Showing posts sorted by relevance for query "John Ashton". Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query "John Ashton". Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Fear of what they will find

[What follows is the text of a statement issued this morning by Dr Jim Swire and John Ashton:]

Lockerbie: Lord Advocate refuses to answer questions from Jim Swire and John Ashton
At the launch of the book Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters, author John Ashton and Dr Jim Swire released an open letter to the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC.
Their letter said:
In February 2012 John Ashton’s book Megrahi: You are my Jury  was published. It revealed, inter alia, that:
1. The Crown had withheld numerous items of exculpatory evidence from Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s legal team prior to his trial.
2. The most important Crown witness, Tony Gauci, had expressed an interest in being rewarded for his evidence before picking out Mr Megrahi’s photograph from a photospread, and that, subsequent to Mr Megrahi’s conviction, he was paid over $2 million by the USDepartment of Justice.
3. That the bomb-damaged piece of circuit board, known as PT/35b, which, according to the Crown, was from a batch of 20 timers that had been supplied to Libya by the Swiss company Mebo, could not have been from one of those timers.
These revelations were based on Crown evidence, much of it previously undisclosed, and, in the case of 1 & 2, the findings of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. Point 3 was also supported by independent scientists.
In view of the above, we are writing this open letter to ask you the following:
Why did you state that there is no evidence to support the book’s claims and how do you refute points 1 to 3 above?
Why have the three witnesses who attest to point 3 above not been interviewed by the police?
Do you consider that the Crown’s withholding of evidence favourable to Mr Megrahi, as documented by the SCCRC, is compatible with the United Nations International Association of Prosecutors’ standards of professional conduct?
A reply has now been received, not from the Lord Advocate himself, but from the Head of the Crown Office’s serious and organised crime division, Lindsey Miller.
It fails to answer any of the questions.
Dear Dr Swire and Mr Ashton
Thank you for your open letter of 3 October to the Lord Advocate. He has asked me to reply on his behalf.
The Lord Advocate is well aware of his duties as a public prosecutor. As the Crown has stated repeatedly, the only appropriate forum for the determination of guilt or innocence is the criminal court.
The criminal investigation remains live, and the Crown will not make any public comment about the nature of that investigation.
John Ashton said: “A direct question requires a direct answer. Instead, we continue to get evasions. You can only come to the conclusion that the Lord Advocate has no satisfactory answers and is running scared."
Dr Jim Swire said: “Now that there is so much material in the public domain, all who look can see the tragedy of the Crown Office refusal to review their case. How can they deny all errors without looking to see whether those errors are genuine? This is not resolute leadership; I think it must be fear of what they will find when they are eventually forced to look.”

Friday 4 October 2013

Media reports following launch of John Ashton's Scotland's Shame

[The following are excerpts from media reports following upon yesterday’s launch of John Ashton’s Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters:]

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed in the Lockerbie tragedy, has written about the "painful task" of clearing out her room after her death and his struggle to avoid becoming bitter.

In the foreword to a new book by John Ashton, biographer of the Libyan convicted of the bombing, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, Dr Swire describes Flora as "our deeply loved elder daughter" slaughtered "a day short of her 24th birthday". She was on flight PanAm103 because she wished to visit her boyfriend in Boston for Christmas. "If we had only said no..." he writes. "We would still have Flora with us."
Yesterday, at the launch of the book, Scotland's Shame, Dr Swire and Mr Ashton released an open letter to Frank Mulholland, the Lord Advocate, asking why he dismissed new evidence revealed in the [2012] biography of Megrahi, and why the witnesses relating to this evidence have not been questioned. Dr Swire said a public inquiry is the only way to answer the questions and concerns of the relatives of the 270 victims and the only way to hold the Crown Office to account.
The Scottish Government has repeatedly refused and instead called for Westminster to hold an inquiry or for the case to be tested with another appeal in the courts.
Dr Swire and Mr Ashton said an appeal, even if feasible, would not answer questions about the Crown Office's failure to disclose key documents.
The Crown Office said the case is still live and it therefore cannot comment. 
(From The Herald)

Twenty five years after his daughter was killed by the Lockerbie bomb, Jim Swire is to step back from active involvement in the campaign to uncover the full facts about the atrocity.
Dr Swire, 76, a retired GP, is the most prominent spokesman for British families affected by the attack on Pan Am Flight 103. Among the 270 dead was Flora, 23, his daughter, a medical student. He hoped he might find closure when Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi came to trial in 2001.
Instead he was horrified by what he saw as the flimsy case against the Libyan, who was found guilty. Dr Swire redoubled his efforts to get to the bottom of the crime.
Yesterday, at the launch of a book entitled Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters, he said he was ready to “disappear from the battlements”.
“I think my campaign has been my means of survival, but I have got to a point where I really have to cut back on it, otherwise it will do harm,” said Dr Swire. “One of the parameters of doing it is what Flora would have thought. I think Flora would be saying, ‘You’ve done your very best dad. It’s time to leave it to others, to younger men.’
“I suspect I will be called in to make comments to the media from time to time. That’s OK. What I don’t think is OK is investing as much time as I have been doing. I’m going to try to find ways of trying to avoid spending as much time on it.” Dr Swire has already bought a computer programme which converts words to text, which he say will cut by two thirds the time he has to devote to writing. By the anniversary, December 21, he would be ready to move on. (...)
There was little immediate sign that he was ready to wind down. In the foreword to the book, Dr Swire says the country’s justice system had survived the act of Union with England intact, only to be blighted by “the impenetrable arrogance of her prosecuting authorities”, the Crown Office.
Together with John Ashton, the book’s author, he used a press conference to launch an outspoken attack on Frank Mulholland, the Lord Advocate. Dr Swire and Mr Ashton have also written an open letter to the Crown Office, questioning aspects of the al-Megrahi trial, including the alleged withholding of evidence and the payment of a key witness, Tony Gauci.
At a meeting London in 2011, Dr Swire said he had asked Mr Mulholland repeatedly why evidence of a break-in at Heathrow airport in 1988, the night before the bombing, had not been presented at the trial.
“We went through this routine four times,” recalled Dr Swire. “At the end of, Mr Mulholland said. ‘You know, I wondered why it wasn’t available, but I haven’t been able to find out’. An incredible statement.”
Mr Ashton added: “Frank Mulholland, with aspects of his behaviour ... has really raised questions about whether he is fit to hold office.”
The Crown Office said that because the bombing was still a live case it could not comment on it. A spokesman said the remarks attributed by Dr Swire to the Lord Advocate at the meeting in London were “simply untrue”.  
(From The Times)
A report in The Scotsman can be read here.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Authorities still trying to keep a lid on Lockerbie scandal

John Ashton’s Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters was launched this morning at a press conference in Edinburgh.  The book contains the following chapters:

Foreword by Dr Jim Swire (9 pages)
1.  Flawed Charges (18 pages)
2.  Getting Away with Murder (18 pages)
3.  A Nation Condemned (9 pages)
4.  A Shameful Verdict (9 pages)
5.  Burying the Evidence (23 pages)
6.  A Bigger Picture (16 pages)
7.  The Crown out of Control (15 pages)
8.  A Failure of Politics (13 pages)
Conclusion: A System in Denial (12 pages).

At the launch, addresses by John Ashton and Jim Swire were followed by a lively question and answer session to which, amongst others, representatives of The Herald, The Scotsman, The Times, STV News, Iain McKie and I contributed.  A taste of Dr Swire’s remarks can be found here.  The press release issued to accompany the launch can be accessed here. An open letter sent today to the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC by Mr Ashton and Dr Swire can be read here.

Mr Ashton indicated that he would, starting next week, be releasing previously unpublished documents: “These are the documents the Crown didn’t want you to see.  I am making them public because, after 25 years, the authorities are still trying to keep a lid on this scandal.”  

Following this morning’s launch, a further press release has been issued.  It reads as follows:

Lockerbie 25th anniversary:
Will Scotland head for independence with a justice system the country can’t believe in? Will the politicians of Scotland continue to ignore 270 innocent victims?
Leading author joins voices with bereaved father to accuse Crown Office and Scottish Government of protecting murderers
At a press conference this morning, Dr Jim Swire, the father of a woman killed in the Lockerbie bombing, made his most outspoken attack on the Scottish authorities over their handling of the case. Speaking at the launch of a new book Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters, which marks the 25th anniversary of the bombing, Dr Swire said:
“It is Scotland’s shame that our judicial prosecution system is cowering behind its privileges in a brazen attempt to continue to block all reasonable allegations of its previous failures. In doing so it destroys its own credibility, demeans our country, and protects those who really were responsible for the murders of our families almost 25 years ago.”
He added:
“… of course there is still time for the SNP to announce an enquiry before this scandal undermines the referendum assuming it has not already done so and threatens independence. But this is much more than party politics and the 270 victims deserve more from our politicians.”
John Ashton, biographer of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, and author of this new book: Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters, brands the case the greatest scandal of Scotland’s post-devolution era.
At the press conference this morning he stated:
“The conduct of the Scottish criminal justice system – and the Crown Office in particular – in the Lockerbie case has hugely undermined the public’s trust in it. This raises a fundamental question: if people don’t trust Scotland’s foremost independent institution, will they trust an independent Scottish government? I believe that this is why the current government has tried to keep a lid on the scandal by refusing a public inquiry in to the Crown Office’s conduct. It’s a significant miscalculation by Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill, because they would only gain public trust by granting an inquiry.”
He also questioned Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland’s position:
“ Despite the fact that we now know that the Crown withheld numerous items of important evidence from Megrahi’s defence team, the current Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland has refused to acknowledge that anything went wrong. Furthermore, he has failed to order the police to follow up new witness evidence that undermines the prosecution case. Instead he has engaged in bluster and distortions and has smeared his critics by branding them conspiracy theorists. I believe that, if he continues in the vein, he will no longer be fit for office.”
In this new book, Ashton argues that the evidence against Megrahi was so weak that the charges should never have been brought and that the guilty verdict against him was blatantly unreasonable. It also describes how the Crown Office withheld crucial evidence from Megrahi’s defence team and how successive Scottish governments have turned a blind eye to the scandal. It demonstrates that, as a consequence of these failings, the real bombers went free and the Libyan people were unjustly subjected to seven years of biting UN sanctions.
John Ashton will also release documents hithero unseen over the next few weeks:
‘These are the documents that the Crown didn’t want you to see. I am making them public because, after 25 years, the authorities are still trying to keep a lid on this scandal.’

Friday 20 December 2013

Today's Channel 4 News Lockerbie revelations

[What follows is the text of an item posted tonight on John Ashton’s website Megrahi: You are my Jury:]

There follows the text of a press release issued this afternoon by Channel 4 News. I shall be releasing the documents upon which the report is based on this blog at 7.30 pm. [RB: The documents in question have now been released by John Ashton. They can be accessed here. An introduction to them by Mr Ashton can be read here.]

Secret CIA testimony identifies true Lockerbie mastermind

Strictly Embargoed: 6.00pm Friday, 20 December 2013

Please credit Channel 4 News with all content used

Documents released for the first time today reveal that both high-level Syrian officials and the CIA independently stated that a Syrian-based Palestinian group, not Libya, was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing.
An exclusive report to be broadcast on Channel 4 News reveals that a deep cover CIA agent was told by up to 15 high-level Syrian officials, and the CIA itself, that a Syrian-based Palestinian group, rather than Libya, was responsible for Lockerbie.
The documents which will feature in tonight’s programme, were made in two US court depositions by CIA agent Dr Richard Fuisz in late 2000 and early 2001.
Fuisz stated that in 1989 he was briefed by the CIA that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command had carried out the bombing. More importantly, he added that, between 1990 and 1995, 10 to 15 senior Syrian officials also told him that the group was responsible. He said that the officials interacted with the PFLP-GC’s leader, Ahmed Jibril, ‘on a constant basis’ and that he was the mastermind behind the bombing.
Fuisz gave a deposition at the request of defence lawyers for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah, who were, at the time, on trial for the bombing. However, the revelations came too late to be used at the trial, which ended within days of the second hearing. Three unnamed CIA officers and a US department of justice lawyer were present throughout the hearings, ensuring that Fuisz was prevented from answering many of the questions.
The PFLP-GC were the original prime suspects in the bombing. Declassified US intelligence documents claim that the group was paid by the Iranian government to avenge the 290 lives lost when Iran Air flight 665 was accidentally shot down by a US battleship of over the Persian Gulf a few months before Lockerbie. Members of the PFLP-GC were arrested in West Germany two months before Lockerbie. During the raids the police recovered a Toshiba radio-cassette player containing a barometric bomb. Forensic investigators determined that the Lockerbie bomb had also been contained in a Toshiba radio-cassette player.
The transcripts of the hearings, and related documents, are being released by Scotland’s Shame author John Ashton, who found them earlier this year in the Libyans’ legal files. Mr Ashton has been involved a Channel 4 News item about the new evidence, which will be broadcast tonight.
Mr Ashton said today: ‘This evidence is yet another indication that the real Lockerbie bombers got away and that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted. The British and American governments declared in 1991 that Libya was solely responsible for the bombing, yet for years after senior Syrians were saying that the PFLP-GC was responsible. It seems it was an open secret that the real bombers lay outside Libya.’
[An accompanying article on Mr Ashton’s website can be read here.]

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Megrahi conviction ought to be on British and American consciences

[A year ago today a review by Neil Berry of John Ashton’s Megrahi: You are my Jury was published on the website of the Khaleej Times.  I reproduced it at the time on this blog.  It is well worth a further perusal:]

Published by the plucky Scottish press Birlinn, John Ashton’s new book Megrahi: You Are My Jury: The Lockerbie Evidence casts grave doubt on the validity of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi’s conviction as the Libyan terrorist responsible for blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 and murdering 259 mostly American people in December 1988. At the same time, it raises deeply disturbing questions about the United States and United Kingdom’s boasted commitment to truth and justice.

It is perhaps no surprise that the mainstream British media are fighting shy of this bulky volume the attention it deserves. For to discuss its contents would mean re-visiting a vastly acrimonious episode that threatened to poison relations between Britain and the US: the early release in August 2009 from his Scottish prison — on grounds that he was dying of cancer — of a Muslim convict who was seen by many as the personification of evil.

A member of Megrahi’s legal team, John Ashton is liable to the charge that his familiarity with the Libyan has clouded his judgment, but his book — which intersperses an exhaustive examination of the evidence that led to his conviction with Megrahi’s own testimony — collates the work of several hands and is a model of forensic rigour. It is indeed hard to believe that any fair-minded person could read it without being persuaded that Megrahi was the victim of a grotesque miscarriage of justice. The powerful impression left by the book is that Megrahi, who had run security for Libyan Arab Air Lines while engaging in clandestine trading, had the ill-luck to be in Malta, the putative point of origin of the Lockerbie bomb, at the wrong time, and that he was framed because the US found it convenient to point the finger of blame at Libya.

What has never been widely recognised is that the blowing up of Pan Am 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie took place six months after the shooting down of an Iranian airbus over the Arabian Gulf in July 1988 by the American battle cruiser, the USS Vincennes, with the deaths of 290 Iranians, most of them pilgrims bound for holy city of Makkah. It was an outrage Iran immediately vowed to avenge, and all the indications were that it was Iran, acting through the shadowy terrorist splinter group, the Palestine Popular Struggle Front, that mandated the Lockerbie operation.

If, in the aftermath of Lockerbie, the US shrank from confrontation with the Islamic Republic, it was because, on top of seeking to negotiate the release of American hostages held by Iranian-backed terrorists, it was concerned to have a free hand in repelling Saddam Hussein’s attempt to annex Kuwait to Iraq. Yet a scapegoat for Lockerbie was imperative and Libya, with an egregious leader, Colonel Gaddafi, whose image in the West was that of a deranged tribal savage, figured as the ideal candidate.  John Ashton’s book underlines how readily the Western public accepted the case for imposing crippling sanctions on Libya as the culprit for Lockerbie. Few demurred when —  even before he was sentenced by three Scottish judges at a special court in the Netherlands in 2001 — US President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeatedly described Megrahi not as a suspect but as a mass murderer. All this would be chilling enough — even if the case against Megrahi were a more compelling one.

In truth, his conviction relied on the testimony of a shopkeeper in Malta who had but the sketchiest memory of selling clothes to an Arab customer around the time when a suitcase containing the bomb was supposedly put on a feeder flight to London, there to be loaded onto Pan Am 103. It relied, too, on a circuit board, alleged to have been part of the bomb and to have derived from a batch of Swiss timing devices sold to Libya, though it was to transpire that this item of evidence — found far from the Lockerbie crash site — had nothing to do with the timers in question.

What is particularly shocking is how much material evidence was withheld from Megrahi’s trial — including the striking circumstance that the night before Pan Am 103 flew from London Heathrow, the airport was broken into.

The assumption that the Lockerbie bomb originated in Malta may well have deflected attention from a far more productive line of inquiry. Megrahi endured his eight-year Scottish incarceration in the bitter knowledge that he had been convicted on a basis that came nowhere near to satisfying the principle that guilt should be proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.

Following 9/11, however, he felt that his chances of ever clearing his name had all but vanished. Certainly, the belief that he was the ‘Lockerbie bomber’, a malevolent Muslim who had carried out Britain’s worst ever terrorist atrocity, lodged deep in the public mind — so deep that when he was diagnosed as having only months to live and Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, decreed he should be allowed to return to Libya to die, there was widespread outrage, not least in the United States. In Britain and the US, many were of the opinion that that Megrahi was the beneficiary of a squalid oil deal struck with General Gaddafi by Britain’s sometime Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and that British and Scottish politicians were not only colluding with a vile regime but insulting the dead.

Outrage about the commutation of his sentence grew as Megrahi confounded Scottish medical expectations regarding his survival prospects, living on in Tripoli until May of this year. And though he remained desperately ill, there were to be vindictive demands, following the toppling of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011, that he be made to face justice in the United States. Yet on the evidence of John Ashton’s book it is not his truncated sentence that ought to be on British and American consciences. It is the fact that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was ever convicted at all.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

One of the most disgraceful episodes in the Crown Office’s recent history

Two years ago today, I posted on this blog an item headed Former Lord Advocate ... seriously misled the Megrahi Court claims book author.  It bears repeating:

[This is the headline over a report published today on the Newsnet Scotland website.  It reads in part:]

Former Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, [now Court of Session judge, Lord Boyd] has been accused of misleading the Court during the trial of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

The claim, contained in the book Megrahi – You are my Jury, relates to the QC’s intervention in a matter involving secret CIA cables that contained details of discussions between the US agency and a Libyan ‘supergrass’ named Majid Giaka.

Giaka was a former work colleague of Mr Megrahi who had contacted the CIA claiming to have evidence linking the Libyan and his co-accused Al Amin Khalifa Fhima to the Lockerbie bombing.

Giaka was scheduled to give evidence to the Court in August 2000, but was delayed due to legal wrangling over the telex cables.

Demands by the Libyan’s defence team to see the cables in full led to the intervention by then Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, an episode described by book author John Ashton as “one of the most disgraceful episodes in the Crown Office’s recent history”.

Mr Megrahi’s defence team had requested full disclosure of the secret cables which had been heavily redacted for apparent security reasons.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the two Libyans were informed that the twenty five cables were all that existed and that the redacted areas covered general areas not relevant to the Lockerbie incident.

According to the book, Procurator Fiscal Norman McFadyen [now a sheriff in Ayr] claimed that no-one from the Crown had seen the unedited cables and that the redacted material was irrelevant.

However it subsequently emerged that weeks earlier on 1st June 2000, members of the Crown Office had indeed seen the unedited cables, one of whom was Norman McFadyen and the other Alan Turnbull QC [now a Court of Session judge].

On 22 August on learning of this, Mr Megrahi’s legal team raised the issue with the Court, describing it as “a matter of some considerable importance”.

According to Ashton’s book, Bill Taylor QC argued that without access to the full cables, the defendants would be denied a fair trial, and said: “I emphatically do not accept that what lies behind the blanked out sections is of no interest to a cross examiner … Further, I challenge the right of the Crown to determine for the defence what is or is not of relevance to the defence case.”

Mr Taylor urged the Court to ask the Crown to obtain the complete copies of the cables from the CIA.

In a move, described as unusual by author John Ashton, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd then attended the Court in person and admitted that McFadyen and Turnbull had indeed seen the cables but repeated the Crown’s earlier assertions that the redacted areas had no bearing on the cables themselves or the case.

“While they may have been of significance to the Central Intelligence Agency, they had no significance whatsoever to the case” he said.

Mr Boyd explained that according to Crown QC Alan Turnbull: “that there was nothing within the cables which bore on the defence case, either by undermining the Crown case or by advancing a positive case which was being made or may be made, having regard to the special case.”

Mr Boyd also explained that he had no control over the documents that they resided in the USA under the control of US authorities.

Boyd ended by stating categorically: “there is nothing within these documents which relates to Lockerbie or the bombing of Pan Am 103 which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Mr Majid [Giaka] on these matters.”

Mr Ashton’s book though now reveals that the reason the Lord Advocate had no control over the documents was that Norman McFadyen had signed a non-disclosure agreement before viewing them.

According to Mr Ashton, the Crown had “secretly, ceded to the CIA the right to determine what information should, or should not, be disclosed in a Scottish Court”.

Also, further revelations contained in Mr Ashton’s book show that far from being of no significance to the case, the redacted sections of the cables were in fact highly significant.

The defence team eventually forced the Crown to hand over less redacted versions of the cables that contained, contrary to Boyd’s claims, crucial information about Giaka – including doubts about the value of his intelligence information.

Further sections detailed meetings with Giaka not included in the original documents.

Acting for the defence, Richard Keen QC, questioned claims by the Crown that the redacted sections were of no consequence

Pointing to their clear significance, he told the Court: “I frankly find it inconceivable that it could have been thought otherwise … Some of the material which is now disclosed goes to the very heart of material aspects of this case, not just to issues of credibility and reliability, but beyond”

According to author John Ashton, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd – now Lord Boyd – had “seriously misled the Court”.

[My own 2007 account in The Scotsman of this shameful and discreditable episode can be read here. What is surprising and deeply regrettable is that the trial judges in their judgement made no mention of this disgraceful Crown conduct.  Had it been a defence advocate who had been detected misleading the court in this way, the matter would certainly not have been overlooked and the consequences for the advocate in question would have been dire.]