The guilty verdict issued on January 31 2001 by the three Scottish judges – Lords Sutherland, Coulsfield and Maclean – at the conclusion of the Pan Am 103 trial was unsound by all normal legal criteria. After 84 days of controversy, questionable evidence as well as weeks of adjournments, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi was found guilty of the atrocity while his sole alleged accomplice, Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted on all charges.
In their 82-page verdict, the three law lords – who had acted not only as judge and jury but all too often as prosecutor – exposed the weakness of the prosecution case and how they ignored a mass of contradictory forensic and circumstantial evidence when it suited them to bring a guilty verdict against Megrahi. Significantly they rejected out of hand the defence argument that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) was responsible.
Initial police investigations suspected it was a reprisal for the shooting down of an Iranian plane with 290 civilians on board by the US warship Vincennes six months before Lockerbie. There was a money trail between Iran and the Syrian-backed PFLP-GC however, in 1990, then-US president George H Bush placed huge pressure on Margaret Thatcher to drop this line of inquiry.
Mrs Thatcher later refused a public inquiry on the grounds that it was against the “national interest”.
The question remains as to why there was such a discrepancy between the standards applied to defence arguments implicating Iran, Syria et al and those employed by the prosecution against the two Libyans. The latter’s case was just as circumstantial and unconvincing, a fact acknowledged in part by the acquittal of Fhimah.
I suspect an explanation as to why a guilty verdict was delivered lies far in the future and should be sought in the political rather than the judicial arena.