown Office has slavishly followed information from the United States. At the time, did the Americans know that Mr Thurman would be accused and lose his job for having fabricated forensic evidence? If it was not Mr Thurman, who was it?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Obviously, the Law Officers are well aware of the allegations. However, the report has not been published, and it would be wrong to prejudge its outcome. I repeat what I have already said: the Lord Advocate has never suggested that Mr Thurman did not play a significant part in the investigation. The Lord Advocate and his predecessor have chosen their words carefully in saying that the case does not depend on evidence that Mr Thurman might give.
Sir Hector Monro Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those who live in Lockerbie or, like me, near it firmly believe that the investigations conducted by the Dumfries and Galloway police, the procurator fiscal and the Lord Advocate show that the alleged criminals in Libya must be brought to book in a court in Scotland or the United States, and that diversions to other possible suspects only cause harm?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton I agree with my right hon Friend. I was at Lockerbie literally within hours of the tragedy and atrocity. I believe that the Law Officers would not have brought forward the accusations if they had not been based on very strong evidence.
Dr Godman Despite the excellent work done by the police force mentioned by the right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H Monro) and the Prime Minister's acknowledgement to me, some months ago, that any such trial will be held in Scotland and not in America, when will the Minister admit that it is highly unlikely that any such trial will take place at the High Court in Edinburgh? Almost nine years have passed since the terrible affair at Lockerbie, yet we are no nearer to bringing the culprits to trial. Why have the Government failed so signally in the matter?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Those issues could well be addressed to the Libyan Government. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), made it clear at the Dispatch Box last Friday that we should look to the Libyan Government to assist with the investigation. He went on to say: Libya's record of state sponsorship of terrorism is, rightly, a matter of deep and abiding concern."—[Official Report, 28 February 1997; Vol 291, c 603.] I reject arguments for a third-country trial for the case, which could suggest that a trial in Scotland or the United States would not be fair. We cannot allow alleged terrorists to determine where they are tried.
Mr John Marshall Everyone agrees that the Lockerbie disaster was a great human tragedy. Is it not incumbent on hon Members to congratulate the Scottish police on their investigation, to emphasise that Scottish justice would be even-handed between the alleged criminals and the forces of law, and to condemn those in the House who act as apologists for the evil terrorists of Libya?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton I have confidence in the Scottish system of criminal justice, which is one of the best in the world. I do not believe that attempts to have a trial elsewhere in Europe would succeed. The Libyans have given no indication that they would co-operate with such attempts.
Mr Dalyell On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I shall try to get my 11th Adjournment debate on the subject.

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