Friday, 2 June 2017

Crown caught out misleading the court

[On this date in 2000, the procurator fiscal in charge of preparations for the Lockerbie trial wrote a highly significant memorandum to two of the senior advocate deputes prosecuting the case. A redacted copy of the memorandum can be read here. When the memorandum eventually came into the public domain more than a decade later John Ashton commented as follows:]

Welcoming the release of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission's report on the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on 25 March [2012], Alex Salmond managed to add to the roll call of excuses for not ordering a public inquiry into the case.
The report, he said, 'in many ways is far more comprehensive than any inquiry could ever hope to be'. In fact, it's not: the SCCRC's job was to establish whether Megrahi may have been wrongly convicted, not to examine why the case went so badly wrong, although it undoubtedly shed some light on that matter.  
If a single document illustrates why we still need an inquiry, it is a confidential memo dated 2 June 2000 by the lead procurator fiscal on the case, Norman McFadyen. Published here for the first time, it reports on a meeting that McFadyen and advocate depute Alan Turnbull QC had had the previous day at the US embassy in The Hague. Large sections of it remain redacted.
The two prosecutors were there to inspect CIA cables relating to one of the Crown's star witnesses, an ex-colleague of Megrahi's called Majid Giaka, who was a member of the Libyan external intelligence service, the ESO. Giaka, it transpired, was also a CIA informant. Crucially, he claimed that, shortly before the bombing, Megrahi had arrived in Malta with a brown Samsonite suitcase and that his co-accused Lamin Fhimah had helped him carry it through airport customs. If true, this was highly significant, because the Lockerbie bomb was also contained within a brown Samsonite and, according to the Crown, began its journey in Malta.
Twenty-five heavily redacted cables had been disclosed to the defence. The purpose of the meeting, according to the memo, was to view almost entirely unredacted versions in order to determine 'whether there was any material which required to be disclosed to the defence'. Page two states that, at the CIA's insistence, the two men had to sign a confidentiality agreement, the terms of which McFadyen described as follows: 'If we found material which we wished to use in evidence we would require to raise that issue with the CIA and not make any use of the material without their agreement'. In effect, then, the Crown had secretly ceded to the CIA the right to determine what material might be used in court.          
But it's what followed a few paragraphs later that's key. MacFadyen reported that, having inspected the cables:
We were able to satisfy ourselves that there was nothing omitted which could assist the defence in itself. There were some references to matters which in isolation might be thought to assist the defence – eg details of payments or of efforts by Majid to secure sham surgery – but since evidence was being provided as to the total of payments made and of the request for sham surgery, the particular material did not appear to be disclosable. We were satisfied that the material which had been redacted was not relevant to the case or helpful to the defence.
MacFadyen was correct in stating that evidence had been disclosed of the total payments to Giaka and a request for sham surgery in order to enable him to resign from the ESO. The payments were detailed in two separate CIA documents (not cables) while his desire for sham surgery request was referred to in one of the disclosed cables.
When, almost three months later, the defence counsel learned of the Hague embassy meeting, they urged the court to ask the Crown to obtain the complete cables from the CIA. In response, the lord advocate, Colin Boyd QC, assured the court that MacFadyen's and Turnbull's review had established that 'there was nothing within the cables which bore on the defence case, either by undermining the Crown case or by advancing a positive case which was being made or may be made, having regard to the special [defence of incrimination]'. He added: 'there is nothing within these documents which relates to Lockerbie or the bombing of Pan Am 103 which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Mr Majid [Giaka] on these matters'.

The court nevertheless urged the Crown to seek fuller versions of the cables from the CIA. Three days later the Crown handed the defence copies with far fewer redactions. What, then, was contained in the previously concealed sections, which, in MacFadyen's view, was 'not relevant to the case or helpful to the defence'? Here's what.
There were repeated references not only to Giaka's desire for sham surgery, but also his repeated and successful pleas to the CIA to pay for it. One of the cables described him as 'something of a hypochondriac', while another noted his claim to be a distant relative of Libya's former leader King Idris. A further one revealed that he wanted the CIA to set him up in a car rental business in Malta and that he had saved $30,000 towards the venture. His handlers believed that much of the money had been acquired from illegal commissions and perhaps through low-level smuggling.
Crucially, there were references to other meetings with the CIA, for which no cables had disclosed. Eventually the CIA coughed up 36 more, about which MacFadyen and Turnbull were seemingly unaware.
The most telling fact concealed by the redactions was that the CIA had grown increasingly dissatisfied with Giaka. One noted that his information about the ESO's structure and administration 'may be somewhat skewed by his prolonged absence and lack of seniority'. Another revealed that he would be told: 'that he will only continue his $1,000 per month salary payment through the remainder of 1989. If [he] is not able to demonstrate sustained and defined access to information of intelligence value by January 1990, [the CIA] will cease all salary and financial support until such access can be proven again'.
A later section of the same cable noted: 'it is clear that [Giaka] will never be the penetration of the ESO that we had anticipated… [He] has never been a true staff member of the ESO and as he stated at this meeting, he was coopted with working with the ESO and he now wants nothing to do with them or their activities… We will want to ensure that [he] understands what is expected of him and what he can expect from us in return. [CIA] officer will therefore advise [him] at 4 Sept meeting that he is on "trial" status until 1 January 1990'.
Having analysed the unredacted sections, Richard Keen QC, respresenting Megrahi's co-accused, Lamin Fhimah, told the court it was 'abundantly clear' that much of the newly uncovered information was highly relevant to the defence, adding, 'I frankly find it inconceivable that it could have been thought otherwise... Some of the material which is now disclosed goes to the very heart of material aspects of this case, not just to issues of credibility and reliability, but beyond'.
In order words, the Crown had been caught out misleading the court. I do not suggest that Boyd did so deliberately, neither that MacFadyen and Turnbull deliberately concealed evidence that they knew would by helpful to the defence. Motive is not the issue: what really matters is the quality of the Crown's judgement.
Armed with the new information and the 36 additional cables, Keen and Megrahi's counsel, Bill Taylor QC, were able to demolish Giaka's credibility and with it the case against Fhimah, who was acquitted. Had the court taken Boyd at his word and the redactions not been lifted, Giaka might have left the witness stand with his credibility intact and Fhimah may well have been convicted along with Megrahi.
The big remaining question raised by the MacFadyen memo is: was it an isolated failure of judgement or the tip of the iceberg? The SCCRC found numerous items of significant evidence which the Crown had failed to disclose to Megrahi's lawyers. Did the prosecutors also satisfy themselves in each instance 'that there was nothing omitted which could assist the defence'? Only a full public inquiry can adequately answer such questions. It is high time that Salmond's government ordered one. 


  1. In most contexts of life cheating just one time means that you are disqualified.

    It is not measured how much advantage the cheating gave you, to then evaluate whether you might still have passed even without cheating.
    No, out you go, of the current game, the context it is in, you are quarantined and stand disgraced.

    Why? Because you only participated with the responsibility of being honest.

    Your participation was not some game of where you could play foul and get away with it, and then, how much of it would be discovered.

    If the defense or prosecution in a court case is found to deliberately trying to distort the findings by present information against better knowledge, or hide information it was obliged to present, the case itself must be over.

    An accused or witness can lie and if caught it will hurt the case. But if the defense/prosecution in advance had evidence that the testimony was unreliable or even false, and failed to reveal it, the case itself must be over.

    I see there's a word for this: "spoliation of evidence".
    This is one example, the hiding of the Heathrow break-in is another.

    Have we accepted, that justice is already such a dirty and obscure game, that we must be flexible?

    That a wig and a robe willmust allow you to do what no sportsman or kid to an exam would, or should, have gotten away with?

    'there is nothing within these documents which relates to Lockerbie or the bombing of Pan Am 103 which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Mr Majid [Giaka] on these matters'.

    We are talking about the only witness that directly implies the accused in bomb-making activities.

    Where was the judge that said "Mr Colin, you have responsibilities, we need an explanation on how you could make such a totally false statement in a most crucial matter"?

  2. While the Lockerbie case can make me wonder if my impression of what would be trivial common sense would in general be inapplicable to the world of justice, I see with some consolation that this is not the case.

    Here is a case where a man sues employers after a fall. When the judge finds that the man deliberately has brought false claims, he loses the right to any compensation entirely.

    Amuzingly and surprisingly (to me), the judge then states how much compensation he'd have been entitled to, had he not lied. Well done Justice Ryan, it may have other potential cheaters think twice.

    The right verdict, given of course that the judge is rigth in the conclusion about the deliberateness of the false information.

    Of course such justice exists for only a small guy, not for the Lord Advocate & Co in a case of 270 murdered people.

    Ashton writes:
    "The big remaining question raised by the MacFadyen memo is: was it an isolated failure of judgement or the tip of the iceberg? The SCCRC found numerous items of significant evidence which the Crown had failed to disclose to Megrahi's lawyers."

    No, that is not the question. The question is if we have one case of unexplained 'failure of judgement' in an extremely critical context.

    May I suggest a construction where somebody like Justice Ryan looks after your Lord Advocates?