Thursday, 17 May 2018

Shameless behaviour over Libya

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Kenny MacAskill in today's edition of The Scotsman:]

Robin Cook became Foreign Secretary in 1997 amid much fanfare about an ethical foreign policy. That lasted a matter of weeks before arms sales to Indonesia intervened and a muting of the sound was required. 

To be fair, Cook was a good man who tried to do the right thing and showed his mettle and his principles by resigning from office over the Iraq War. However, it also showed how difficult it can be to abide by ethical values when the needs of a state intrude. (...)

However, New Labour gave up any pretence of an ethical foreign policy after Tony Blair rode shotgun for George W Bush on the invasion of Iraq. It was without any ethical basis and predicated on a lie. Having supped with the devil, Blair seemed to lose any moral scruples on foreign policy, as shown by the shameless behaviour over Libya. 

When news of a UK and Libya ‘Prisoner Transfer Agreement’ first broke, Jack Straw sallied north to appease the new SNP administration’s concerns about its effect on Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. The UK Justice Secretary seemingly genuinely willing to remove Scotland’s only Libyan prisoner from the document until overruled by the Treasury and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which made clear the demands of Libya and the needs of the British state. [RB: See Jack Straw and the UK-Libya prisoner transfer agreement.]

Straw was no innocent on Libyan affairs as shown by the parliamentary apology tendered last week over the case of Abdel Belhaj, a Libyan dissident rendered into the Gadhafi regime’s hands by the US with the complicity of the UK. (...)

Belhaj and his pregnant wife weren’t the only prisoners rendered to Gadhafi’s Libya by the CIA and UK’s security services. There were others and they were returned to a despot that the UK was imposing international sanctions on and rightly condemned. To be fair to Cook, his initial involvement with Libya was simply to seek the release of the Lockerbie suspects for the trial that took place at Camp Zeist. His successors though discarded all pretence at justice and policy was dictated by the shameless pursuit of UK economic interests, irrespective of the welfare of innocents. 

When Blair made his deal in the desert and embraced Gadhafi, other connected events quickly followed. First was the signing of a huge oil deal and second the commencement of the prisoner renditions. For the deal was a two-way street with benefits for the Libyan regime as much as the UK. It wasn’t just a lessening of sanctions but also involved the supply of arms and even the training of Gadhafi’s elite troops by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

That was exposed in an Amnesty International report shortly after I made the decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds – and not because of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement. Individuals are entitled to their view on that, but the criticism of it by Labour was brazen given the actions they were involved in. America was equally Brazen with Clinton and Obama pursuing commercial deals with Libya, as well as courting him as an ally against Islamism. They embraced the Gadhafi family before Megrahi was even released but were equally craven in their denunciations.

The great irony is that when the West realised that Gadhafi was neither going to change nor be reliable they turned on him once more.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

What is source of information on which Kenny MacAskill's opinions based?

[The following are two letters submitted a few days ago to The Scotsman but not, as far as I can see, selected for publication:]

As the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie Pam Am disaster approaches it appears as if a light is finally going to be shone into the murkiness surrounding the UK’s worst ever terrorist outrage.

Police Scotland is finalising its four-year investigation into Justice for Megrahi’s (JfM’s) nine criminal allegations against some of those involved in the investigation and trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, and is preparing its report for Crown Office.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has decided that it is in the interests of justice to conduct a full review of Mr Megrahi's conviction in order to decide if the case should be referred back to the Court of Appeal.

The Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament continues its consideration of JfM’s petition for a public enquiry and is monitoring the police, Crown Office and SCCRC initiatives.

At such a critical time therefore it is surprising that Kenny MacAskill (Scotsman 10 May - Kenny MacAskill: Lockerbie bomber’s conviction may well collapse) should yet again see it appropriate to speculate publicly about the likely outcome of these enquiries and Mr Megrahi’s guilt.

It must be remembered that Mr MacAskill, as Cabinet Secretary for Justice, made the controversial 2009 decision to release Mr Megrahi on compassionate grounds and in 2013  turned down JfM’s request for a public enquiry, underlining that the Scottish Government 'did not doubt the safety of the conviction'. Yet, since leaving office, he has repeatedly, in writing and in interviews, questioned and dismissed key pieces of the evidence on which Mr Megrahi was convicted. If, as Mr MacAskill avers, that evidence is in doubt, then as he himself acknowledges the case against Mr Megrahi falls.

Both in reaching his decision to release Mr Megrahi and in making the statements that he has since leaving office Mr MacAskill must have received substantial confidential information from the police, Crown Office and other sources which he now chooses to release into the public arena before the various investigations are complete and apparently without regard to the effect this might have.

Has Mr MacAskill reported his concerns to Police Scotland and/or Crown Office? Where did he obtain the information on which he is basing his speculation and opinions? Was this confidential information received while acting as Cabinet Secretary for Justice and should it have  been used for public speculation and profit?

It is in the interests of justice that these questions are asked and that Mr MacAskill passes any relevant evidence to the authorities as a matter of urgency.
Iain A J McKie 
Secretary of Justice for Megrahi

I am sorry to see that Kenny MacAskill's article contains a number of easily refutable errors, but I value his continued contributions.

One of the more obvious errors is that there is, so far as we know, no proof that Gaddafi ever admitted responsibility for Lockerbie. 

That means that when, as I believe will eventually happen, the Megrahi verdict is seen as untenable, it is likely that many will continue to believe that 'it must have been Libya's work through Malta somehow'.

When I last met members of the Tripoli based Government after the murder of Gaddafi, senior members were seized with a determination to blame Lockerbie onto their fallen leader, perhaps in the hope of reducing blame on others. It seemed to be a belief without any 'proof', except for their own enthusiasm for it.

Among all the conspiracy theories of thirty years, my friend has always been William of Occam [1287-1347] who seems to have believed quaintly that the simplest explanation compatible with the actual facts was the most likely to be true. Here are some facts about Lockerbie, suggesting a relatively simple explanation:-

1. Iran had an airbus containing 290 innocent victims destroyed by a US missile 5 months before Lockerbie, and received no timeous apology whatever for that dreadful error. Indeed the man responsible for firing the missile, Captain Will Rogers of the USS Vincennes, received a medal.

2. Iran publicly swore revenge.

3.Iran was linked to the Damascus based terror group known as the PFLP-GC and their bomb maker, the Jordanian, Marwan Khreesat. The CIA knew this and also were aware of a payment by Iran into a numbered PFLP-GC bank account discovered in the possession of an arrested member of that group. 

4. A letter from the King of Jordan to John Major claiming that Lockerbie was not the work of the Libyans was in possession of the Zeist prosecution, but when later requested for defence purposes was hastily given a PII certificate by the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, at the request of Scotland's Advocate General.

5. Kreesat had developed anti-aircraft bombs based on an air pressure sensitive switch and crude timer. His bombs were not adjustable, were stable at ground level, but constructed to explode automatically within 30 - 45 minutes of take off if placed in an aircraft.

6. A detailed analysis of these devices by the West German police had been sent to UK and US authorities well before Lockerbie, confirming that not all the examples of these devices were thought to have been recovered from the terrorists.

7. Steps taken to block insertion of such devices at Heathrow were wildly inappropriate.

8. In the light of Morag Kerr's book Adequately explained by stupidity? there is powerful reasoned argument for re-assessment of the happenings at Heathrow that evening, and in particular uncertainty over the origins of two suitcases loaded there aboard the fatal flight, and placed close to the origin of the explosion. 

9. The fatal flight exploded in the very middle of the designed fixed flight time for Khreesat's devices.

These are but a few simple facts from among many others. It is to be hoped that the question of ingestion of the bomb at Heathrow, not just Malta or Frankfurt as well as the bomb's most probable origins, will soon accompany new steps by the Scottish authorities to review this dreadful case in detail, on behalf of the late Mr Megrahi's family. 
Dr Jim Swire

Friday, 11 May 2018

Lockerbie: Kenny McAskill and Alex Salmond must tell all

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of the Daily Express. It reads in part:]

Former SNP ministers Kenny MacAskill and Alex Salmond should be hauled before MSPs to explain what they knew about the Lockerbie bomber’s conviction.

The demand came as the man who freed Abdelbaset al-Megrahi from prison said the case against the Libyan would “almost certainly” collapse on appeal.

During his tenure as Justice Secretary, Mr MacAskill insisted the Scottish Government “did not doubt” Megrahi’s conviction for Britain’s worst terrorist atrocity.

However, since standing down from Holyrood in 2016, he has performed a public U-turn and described the court’s decision as “probably unsafe”.

Mr Salmond has also used his chat show on Russian TV channel RT to suggest Megrahi – who died of prostate cancer in 2012 – was wrongly convicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988 with the loss of 270 lives.

Mr MacAskill yesterday dismissed the evidence of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, who said Megrahi bought the clothes shown to be in the bomb suitcase from his store.

It has since emerged that Mr Gauci was secretly paid $2million by the US Government and Mr MacAskill said it was “hard to see” how his evidence could be allowed to stand by appeal judges.

He added: “If it falls, then the case against Megrahi almost certainly collapses.”

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) recently launched a review to decide if a fresh appeal can be allowed.

Police Scotland is also nearing the end of a four-year investigation into serious allegations of criminality by Lockerbie investigators and prosecutors made by the campaign group Justice for Megrahi (JfM).

JfM spokesman Iain McKie called for Mr Salmond and Mr MacAskill to report any “relevant information” to both the police and the SCCRC.

He also demanded the pair should be required to appear before the Holyrood Justice Committee “as a matter of urgency” to explain their public statements since leaving office.

He said: “Kenny MacAskill turned down our request for a public inquiry into the conviction and yet now he is saying that same conviction is unsafe. Politicians in parliament are engaged in oversight and members of that committee should be made aware of all the facts.

“We are not attacking anybody, we are simply saying that important ex-politicians have a duty to bring forward every scrap of information they hold and also to explain how they came by that information. 

“It’s time the mists were cleared and MacAskill and Salmond are not helping to clear those mists.”

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Lockerbie bomber’s conviction may well collapse

[This is the headline over an article by Kenny MacAskill in today's edition of The Scotsman. It reads in part:]

The Lockerbie saga continues and, as with the assassination of John F Kennedy, conspiracy theories will run for ever. It’s unsurprising that the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC) has passed it through the first stage of their process, as Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction is questionable to say the least.

As the SCCRC found on the last occasion when they considered this a decade ago, there are issues to investigate. Not least the evidence of Tony Gauci, a man who it’s since been disclosed received substantial sums of money for his testimony. Of course, it doesn’t mean he was a liar, I’ve heard many say he was just a simple man who tried to help and only later discovered there was a reward available. 

However, given that it’s unprecedented in Scots Law and that the court in the same trial castigated the evidence of a paid CIA informer, it’s hard to see how it can be accepted. If it falls, then the case against Megrahi almost certainly collapses.

That doesn’t mean that those who prosecuted him or convicted him were at fault. In my view, all involved sought to act appropriately in what was an extremely difficult case. Nor does it necessarily follow that the court will exculpate Megrahi as I’ve always he had a peripheral role but wasn’t the bomber. It’s one thing to argue the conviction was unsafe but quite another to say that he had no involvement. 

It’ll also be interesting if it does return to court to see if new evidence is rolled out by the Crown. Since the fall of Gaddafi, the CIA and MI6 have obtained documentation from Libya, as well as locating key witnesses and removing them from the failed state. They’re now available but will they be produced? In particular will Moussa Koussa, Libya’s former Foreign Minister, appear? He defected with the help of MI6 and now lives in Qatar.

Conspiracy theories abound about who perpetrated the Lockerbie bombing, most are absurd though a few have more legitimacy. However, it’s surprising that people still question Libya’s involvement in the atrocity and the reasons are threefold. Firstly, all the evidence points to it. Secondly, Colonel Gaddafi admitted it, stating that they hadn’t planned it but accepting that they’d taken over its delivery. [RB: The only evidence that tenuously supports this claim is an account by Arnaud de Borchgrave of a private conversation with Gaddafi. On no other occasion is he ever reported as having accepted Libyan involvement in Lockerbie.]  He explained that if had they conceived it they wouldn’t have used Malta as the airport to place the fatal case on board, given its known use by Libyans. Thirdly, those who have succeeded Gaddafi in whatever semblance of government that has followed in that country have also accepted culpability, though they blamed it on the former despot’s regime.

Of course, what gives some credence to conspiracy theories is that Libya neither acted alone nor initiated it. As a former senior police officer once told me, using that euphemism from the Iraq war, it was a “coalition of the willing”. And that included Iran who put up a bounty for an American airliner to be bombed, following the downing of their own civilian airliner by the USS Vincennes just months before. It also included the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, which accepted the contract and had been planning an atrocity before being intercepted by German police just weeks prior in possession of Pan Am air tags, timetables and similar bomb-making equipment. Others including Syria would have known or been involved. 

This coalition mirrors the investigation into the atrocity which included not just US and UK law enforcement and security services but many others including the Germans and Israelis. 

Now there are some who persist that Megrahi was just some innocent abroad who happened to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Really? Flying in on a false passport never to be used again, initially denying ever being there and apparently travelling without any luggage. 

The specific evidence against him may be limited but the circumstantial evidence is compelling. He was a senior Libyan intelligence agent – head of security at Libyan Arab airlines. Not only did he carry out covert work for the regime but he was both a member of the Gaddafi clan and married into the family of another senior regime leader. (...)

Some have argued that the bomb was placed aboard at Heathrow but that’s rejected by the evidence though it’s been unhelpful that the Crown have yet to publish the police report into. [RB: The sentence breaks off here, leaving us no wiser about just what police report Mr MacAskill is referring to. Could it possibly be the report on Operation Sandwood?] More compellingly Pan Am went bust as a result of their security failings at Malta and it’s inconceivable that if there were any doubt that wouldn’t have been challenged. Money talks as they say! [RB: The security failings that led to Pan Am going bust were not at Malta Airport. IF the bomb suitcase started from Malta, it went from Luqa to Frankfurt on an Air Malta Flight, NOT a Pan Am flight. Pan Am's security failings were at Frankfurt and/or Heathrow.]

The initial prosecution was also against many more than just Megrahi and his co-accused Fhimah. They included far more senior figures and included the man believed to be the bomb-maker. All requests even by the defence in due course to speak to him were rejected by the Libyans, just as all demands for more senior accused to be handed over were rejected. [RB: This is false. No charges were ever levelled at any time against any Libyans other than Megrahi and Fhimah. No request was ever made by the United Kingdom or the United States at any time for other Libyans to be handed over.]

For a deal had been brokered by the United Nations between the US/UK and Libya that not only would the trial be under Scots Law, though at a neutral venue, but that there would be no regime change. In a nutshell the two accused offered up by Libya were the highest-ranking accused that the Libyan regime was prepared to release and the lowest level that the UK/US were prepared to accept. 

But, there’s more evidence available now and others that can be prosecuted. So rather than looking back at Megrahi’s conviction, maybe it’s time to look at new evidence and at other accused.

[RB: Kenny MacAskill has made most of these points before. They have been comprehensively refuted by James Robertson here and John Ashton here.]

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Death announced of Dan Cohen

[What follows is the text of a death notice published today on the website of the Press of Atlantic City:]

Cohen, Daniel E, - 82, of Cape May Court House, NJ, died May 6, 2018. He was born in Chicago, IL and lived in New York City and Port Jervis, NY before moving to Cape May County in 1993. Dan worked as a freelance writer and wrote over 200 books including children's books on subjects such as the occult, mythology, ghosts, and dinosaurs. He and his wife Susan were founders of the Caper's Sherlock Holmes Society in Cape May County and active members of the Wodehouse Society, especially the Philadelphia Chapter. He loved his clumber spaniels, cats, bird watching, and walking on the beach. He is the father of Theodora Cohen, age 20, who was killed on Pan Am Flight 103 in the Lockerbie Bombing. He and his wife were very active in the fight for justice for the 243 victim's families. Daniel is survived by his wife Susan (formerly Handler); sister Jean Fuller of Lake Oswego, OR; and several nieces, nephews, and cousins. Services are private.

[RB: A longer obituary, with details of the views about the Lockerbie case held by Mr Cohen and his wife Susan, can be found here in The New York Times.]

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Eldest son of Abdelbaset Megrahi welcomes review of Lockerbie bombing case

What follows is excerpted from a report in today's edition of The Sunday Post:]

The son of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing has welcomed a review of his case.

Last week, it was announced that the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission would carry out a review of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction.

It could mean a fresh appeal for al-Megrahi, even though he died in 2012.

Speaking from Tripoli in Libya, where the family have returned to, his eldest son Khaled said the announcement was “happy” news.

He said: “It’s one step for us.

“We will clear my dad’s name one day.

“If I don’t, my son will.

“We trust God will be with us.

“The case is not only important to my family but also the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing who also want the truth.” (...)

It’s not the first time that al-Megrahi has appealed.

He lost one in 2002, with the SCCRC recommending in 2007 that he should be granted a second appeal.

That was dropped ahead of his release and he continued to protest his innocence until his death.

Scottish prosecutors in secret meeting with Libyans about al‑Megrahi and Lockerbie

[This is the headline over a report in today’s edition of The Sunday Times. It
reads in part:]

A clandestine meeting between the Crown Office and Libyan officials has taken place as part
of efforts to bring those behind the Lockerbie bombing to justice.

The Sunday Times has learnt that Scottish prosecutors want to interview at least one suspect
about the 1988 atrocity, and they met their Libyan counterparts in March to enlist their help.
It is understood the suspect may be linked to the purchase of a suitcase that concealed the
bomb. The Crown maintains that the suitcase was loaded onto a plane in Malta and
transferred onto Pan Am flight 103, which took off from Heathrow for New York. (...)

Scottish prosecutors maintain that Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, who was accused of buying
clothes in Malta that were packed in the suitcase, did not act alone and have vowed to bring
his accomplices to justice. Megrahi is the only person convicted of the bombing.

According to a diplomatic source, Libyan officials visited the UK at the invitation of
Scottish prosecutors and are “keen” to assist the Lockerbie investigation.

“Megrahi is regarded as unfinished business because the inquests determined that he
was not acting by himself,” said the source.

“Investigators have been looking at the people who were involved in the purchase of
a bag in Malta. This is something they have been trying to follow up and they have
leads which still need to be fully explored.”

He added: “Police Scotland have been pursuing the possibility of questioning
individuals in Libya and they have some information relating to an individual ... They
will be looking to the prosecutor [to see] if they can be tracked down and interviewed
on their behalf.”

The disclosure follows a decision by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
(SCCRC) to review Megrahi’s conviction. (...)

The SCCRC said last week that it was in “the interests of justice” to accept the
application by Megrahi’s family. The move has been welcomed by campaigners who
believe Megrahi was innocent. A separate police investigation into claims that
prosecutors, police and forensic officials perverted the course of justice is expected
to conclude shortly.

The Crown Office declined to comment.

[RB: A comment by John Cameron under this article on The Sunday Times website reads as follows:]

My Italian friends were deeply embarrassed by the judicial shenanigans of the Meredith
Kercher murder trial which showed their nation's Byzantine legal system at its worst.
But the fact is the Italian system was self-correcting and in the end, the manifestly innocent
students Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were released.

The conviction of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi for the Pan Am bombing raised a similar international
outcry. From the UN observer to Nelson Mandela, from the UK relatives' leader Dr Swire to
the Scottish churches, from his prison inmates and staff to every journalist who investigated
the case, no-one believed he was guilty.

Megrahi and co-defendant Lamin Fhimah were remanded into custody by my dear old friend, the late Sheriff Graham Cox in whose jurisdiction Lockerbie lay. He later confided, "I'm sure they've got the wrong men" adding that in the event of a miscarriage of justice, the Scottish judiciary was "too small and too inbred" to sort it out.

We shall see!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Lockerbie case review is a welcome step in the interests of justice

[This is the headline over an editorial published today in The Herald. It reads as follows:]


The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission’s decision that it will look again at the conviction of the Lockerbie bomber is welcome.
The SCCRC has decided it is “in the interests of justice” to proceed with a review.
This paper has long argued for a public inquiry into the case, on the basis that there are a number of serious concerns about the way the guilty verdict against the late Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi was reached.
This includes the withholding of key evidence from the defence, doubts about the identification of Al-Megrahi, and the motivation of witnesses who were paid.
It is a matter of regret that Al-Megrahi chose to drop his appeal against conviction in 2009. The SCCRC has now accepted the widely held supposition that Al-Megrahi chose not to pursue his appeal because he believed it would help secure his release from jail on compassionate grounds, suffering from terminal cancer.
For Al-Megrahi, any vindication will be posthumous. He continued to deny his involvement until his death from prostate cancer in 2012.
The SCCRC review is not the public inquiry many still seek. But it is important the conviction is scrutinised. As we approach the 30th anniversary of the terrible event of December 21 1998, there will be concern that Scottish justice will not emerge from any review in a good light. But should mistakes have been made, it is important they are acknowledged.
Whether or not Al-Megrahi was guilty of involvement, others must have played a part too. Relatives of those who died have described this as “unfinished business”. This review could put to rest many of their unanswered questions. It is in their interests and in the interests of public confidence in Scottish justice for the truth to finally emerge.
[RB: A leader headed Honest Truth in today's edition of The Times reads in part:]
Those who witnessed the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing on December 21, 1988 will never forget it. An explosion in the baggage hold of Pan Am Flight 103 blew the 747 passenger jet to pieces in the skies above Dumfries and Galloway. (...)
Now the case of the only man convicted of the atrocity is to be re-examined. Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi was found guilty in 2001 after a trial held, under Scots law, in a special court constructed in the Netherlands. He died of terminal prostate cancer in Libya in 2012, after being released from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds after serving eight years of a 27-year sentence. Yesterday the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission said it would carry out a review of al-Megrahi’s conviction. It will consider whether the case should be referred for a new appeal.
Those who lost loved ones in the Lockerbie tragedy have been forced to grieve in public and their desire for justice has manifested itself in a range of different ways. Many of the bereaved, particularly in the United States, believe al-Megrahi’s conviction was just. They largely accept the version of events presented by Scottish prosecutors and supported by the UK and US governments. Other relatives have been troubled by what they see as inconsistencies in the evidence and to varying degrees they have lost confidence in the authorities’ handling of the case. Meanwhile an entire Lockerbie industry has grown up and the story has become a magnet for cranks, activists, self-publicists and conspiracy theorists. They have commandeered the known facts and embellished them to their own purpose. [RB: Magnus Linklater really is a sore loser! I predict that he will eventually have a lot more to be sore about.]
The Lockerbie story has remained in the public eye in the years since al-Megrahi’s conviction because the world keeps changing, casting new light on the facts as they are known. There have been revelations about the circumstances in which Colonel Gaddafi, after talks with Tony Blair in what became known as “the deal in the desert”, surrendered the Lockerbie accused for trial. Investigative journalists have spent much time weighing the evidence supplied by Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who was a key witness for the prosecution. The collapse in 2011 of the Libyan regime opened up the possibility of discovering more details of the state-sponsored operation which, according to the Crown Office’s version of events, led to the destruction of Flight 103. Despite the chaos wreaked on Libya by a brutal civil war, those inquiries are still continuing.
This move by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission adds a new twist to an already tangled tale. Some critics of the Scottish authorities’ handling of the Lockerbie case will view it as vindication of years of campaigning. They insist a miscarriage of justice has taken place and that this is the first step to a remedy. Others will observe this development with a weary sigh, wondering when the Lockerbie dead will finally be allowed to rest in peace.
This newspaper welcomes the commission’s decision to hold a review. If there are weaknesses in al-Megrahi’s conviction then it is the duty of the Scottish criminal justice system to acknowledge them. If the conviction is sound, then it does no harm to apply persistent accusations to rigorous analysis by some of the finest minds in Scots law. In both scenarios, what matters is openness, clarity and truth. We owe nothing less to the memory of those who died on that fateful winter’s night.

[RB: An opinion piece by Justice for Megrahi's Iain McKie in the same edition of The Times reads as follows:]

As this year’s 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster approaches Justice for Megrahi (JfM) believes the decision by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to hold a full review into the conviction of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi to be truly momentous.

After years of the Scottish justice system trying to consign this tragedy to history the commission, having reviewed the available evidence, has accepted that when al-Megrahi abandoned his appeal it was the last resort of a terminally ill man who longed to return home to his family. It would have been easy to conclude in the interests of justice there could not be another bite of the cherry. It is courageous and wise of the commission to decide otherwise.

In 2012 JfM made allegations about the conduct of persons involved in the investigation and trial of al-Megrahi, which became the subject of a four-year inquiry by Police Scotland. The findings of Operation Sandwood are about to be submitted to the Crown Office.

In the past the Scottish government turned down JfM’s requests for a public inquiry into what we believed to be a massive miscarriage of justice. Thankfully the Scottish parliament’s justice committee continues oversight of the situation and our petition for an inquiry remains open. We believe there now is real hope that this deep and abiding shadow over Scotland’s justice system will finally be removed.

[RB: An accompanying opinion piece by Magnus Linklater can be found here. It contains the usual slurs and misrepresentations that have been frequently countered in articles featured on this blog, including this one by John Ashton. A further article in The Times headlined Verdict 'was probably unsafe' reads as follows:]

Senior figures in the Scottish legal and political establishment believe that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi should not have been convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

Al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah went on trial in 2000 in a Scottish court, convened in the Netherlands, for the mass murder in 1988. Mr Fhimah was acquitted. Observers were shocked when al-Megrahi was found guilty. Critics of the verdict have focused on the testimony of Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who said that al-Megrahi “resembled” a man who bought clothes in his store that were later found to have been wrapped round the bomb that destroyed the plane.

It emerged that Mr Gauci was paid $1 million by the US justice department. Kenny MacAskill, the former justice secretary, has described the verdict as probably “unsafe”.

Robert Black, emeritus professor of law at Edinburgh University, said that the Scottish judges had come under pressure to convict.

“This was the most important criminal case in Scotland ever,” he said. “If there was not a conviction, the Lord Advocate really would have egg all over his face. The judges were not prepared to give the Lord Advocate a bloody nose.”

Thursday, 3 May 2018

SCCRC deserves "great credit" for deciding to review Megrahi case

[What follows is excerpted from a report by Mike Wade published this afternoon on the website of The Times:]

A review of the evidence against the man found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing is to be held, to determine whether his family can lodge an appeal against his conviction.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) ruled that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi had abandoned a previous appeal in 2009 “as he held a genuine and reasonable belief that such a course of action would result in him being able to return home to Libya”. At the time he had terminal cancer.

(...)He was jailed for 27 years in 2001 but died of prostate cancer aged 60 in 2012, three years after his release on compassionate grounds.

SCCRC chief executive Gerard Sinclair said: “In any application where an applicant has previously chosen to abandon an appeal against conviction, the commission will look carefully at the reasons why the appeal was abandoned and consider whether it is in the interests of justice to allow a further review of the conviction.”

In this case, Mr Sinclair said that all the available evidence suggested al-Megrahi’s fight against cancer, and his desire to die with his family, had caused him to abandon his legal action.

In a statement, al-Megrahi’s family welcomed the SCCRC decision. “The reputation of the Scottish law has suffered both at home and internationally because of widespread doubts about the conviction of Mr al-Megrahi,” the statement said. “It is in the interests of justice and restoring confidence in our criminal justice system that these doubts can be addressed, however the only place to determine whether a miscarriage of justice did occur is in the appeal court, where the evidence can be subjected to rigorous scrutiny.”

Jim Swire, who has long campaigned for an appeal, said he heard the news of the review “with great pleasure”.

Dr Swire, whose daughter died in the atrocity, was one of a number of observers of al-Megrahi’s trial in 2001 who has rejected its verdict.

He said that the SCCRC should be able to complete its work swiftly, after finding a number of grounds for appeal following an earlier review of the case, which reported in 2007.

“No one should forget that the SCCRC previously spent three years looking at the case and they found six reasons why the verdict might be incorrect,” Dr Swire said. “One would imagine that this time there should be no significant delay in their review of the case.”

Robert Black, the eminent lawyer who designed the 2001 trial, held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, said it was “to the great credit” of the SCCRC that it decided to review the case. He too rejects the verdict against al-Megrahi.

“There is genuine concern about this conviction,” Professor Black said. “It was [the QC] Ian Hamilton who said, ‘I don’t think there is a lawyer in Scotland who believes al-Megrahi was properly convicted.’ That may be extreme, but it is tending in that direction.

“No lawyer can read that judgement, and say, ‘Yeah, they nailed it.’ It’s quite the reverse.” Al-Megrahi lost an appeal against his conviction in 2002.

Five years later the SCCRC recommended he should be granted the second appeal, subsequently dropped by al-Megrahi because of his ill health. His family lodged a posthumous appeal last year.

Press briefing on behalf of Megrahi family

[What follows is the text of a press release issued today by Aamer Anwar & Co on behalf of the Megrahi family:]

Statement issued on behalf of the family of Mr Al-Megrahi by solicitor Aamer Anwar

“It has been a long journey in the pursuit for truth and justice. When Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie on the 21st December 1988 killing 270 people from 21 countries, it remains the worst terrorist atrocity ever committed in the UK. Nearly 30 years later many believe that Megrahi was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

An application was lodged by my office in July 2017 with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) seeking to overturn the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for murder.

The application was submitted on behalf of :-

i)                    The immediate family members of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi including his wife Aysha Ali Ahmed and son Ali abdulbasit Al-Megrahi (aged 22)
ii)                  Dr Jim Swire, Rev’d John F Mosey and many other British relatives of passengers who died on board Pan Am Flight 103 continue to support this application.

The Commission had previously determined on the 28th June 2007 that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi may have suffered a miscarriage of justice in relation to his conviction and identified six grounds for referring the case to the High Court. We have asked the Commission to reconfirm these six grounds.  

Special circumstances
The Commission were asked to address the issue of whether it is in the interests of justice to refer the case to the High Court for a posthumous appeal. The Appeal was commenced but following the diagnosis of terminal cancer it was suddenly abandoned in 2009. The application being lodged dealt with the circumstances that lead to Mr Al-Megrahi abandoning his appeal.

To date both the UK Government and Scottish Government have claimed that they played no role in pressuring Mr  Megrahi into dropping his appeal as a condition of his immediate release. It was alleged that this was fundamentally untrue.

The question for the Commission was whether it regards it as in the interests of justice to refer a case back to the High Court where the convicted person himself had commenced an appeal on a SCCRC reference and then chosen to abandon it.

The answer depended on the precise circumstances in which the appellant came to abandon his appeal. Mr Megrahi's terminal illness; the fact that prisoner transfer was not open while the appeal was ongoing; and whether Mr Megrahi had no way of knowing that Kenny MacAskill would ultimately opt for compassionate release rather than prisoner transfer, or as is alleged that he was led to believe that he would not be released unless he dropped his appeal.

We welcome the news that today that the SCCRC having considered all the available evidence have confirmed that they believe then when Mr Megrahi abandoned his appeal, he did so as he believed he held a genuine and reasonable belief that such a course of action would result in him being able to return home to Libya, at a time when he was suffering from terminal cancer.

The case will now proceed to stage 2 and the Commission will conduct a full review of the conviction for the ‘Lockerbie Bombing’ in order to decide if the case is referred back to the Court of Appeal.

The reputation of the Scottish law has suffered both at home and internationally because of widespread doubts about the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi. It is in the interests of justice and restoring confidence in our criminal justice system that these doubts can be addressed, however the only place to determine whether a miscarriage of justice did occur is in the appeal court, where the evidence can be subjected to rigorous scrutiny.


ONCE THE APPLICATION LODGED WITH THE SCCRC -WHAT HAPPENS?

1.      The case will be assigned to a case worker at the SCCRC and that worker will consider the case and provide a report to the Board (who sit once a month) The Board will consider whether to refer it back.

2.      The Board normally consider several cases at the same time but it is likely that in this instance the Board will convene specially to hear this application. 

3.      The SCCRC review and investigation process is described as thorough, robust, impartial and independent.

4.      On receipt of an application the Chief Executive of the Commission allocates the application to a legal officer. They obtain the court papers.
5.      The legal officer obtains any other further information he or she considers to be necessary so that the Board of the Commission can take a decision about whether to accept the application for review. 
6.      If the Board does not accept the application for review, the Chief Executive writes to the applicant and his or her representative to inform them of the Board's decision and the file is closed.
7.      If the Board accepts the application for review, they will write to all the relevant parties - e.g. The Crown, the Police and the Defence - to notify them that the application has been accepted for review and to request that they preserve for the duration of our review all documents and productions they hold relative to the case.
8.      They obtain then relevant papers from the Crown, the Police and the Defence. 
9.      Under normal circumstances the Legal Officer will conduct a review of the papers and issues in the case and will arrange to interview the applicant. 
10.  The Legal Officer prepares a case plan document setting out information relating to the evidence led at trial, the appeal, the grounds of review and his or her recommendations to take forward the review of the case.
11.  Within two months from the date of the acceptance of the application for review, the case plan is submitted to a Committee of two or three Board Members and the Chief Executive. The Committee consider the case plan and agree a course of action with the Legal Officer for the review of the case.
12.  The Legal Officer proceeds with the investigation and review, updating the Committee on the progress of the review every month or so and seeking guidance from the Committee and/or the Chief Executive where necessary.
13.  The review process should take no longer than nine months for conviction cases.
14.  After the review of the case is completed, the Committee take a view about whether or not the case should be referred to the High Court.
15.  The legal officer then prepares a draft statement of reasons for referral or non-referral for the Committee’s consideration. Once the Committee is content with the draft statement of reasons, the case is submitted to the Board of the Commission for a decision. 
16.  If the Board recommends a referral then the application will go back to the Appeal Court.
BACKGROUND TO THE CONVICTION AND SENTENCE

Mr Megrahi was convicted on the 31st January 2001 of the charge of murder following trial at the High Court of Justiciary sitting at Kamp van Zeist in the Netherlands. His co-accused Al-amin Khalifa Fimah was acquitted following trial. Mr Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 27 years.

Appeal
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s first appeal was dismissed on the 14th March 2002.

The next appeal was mounted in consequence of the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission’s reference dated 28 June 2007.

Grounds of Appeal 1 and 2 were argued before the Court in full at a public hearing which took place between 28 April and 19 May 2009. On 7th July 2009 the Court indicated that one of its numbers, Lord Wheatley, had been hospitalised. It continued consideration of the grounds of appeal.

On 18th August 2009 Mr Megrahi with leave of the court, abandoned his appeal. No judgement or opinion has therefore been handed down by the Court upon these submissions.

BACKGROUND TO THE CONVICTION  

Pan Am flight 103 (“PA103”)
1.5 At 7.03pm on Wednesday 21 December 1988, shortly after taking off from Heathrow airport, PA103 was flying at an altitude of 31,000 feet en route to John F Kennedy airport, New York, when an explosion caused the aircraft to disintegrate and fall out of the sky. 243 passengers and 16 crew on board were killed. The victims came from 21 countries, the vast majority being from the United States.

1.6 The resulting debris was spread over a very wide area in Scotland and the North of England, but principally it landed in and around the town of Lockerbie causing the deaths of a further 11 people. In all 270 people were killed in the disaster.

1.7 A massive police operation was mounted to recover the bodies of the victims and as much of the debris as possible. The local police force, Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary (“D&G”), was assisted in the search operation by numerous officers from other forces in Scotland and England, as well as by military personnel and members of voluntary organisations.

Fatal Accident Inquiry
1.8 On 1 October 1990 a fatal accident inquiry was conducted by Sheriff Principal John Mowat QC. In his findings in fact, Sheriff Principal Mowat found that a Samsonite suitcase (“the primary suitcase”) containing a Toshiba radio cassette recorder loaded with a Semtex-type plastic explosive had been placed on board Pan Am flight 103A (“PA103A”) from Frankfurt to London Heathrow before being transferred to PA103; that the suitcase had probably arrived at Frankfurt on another airline and been transferred to PA103A without being identified as an unaccompanied bag; that the baggage had not been reconciled with passengers travelling on PA103, nor had it been x-rayed at Heathrow; and that the cause of all the deaths was the  detonation of the explosive device in luggage container AVE 4041 which had been situated on the left side of the forward hold of the aircraft.

1.9 Sheriff Principal Mowat concluded that the primary cause of the deaths was a criminal act of murder.

The police investigation
 1.10 It had been concluded very soon after the disaster that the likely cause had been the detonation of an improvised explosive device. From the date of the explosion and throughout the course of 1989-1991, an extensive international police investigation was carried out, principally involving the British and American investigating authorities, but also including the police forces of the former Federal Republic of Germany (“the BKA”) and of Malta.

1.11 Initially, suspicion fell upon Palestinian terrorist groups, in particular the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (“PFLP-GC”). However, in 1990 developments in the investigation turned its focus to Libya, and on 13 November 1991 a warrant was granted by a sheriff at Dumfries for the arrest of the applicant and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah (“the co-accused”), both Libyan nationals. On the following day the Lord Advocate issued an indictment setting out the charges against the two accused. Simultaneously, as a result of a federal grand jury investigation, the US Attorney General published an indictment in substantially similar terms to that issued by the Scottish authorities.

1.12 Following publication of the indictments, the UK and the US sought the handover of the two accused for trial, and throughout 1992 and 1993 the UN Security Council issued a number of resolutions calling upon Libya to do so. It also imposed extensive economic sanctions against that country. Libya denied any involvement in the crime.

Proposals for trial in the Netherlands
1.13 In 1998 the governments of the UK and the US wrote to the Secretary General of the UN indicating that they were prepared to arrange a trial of the two accused before a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands. The trial, it was proposed, would follow Scots law and procedure in every respect except that the jury would be replaced by a panel of three judges. Following Libya’s consent to the initiative, an agreement was entered into between the UK and the Netherlands to put it into effect. On the same date, the High Court of Justiciary (Proceedings in the Netherlands) (United Nations) Order 1998 came into force in the UK, regulating such matters as the constitution of the trial and appeal courts.

1.14 Lords Sutherland, Coulsfield and MacLean were appointed to form the panel of judges. Lord Abernethy was appointed as an additional judge to assume the functions of any member of the panel who died during the proceedings or was absent for a prolonged period. He was not required to carry out that function. The location of the court was chosen as Kamp van Zeist in the Netherlands.

1.15 On 5 April 1999, the applicant and the co-accused travelled to the Netherlands where they were arrested by Scottish police officers. On 14 April 1999 they were fully committed for trial, and were detained at premises within the court precincts. The indictment was served upon them on 29 October 1999.

The trial 
1.16 Preliminary pleas to the competency and relevancy of the charges were raised by both accused and argued on their behalf by counsel at a hearing on 7 December 1999. On 8 December, Lord Sutherland, sitting alone, held the charges to be both competent and relevant (see HMA v Al Megrahi (No 1) 2000 SCCR 177). Leave to appeal the decision was granted but no appeal was taken.

1.17 The trial commenced on 3 May 2000, and the cases for both accused closed on 8 January 2001. Neither the applicant nor the co-accused gave evidence.  Following submissions by the parties on 18 January 2001 the diet was adjourned to allow the judges to deliberate upon their verdicts.

1.19 The court returned its verdict on 31 January 2001. It unanimously found the co-accused not guilty. The verdict in relation to the applicant was recorded in the minutes of trial in the following terms (see also the transcript of proceedings on day 86 of the trial):
“The Court Unanimously found the Accused Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi GUILTY on the Second Alternative Charge but that under deletion of the words ‘and you Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifah [sic] Fhimah  did there and then cause a suitcase to be introduced to Malta’ in lines 4 to 6 of subhead (e) of said charge and under deletion of the words ‘said suitcase, or’ in line 4 of subhead (g) and under deletion of the word ‘similar’ in line [4] of said subhead (g)”.

1.20 The court sentenced the applicant to life imprisonment, backdated to 5 April 1999, and recommended that he serve a minimum period of 20 years before he could be considered for release on licence.

Post-trial developments 
Appeal 
1.21 The applicant lodged grounds of appeal against conviction on 11 June 2001 and leave to appeal was granted on 23 August 2001. The proceedings took place at Kamp van Zeist between 23 January and 14 February 2002, and the opinion of the court, rejecting the appeal, was issued on 14 March 2002.

Application to the European Court of Human Rights 
1.22 On 12 September 2002 the applicant’s defence team lodged an application (number 33955/02) with the European Court of Human Rights in which they argued that the applicant’s right to a fair trial had been infringed by, inter alia, prejudicial pre-trial publicity. On 11 February 2003 the court ruled the application inadmissible on the basis that the applicant had failed to exhaust domestic remedies by raising these issues in the domestic forum.

Diplomatic developments 
1.25 On 12 September 2003, the UN passed a resolution lifting all UN sanctions against Libya.

 “Punishment part” hearing
 1.26 At a hearing at the High Court in Glasgow on 24 November 2003 under the Convention Rights (Compliance) (Scotland) Act 2001, the punishment part of the applicant’s sentence was set at 27 years, again backdated to 5 April 1999. On 18 December 2003 the Lord Advocate appealed against the sentence as being unduly lenient. 

For further background please refer to:-