Monday, 22 January 2018

Pan Am pilots’ claim for restitution from Lockerbie bombing fund is rejected

This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Washington Post. It reads in part:]

An attempt by pilots of Pan American World Airways, the once-dominant airline victimized by the 1988 mid-air bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, cannot recover money from a $1.5 billion fund created by Libya to compensate victims of the bombing, a Washington-based commission has ruled.

The pilots claimed that the bombing led directly to the demise of Pan Am, costing them their jobs, their health insurance and their pensions. Pan Am folded suddenly on Dec 4, 1991, after an attempt to buy Northwest Airlines and a merger with Delta Air Lines both fell through.

Fifty Pan Am pilots and one flight attendant have been pursuing Libya in the courts since 1994, but it wasn’t until 2013 that they were allowed to file a claim with the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, which reviews claims on the Libyan fund. The commission issued a preliminary ruling against the pilots in 2016, but they were granted a hearing in Washington in December 2016. In that hearing, a number of pilots, as well as former Pan Am executives and economic analysts, tried to make the case that the Dec 21, 1988, bombing, which killed 270 people in the plane and on the ground in Scotland, set off the chain of events which led to the airline’s demise.

But commissioners Anuj C Desai and Sylvia M Becker stood behind their preliminary ruling, and their analysis of Pan Am’s decline, which they said was caused by many other factors, including a recession, airline deregulation, oil price spikes and the first Iraq War. The pilots “failed to prove that,” Desai and Becker wrote, “if not for Lockerbie, Pan Am would have remained in business. Pan Am’s 1991 liquidation was too remote, both factually and temporally, from the 1988 bombing; and far too much happened in the intervening three-year period to hold Libya liable for Pan Am’s liquidation.”

The ruling was issued Tuesday. There is no appeal from the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, and the case is over. (...)

Bruce Abbott, the leader of the pilots’ case, said that after the December 2016 hearing at the federal courthouse in the District, “I came away with a very empty feeling.” He said the two commissioners “spent a whole day chopping away at things that were not of significance to the overall presentation.” Almost all of the pilots were military veterans, Abbott said, “and we had answered the call for our nation. We wanted a forum with competent triers of fact. I think we were shut out on that. I don’t think we got a fair hearing and I don’t think we got to the essence of the case.”

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Reflecting on Lockerbie

[This is the headline over an article by Kenny MacAskill published yesterday on the website of Cable magazine. It takes much the same line as his recent book and merits a similar response, such as those accorded to the book in reviews by James Robertson and John Ashton. Mr MacAskill's article reads in part:]

... this month brings the sixteenth anniversary of the conviction of Abel Basset Al Megrahi at a Scottish court convened at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. He remains the only man convicted of the crime. Megrahi was released by me in 2009, on compassionate grounds, when I was Justice Secretary. In many ways, the trial has overshadowed both the events leading up to it, and actions subsequent to it. For some, it has become a cause célèbre and for others, simply the culmination of the tragedy.
Yet, the Lockerbie bombing is not just the story of one man and his journey through the courts. It is also one of international intrigue and diplomatic duplicity.  The atrocity didn’t happen in isolation – in many ways, it was the culmination of years of terror and counter-terror. The trial and subsequent appeals only formed part of a far wider picture, one in which vested state interests were being pursued, and in which economic goals mattered more than justice. (...)
For many, especially in Scotland, the Megrahi trial itself has come to overshadow the events that led up to both the atrocity and its consequences. Perceived or real failings amongst police, prosecutors, judges, or even myself, have often distorted scrutiny of the wider issues at play. The focus, even in the media, has been on the court case rather than on the economic and security deals being traded for prisoners, or on the nature of strategic alliances, of which there were many.
Reporting of the fact that evidence was denied to the Scottish court, and threats to close down Scottish press coverage of this issue, has been muted to say the least. I know this from discussions with an Editor threatened, and with the UK Minister doing the threatening. Even false news (a popular term at this point in time) has been allowed to become received wisdom, such as the so called ‘hero’s reception’ for Megrahi after his release and return to Tripoli (despite being exposed as fake by both WikiLeaks and former State Department officials).
Perhaps there should have been more wariness all those years ago, when an Italian air force plane in UN markings collected Megrahi and his co-accused – Al Amin Khalifah Fhimah – from Tripoli, to take them to the Netherlands for trial. For though this was to be a trial held under Scots law (albeit convened in a former Dutch air force base), the major ground rules had already been set. However, the Scottish judges presiding over the trials has not yet been notified of those rules.
Vested financial interests should perhaps also have been discerned. The first Scots lawyers to visit Gadhafi travelled on a plane provided by Babcock and Wilcox. Others later returned on the private jet of Tiny Rowland.
For the trial had been brokered by Britain and the United States, in negotiation with Libya, with the intervention of many other actors (the United Nations in particular) at the very highest levels. Sanctions were hurting Libya; it needed to negotiate. The West, for its part, wanted a strategic partner in the campaign against Islamic terror, as well as access to Libya’s natural resources. The trial came about just as major companies were lobbying for access to Libya. American companies in particular were concerned at European businesses – such as BP – gaining a foothold in the North African country while they were still excluded. Marathon Oil, among others, lobbied the White House relentlessly.
The negotiations eventually resulted in the Libyans choosing Scots law for the process, albeit in a neutral venue. Scots law would always be preferable to a trial in America where little justice could be expected, and where anyone convicted was unlikely ever to see the light of day again. Handing citizens over to the United States was as unacceptable to the Gadhafi regime as it remains to every Libyan grouping to this day.
The discussions also covered the question of who would appear for trial. Megrahi and Fhimah were offered up. Others, far more culpable and senior, were also sought by the police and prosecutors. But the deal brokered by the UN exculpated Gadhafi and his leading henchmen – like Abdullah Senussi, Gadhafi’s head of military intelligence – from facing justice. The Libyan leadership was thus given a get-out-of-jail card. Others were not so lucky.
Megrahi and his co-accused were the highest-ranking officials that the Libyans were prepared to sacrifice – and the lowest-ranking that the West would accept. Western interests dictated that it was acceptable to live with the Libyan leadership being absolved; but someone had to stand trial. The legal process provided cover for the political and economic deals the West wanted and so Megrahi and Fhimah were offered up in the Libyan national interest.
Advice from Scottish lawyers to the accused not to present themselves for trial was ignored: new Libyan lawyers provided by the Gadhafi regime made it clear that these men would be going to the Netherlands, no matter what. Libya, crippled by Western sanctions, required these two to take the fall for the country – and they were lightning conductors, drawing attention away from anyone higher up.
And so it was that one man – Megrahi – was convicted and the other acquitted, sixteen years ago this month. The trial process was highly unusual, not just in its setting but in its format, with three judges sitting without a jury.
There are certainly questions over the reliability of Megrahi’s conviction in light of evidence that has since come to light. That’s quite understandable given the circumstances of the attack, and the scale of the crime scene. Indeed, it was a quite remarkable police investigation and great credit should be given to those involved. That said, the post-trial evidence which has emerged doesn’t mean that Megrahi was uninvolved in the crime. A mere innocent abroad, he certainly was not. He was a senior Libyan agent, from Gadhafi’s tribe, married into senior families who had faithfully carried out the regime’s instructions, both before and after Lockerbie.
This will doubtless be the focus of yet more debate. That is understandable. (...)
People will continue to form their own judgements on my decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds. That’s their right and entitlement. But I stand by my position. Further information received since has only reinforced my view. (...)
Before that happened, however – and this is an issue which receives far less attention – I had the opportunity to transfer Megrahi. I chose to reject this opportunity. Prisoner transfer applications are routine and were invariably granted by me, as by both my predecessor and successor. The process applies to bringing Scots who have committed crimes abroad home, as well repatriating foreign offenders from our land.
What was unusual about this particular Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) was how it came about – and why I refused it. Indeed, it was the only one I ever rejected. As Jack Straw (then UK Home Secretary) told me, the UK-Libya PTA came about as the UK government sought to support BP’s interest in obtaining a lucrative contract in Libya. The imperative was simple – no transfer deal, no contract – and the UK was anxious that its own company benefit from the substantial profits to be made, and not an American competitor.
I rejected the transfer application for Megrahi. I did so not because it was the only one in existence that allowed for the state and not just the prisoner to apply; nor because there was only one Libyan prisoner in a Scottish jail – the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. I did so instead because it became clear that undertakings had been given at the time of the trial that any sentence given to Megrahi should be served in a Scottish prison.
This information came to me not from the UK government – which was focused only on driving through the Prisoner Transfer Agreement – but from Eric Holder, the United States Attorney General. At the time the trial was being agreed, he had been the Deputy Attorney General. He was therefore a man well-placed to know what had been agreed. Holder was adamant that any sentence meted out to Megrahi should be served in a Scottish jail, even if David Miliband, the UK Foreign Secretary at the time of my decision, was unforthcoming on the issue. That is why I ruled out a prisoner transfer application which I would normally have authorised. (...)
I’m used to people taking opposing positions on my decisions; that goes with the job. I do, however, object strenuously to the disparagement of those who served the Scottish justice system at this time. No system is foolproof and that’s why safeguards are built in. All systems can make errors and need to be able to accept and atone for them. But the constant focus on just one aspect of the Lockerbie tragedy ignores the much wider picture, and lets the British and American governments off the hook for their hypocrisy and duplicitous actions.
I believe those who were involved in the Scottish justice system, at all levels in this case, deserve praise and respect. Most especially, this should go to those who attended the horrific crash scene and dealt with it as best they could. They shouldn’t be defamed for alleged planting of evidence. The work was hard and horrifying – and all at a time before PTSD was properly acknowledged, never mind treated. A dogged and determined investigation should be appreciated for the fine skills the investigators deployed – not denigrated for alleged falsities. Then, at the trial stage, both prosecutors and judges acted professionally in dealing with the facts then before them.
There are good people who have genuine doubts about the integrity of the trial, such as Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the tragedy. Though I respect them, I profoundly disagree with them. Meanwhile, there are others who are part of a ‘Megrahi industry’ that has been in business since the corporate jets were first utilised. Conspiracy theories abound and most, as is usually the case, are simply nonsensical.
Meanwhile, it shouldn’t be forgotten that not just the American victims’ families but most others stand by the conviction, even if almost all recognise that there’s more still to come out. Much has, of course, been leaking out in dribs and drabs as further information about British and American links with Libya emerge, and as the CIA extract more people in the know from the failed Libyan state they’ve created. I’ve always supported the Scottish government’s position on the benefits of having an international enquiry to consider all aspects of the Lockerbie affair. A Scottish court alone has no powers to compel the necessary witnesses, or obtain the required information.
Yet while there are legitimate questions over the strength of the conviction, which I share, this bombing was carried out by Libya. The evidence shows it, Gadhafi admitted it, and the National Transitional Council which replaced him also accepted that his regime was culpable.
The Lockerbie bombing was the horrific culmination of years of terror and counter-terror. From atrocities at Rome and Vienna airports and bombings in Berlin bars, to sanctions on Libya and even air strikes on Gadhafi’s family compound in 1986. It culminated in the downing of an Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes in July 1988, killing all aboard. President Bush refused to apologise for this act and it caused outrage across the Arab world. A bounty was put up to avenge the act and that was accepted by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC).
This group was planning the downing of a Pan Am airliner, resulting in the Helsinki warning in the form of a memorandum issued by the US State Department to American embassies. This has fuelled conspiracy theories ever since. In fact, all it showed is what we’ve come to experience in recent years: that security services know something is planned, but don’t necessarily know when or where, and security is tightened accordingly.
However, the detention of a PFLP-GC cell in Germany some two months before the Lockerbie bombing spiked the initial bombing plan. Those arrested had Pan Am timetables and bag tags, and were planning an operation in a similar style to what ultimately befell Flight 103. Thwarted this time, what was to be done to fulfil the contract?
The PFLP-GC operated closely with the Libyans – also with Syria, Iran, and other Middle East states. In the PFLP-GC’s time of need, the Libyans stepped into the breach to help them in their next, decisive, plan. Tripoli had been aware of what had been going on, as Gadhafi himself would later admit. Though, as he added, had they planned it, they wouldn’t have used Malta as it was too geographically close to Libya and would have raised suspicion. But, presumably needs must and so Libya finished off the terror strike initially planned by the Palestinians. There are serious questions as to just how the fateful bomb was placed aboard the Pan Am aircraft in Malta: it remains a mystery to this day. But Gadhafi confirmed that it was planted there.
Megrahi and Fhimah weren’t the principal parties involved, although – as noted earlier – suggestions of their complete innocence are fanciful. Those who would sanctify Megrahi forget he was a senior security service agent in a despicable regime. The idea that he just found himself in Malta on a false passport, with no apparent luggage as some innocent abroad, is absurd. I certainly doubt that he was the bomber, but given who he was and the roles he held, I have no doubt that he was involved in the wider operation. (...)
So as the anniversary comes round, people will form their own views and make their own judgements – on me, and on Scottish justice. But let them also examine the economic and strategic backdrop which saw sanctions dropped and prisoners rendered in return for access to natural resources and a strategic ally against Islamic terrorism. The process of justice around the Lockerbie bombing offered up two minnows but protected the major players – a situation which continues to this day. It was a process which also saw Britain and America condemn the release of Megrahi while openly consorting with Gadhafi.
The court case, like Scotland more broadly, was just one small cog in a far larger wheel.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Time for the Scottish justice system to accept Megrahi verdict was wrong

[This is the headline over a letter from Iain McKie that appears in today's edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]

I found Jim Swire’s timely reminder that 29 years after the UK’s worst terrorist atrocity was perpetrated over Lockerbie justice has still to be delivered extremely sad and humbling (Letters, January 2).

Year after year this committed father, after losing his daughter Flora in this outrage, retains the strength and integrity, with other relatives, to challenge the Scottish justice system to finally do the right thing and value justice over incestuous self-interest.

Dr Swire rightly highlights how Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General Lord Carloway, has played and continues to play a central part in the national scandal which is Lockerbie. His 2015 declaration that the relatives of the victims did not have a “legitimate interest” in challenging the conviction might have had a certain legal logic but lacked the humanity and wisdom that the Scottish people have a right to expect from those interpreting the law.

It could be argued that as more and more evidence has been adduced Scotland’s legal system has buried its head ever more firmly in the sand.

Year after year the case against Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for this horrendous crime is shown to be weaker and weaker. With the [2007] Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission findings ringing in his ears, and the conclusions of the four-year Police Scotland criminal enquiry about to be handed over to Crown Office, it is time for his Lordship to lift his head and listen.

How sad if our judiciary should remain the sole barrier to justice for the 270 souls who perished and the loved ones they left behind.

The people of Scotland are looking to Lord Carloway and his learned colleagues, after carefully weighing the evidence, to finally acknowledge this monstrous injustice and show that the Scottish justice system has the heart, humanity and courage to finally right this monstrous wrong.

Martin Luther King stated: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

The tragedy of Lockerbie matters and it is time for the Scottish justice system to accept this and act.

Justice without humanity is indeed an empty vessel.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Why we must have an inquiry into events at Camp Zeist

[This is the headline over a letter from Dr Jim Swire published in today's edition of The Herald:]

Regarding the recent release of selected government papers under the 30-year rule, I am grateful that at least, under Douglas Hurd as British Foreign Secretary in 1992 we UK Lockerbie relatives were described thus: “Jim Swire, the father of a Lockerbie victim, has campaigned to clear Megrahi's name. He met the foreign secretary in 1992 and is described in the papers as a 'sensible man with whom it is important to keep in touch'".
Years later however, Lord Carloway, for the Scottish High Court turned down the UK relatives’ request for a further appeal against the Megrahi verdict. But would not he have been aware that the verdict reached against Megrahi was at least "unsafe"? The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commision after three years' hard research had told him so. Therefore clearly any agreement to a further review of the evidence might overturn the verdict, raising dire questions about the function of the Scottish criminal prosecution authorities.
Anyone doubting the need to review events at Zeist should turn to those parts of these papers which refer to the opinion of the UN’s appointed observer at the trial, Professor Hans Koechler of Vienna. Review of his work suggests that far from being merely "flawed justice" the failure of the Crown to share critical information with the defence team rendered the whole process invalid as a criminal trial.
It is a task of the Scottish criminal prosecution authorities to produce a just outcome in murder trials, and to see to it that their case is argued in a level playing field where critical information is shared and debated between the defence and prosecution. "Equality of arms" cannot exist where the prosecution which inevitably has the powers necessary to elicit the facts, chooses to sequester many of those facts from the eyes of the defence and the court.
Until the evidence is reviewed in a full and fair open court, or a fully empowered inquiry, how is the Scottish public to be confident that their system is not simply hiding behind an incestuous cloud of opacity in order to conceal its own shortcomings?
Better to lance the boil and review the evidence in public now, rather than to await a situation over which they may have lost control. Even so the period when delay in justice becomes synonymous with denial of justice has been passed long since in this case.
Perhaps some may now begin to believe that Scotland’s system, proudly independent despite the Act of Union, is now obstructing rather than furthering that great ideal, and denying the people it must serve the right to question what their rulers tell them.
Twenty-nine years later we still need to know all that is known about the failure of the protection of our families, and about those involved in perpetrating this diabolical atrocity. Since justice may have failed us all at Zeist, it may become evident that the procedures there have done little but protect the real perpetrators from justice.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Original Lockerbie bomber appeal 'showed Scottish justice at its most effective'

[This is the headline over a report published in today's edition of the Glasgow Evening Times. It reads as follows:]

Cabinet members praised the handling of the original appeal into the conviction of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for showing Scotland's justice system "at its most professional and effective", official papers reveal.

Scottish Executive papers from 2002 newly released by the National Records of Scotland record the discussion of the Cabinet meeting on March 13 that year after Megrahi lost his appeal against his 2001 conviction for the 1988 bombing which killed 270 people.

The minutes state the Cabinet noted its appreciation for the "excellent" work of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service over the appeal.

It continues: "The way the appeal had been handled had shown the Scottish criminal justice system at its most professional and effective and was a credit to all concerned."

Holyrood is currently considering a petition for an independent inquiry into Megrahi's conviction from Justice for Megrahi campaigners, who include relatives of the bombing victims.

The long-running petition is being kept under consideration pending the completion of a Police Scotland operation investigating nine allegations of criminality levelled by Justice for Megrahi at the Crown Office, police, and forensic officials involved in the investigation and legal processes relating to Megrahi's conviction.

Megrahi was jailed for for 27 years but was released home to Libya on compassionate grounds in 2009 and died of prostate cancer aged 60 three years later.

Five years after he lost his 2002 appeal against his conviction, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission recommended in 2007 he should be granted a second appeal.

He dropped the second attempt to overturn his conviction in 2009, ahead of his return to Libya, but his widow Aisha and son Ali lodged a new bid to appeal against his conviction in July 2017.

[RB: A similar report appears today in The Times.

I wish a happy New Year to all readers of this blog.]

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Atrocious failures blight our justice system

[What follows is excerpted from an editorial in today’s edition of The
Observer. The  “atrocious failures” referred to in it apply equally in the
Scottish prosecution system and, as the Megrahi case demonstrates
only too clearly, extend beyond the police to the prosecution service
itself.]

Atrocious failures blight our justice system. Should disclosure decisions be taken
away from the police?

The right to a fair trial is a linchpin of the rule of law and a free and democratic
society. So it is right that the collapse of two rape prosecutions in recent days,
both due to police failure to disclose relevant material to the defence, has cast
a fresh spotlight on whether that right is under jeopardy.

The obligation of police and prosecutors to disclose unused material that might
support the defence case is critical to ensuring a fair trial. Indeed, a failure to
disclose relevant information to the defence team is one of the most common
causes of miscarriages of justice. In the cases of Liam Allen and Isaac Itiary, both
accused of rape, the Met police failed to hand over relevant text messages to
defence lawyers in a timely fashion. When this finally happened, both cases were
dropped, but not before Itiary had spent four months in jail awaiting trial and Allan
two years on bail. The attorney general rightly labelled this an “appalling failure” of
the criminal justice system.

There are competing narratives about what lies behind this. Some hold up these
cases as a sign that the pendulum has now swung the other way in a police force
once notorious for its failures to take rape allegations seriously. (...)

But it is irresponsible to imply police failures in disclosure are a problem specific to
rape prosecutions. In July, a joint report on disclosure by the police and
prosecution service inspectorates raised concerns about disclosure practices within
the police and CPS across all types of cases. (...)

Others have argued this is about austerity: police and CPS budgets have been cut
significantly since 2010 and the number of police officers has declined by more
than 20,000 even as recorded crime has increased. Not only that, the government
has instituted massive cuts to legal aid.

There is no question that our criminal justice system is becoming more and more
stretched. The result is that access to justice is impeded for growing numbers of
people.

But the story does not start and end with government cuts. Rules around
disclosure were first introduced in the 1990s after a series of high-profile
miscarriages of justice, such as the wrongful convictions of the Birmingham Six.
Twenty years later, the amount of data involved in criminal cases has ballooned,
thanks to the proliferation of computers, tablets and mobile phones.

This makes the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences far more complex
and time-consuming than ever, while the massive volume of data confronting the
police in all sorts of cases makes meeting their obligations on disclosure
increasingly difficult. The implications of this accelerating burden on the criminal
justice system have never been properly debated; rather, they have been shoved
into the “too difficult” box.

Police cultures also impede disclosure. The role of the police is to act as an
impartial investigator; it is the CPS whose job it is to prosecute a case. But the
nature of police work means detectives and officers have to develop theories about
their cases. Some officers may wilfully conceal evidence that undermines the case
they have constructed. But basic human psychology – none of us much likes to be
proved wrong – means that many more may be blinkered by unconscious bias
that draws them away from evidence that undermines their case theory. This has
led some to question whether it is right to leave disclosure decisions to the police.
At the very least, the police need proper training, but it has been found to be
inadequate across the majority of police forces.

The police wield immense power over our lives. From Hillsborough to Stephen
Lawrence, the Birmingham Six to child sex abuse in Rotherham: the past tells us
that when they are not adequately held accountable for that power, the result can
be deep injustices of the very worst kind.

Accountability has increased significantly in the past 20 years, with the
establishment of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and independent
inspectorate. But police failings on disclosure have been swept under the carpet
for too long, even as they are further aggravated by austerity and the sheer
volume of data in the modern world. If we continue to ignore them, we will pay
the ultimate price: the guarantee of a fair trial.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Classified Lockerbie bombing files released after 25 years

[This is the headline over a report published this morning on the
STV News website. It reads in part:]

Newly-declassified files documenting the UK Government's efforts to bring the
Lockerbie bomber to justice in Scotland have been released. (...)

Libyan citizen Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of carrying out the attack
in 2001 after a series of failed attempts to extradite him.

The newly-released files reveal reveal Douglas Hurd, foreign secretary to Prime
Minister John Major, believed sanctions intended to force Libya into handing over
Megrahi were "rattling" its leaders as early as 1992.

He said it would be a "big prize" if Muammar Gaddafi released him to face
a Scottish court, but warned the UK Government should refuse to negotiate.

He cautioned against getting drawn into a "web of negotiation" and in a later
meeting acknowledged the chances of Gaddafi leader agreeing were "slight".

Hurd admitted that if the Libyan government remained defiant in the face of
sanctions "the prospects for tightening them would not be good".

Sanctions would eventually succeed in securing Megrahi's extradition, although
it would be another seven years until that happened. Gaddafi handed over
Megrahi and his co-accused Lamin Khalifah Fhimah in 1999.

They were put on trial at a specially-convened Scottish court in the Netherlands
in 2001.

Meghrahi was convicted of murder and given a life sentence, while Mr Fhimah
was acquitted.

The conviction remains controversial, however.

Jim Swire, the father of a Lockerbie victim, has campaigned to clear Megrahi's
name. He met with the foreign secretary in 1992 and is described in the papers
as a "sensible man with whom it is important to keep in touch".

Earlier this year Megrahi's family launched a third appeal against his conviction
with Mr Swire's backing.

Megrahi's supporters believe he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and
claimed the bombing was ordered by Iran in retaliation for the downing of an
Iranian airliner in 1988, which killed 290 people.

They believe the Lockerbie bombing was carried out by a Syrian-Palestinian group
who escaped justice.

Megrahi served the majority of his sentence in Scotland but was controversially
released in August 2009 after he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.
Megrahi returned to Libya, where he died in May 2012.

[RB: The Cabinet Office has blocked the release of one Lockerbie file
that would otherwise have been disclosed.]

Release of government Lockerbie file blocked

[What follows is excerpted from a report published in today’s edition of
the Daily Record:]

Scores of historic government files have been published – but dozens more dealing
with sensitive issues are being kept secret.

Records held back from the traditional release of files to the media deal with topics
including Europe, devolution and the Lockerbie bombing. (...)

In all, around 190 of the 490 files scheduled for release from the Prime Minister’s
office have been retained by the Government.

Also held back were records which referred to devolution and one marked
“Lockerbie bombing: Pan Am air crash part 3a”. (...)

A Cabinet Office spokesman denied files were being deliberately withheld to prevent
media scrutiny.

He said: “We have to ensure all files are properly reviewed and prepared before
they are transferred, so they do not harm national security or our relations with
other countries or disclose sensitive personal data of living individuals.”

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Lockerbie relatives again call for independent inquiry

[What follows is excerpted from a report published in today’s edition of
The Herald:]

Relatives of Lockerbie bombing victims have renewed a call for a full independent inquiry into the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 following the 29th anniversary of the atrocity which killed 270 people.

John Mosey and Jim Swire, who both lost daughters when the aeroplane was blown out of the sky on December 21, 1988, believe Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the bombing in 2001, was innocent. Swire’s campaign group, Justice for Megrahi (JfM), lodged a legal appeal bid in July. (...)

On [4] July 2017, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission confirmed it had received a third application to review the conviction.

Meanwhile, a three-year investigation by police into nine allegations of criminality by Lockerbie investigators, known as Operation Sandwood, is ongoing. It is expected to conclude in February.

Jim Swire, 81, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora was on the flight, said it’s “essential” there is also “a full public inquiry which has to go beyond confines of Scotland”.

Mosey, 77, who lost his 19-year-old daughter, Helga, when the plane came down, said: “Maybe, just maybe, one or both of the two current direct approaches via Police Scotland and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission will bring us one step nearer to getting a full, independent inquiry and some honest answers to the big questions that trouble us."

“This would, at least, restore some of our confidence in our legal systems and in those who govern us and give us back a little of our national pride.”

Detective Superintendent Stuart Johnstone, of Police Scotland, said Operation Sandwood was at an advanced stage and that the final report would be closely scrutined by an independent QC before being submitted to the Crown Office.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We will examine the findings of Police Scotland’s Operation Sandwood report before we consider any future steps.”

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Investigation into Lockerbie prosecutors nearing completion

[This is the headline over a report by Marcello Mega in today’s edition
of The Times. It reads as follows:]

Retired detectives, former prosecutors who now serve as judges and expert
witnesses in the Lockerbie case will learn early in the new year if they will be
charged with criminal conduct.

Police Scotland said yesterday that Operation Sandwood, their investigation
into claims of criminality by investigators and prosecutors, was at the reporting
stage and was well advanced.

The evidence uncovered will set the ball rolling on what could be the final act
in the drama surrounding the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which claimed
the lives of 270 people on December 21, 1988.

As the police team conducted their inquiries investigators working for the family
of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the bombing who died in 2012,
made a breakthrough.

Scientific tests carried out on the most crucial piece of evidence in the case,
a fragment of circuit board from a timing device that enabled prosecutors to link
Libya to the bombing, suggested strongly that it was a fake.

This means that the family will continue to push for the Scottish Criminal Cases
Review Commission to refer the case back to the court of appeal to try to clear
al-Megrahi’s name.

The Sandwood team, led by Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, is taking
advice from an independent QC.

Police Scotland took the view when the allegations were made by the Justice
for Megrahi (JfM) pressure group that it could not be led by the Crown Office as
many of the claims related to the office’s conduct.

The final report, with recommendations about any potential prosecutions, will be
with the Lord Advocate James Wolffe, QC, by February.

The Sandwood team has faced a difficult and sensitive task because it has had
to investigate the conduct of people at the heart of the Scottish justice system.
It would not be unprecedented for former police officers to face charges, and
the forensic experts under scrutiny have already been discredited through their
conduct in other trials, notably a number of IRA cases where verdicts were
reversed on appeals.

However, it would send shockwaves through the system if any of the prosecutors i
n the case, two now sitting as High Court judges and one as a sheriff, faced
questions about their integrity.

Iain McKie, a former police superintendent and now a key figure in JfM, said:
“We have been impressed by Police Scotland and the way in which Iain Livingstone
and others have dealt with this matter and kept us informed.

“If they have established there was criminality, they won’t shy away from it.
I fully believe that. But the problem might be that ultimately it would still be for
the Crown to make a final decision after considering the police report.”

It is likely that if any charges do result, the forensic experts in the case would be
the most likely targets, and the new evidence uncovered by the al-Megrahi family’s
legal team would support that strongly. One of the experts testified at the trial
that the timer fragment was “similar in every respect” to a set of timers supplied
to Libya.

However, it has emerged that while the timers supplied to Libya contained
a tin/lead alloy, the fragment came from a timer made of pure tin. It also yielded
absolutely no explosives residue when tested, so had never been at the seat of
an explosion.

Gareth Peirce, the lawyer who helped clear the Birmingham Six and the
Guildford Four, said: “[They were] the same forensic scientists who produced
the wrongful conviction of Giuseppe Conlon, the Maguire family and of
Danny McNamee, and had been stood down for the role they played.

“Yet here they were. Without them, there wouldn’t have been a prosecution, far
less a conviction in Lockerbie.”

Al-Megrahi’s elder son, Khaled, said: “We are sure that our cause is right and
we will prevail no matter how long. We know one day the truth will come out.
We will never stop our work to make sure of it.”