Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has now died without having been able to clear his name of the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 on the 21st of December 1988 during his lifetime.
Now all those politicians and Megrahi-guilt apologists who regard compassion as being a weakling’s alternative to vengeance, who boast of their skills at remote medical diagnosis, and who persistently refuse to address the uncomfortable facts of the case, will doubtless fall silent.
Finally, the ‘evil terrorist’ has been called to account for himself before a “Higher Power”.
The prosecution case against him held water like a sieve. We are expected to believe the fantastic tale of the Luqa-Frankfurt-Heathrow transfer of an invisible, unaccompanied suitcase which miraculously found itself situated in the perfect position in the hold of 103 to create maximum destructive effect having eluded no fewer than three separate security regimes.
There is no evidence for any such luggage ever having left the ground in either Malta or Germany, it is mere surmise. Not only that but we have accusations of the key Crown witness having been bribed for testimony; a multitude of serious question marks over material evidence, including the very real possibility of the crucial fragment of PCB having been fabricated; discredited forensic scientists testifying for the prosecution; Crown witness testimony being retracted after the trial and, most worryingly, allegations of the Crown’s non-disclosure of evidence which could have been key to the defence.
Added to which, evidence supporting the alternative and infinitely more logical ingestion of the bomb directly at Heathrow was either dismissed at the trial or withheld from the court until after the verdict of guilty had been returned.
The judges were under immense pressure to bring in a verdict of guilty. Zeist was the most high profile trial that the Scottish High Court of Justiciary had ever presided over. There was massive international interest, and this was compounded by the fact that the judges played the dual roles of judge and jury in a case in which the indictments were brought by the same official body that had appointed them as judges in the first instance, the Lord Advocate.
Anyone hoping, therefore, to discover an application of sound, empirical reasoning based on concrete evidence being exercised in the field of jurisprudence would do well to avoid the Zeist judgement.
Indeed, the most exceptional of Zeist’s many exceptional features is the judgement. Anyone reading this extraordinary document could be forgiven for thinking that in Scotland there is a presumption of guilt and the burden of proof is on the defence. In the words of Professor Hans Köchler (UN appointed International Observer at the Kamp van Zeist Trial) commenting on the second appeal: “[it] bears the hallmarks of an intelligence operation.”
The Crown and successive governments have, for years, acted to obstruct any attempts to investigate how the conviction of Mr al-Megrahi came about. Some in the legal and political establishments may well be breathing a sigh of relief now that Mr al-Megrahi has died. This would be a mistake. Many unfortunates who fell foul of outrageous miscarriages of justice in the past have had their names cleared posthumously.
The great and the good of western civilisation who have clamoured for Mr al-Megrahi’s blood of late may find it a salutary experience to reflect on the case of Derek Bentley: convicted and hanged in 1953, aged nineteen, for a crime for which in 1998 he was acquitted on his posthumous appeal.
However long it takes, the campaign seeking to have Mr al-Megrahi’s conviction quashed will continue unabated not only in his name and that of his family, who must still bear the stigma of being related to the ‘Lockerbie Bomber’, but, above all, it will carry on in the name of justice. A justice which is still being sought by and denied to many of the bereaved resultant from the Lockerbie tragedy.
It took almost half a century to resolve the Bentley case. With the Zeist justice campaign now in its twelfth year, one has to ask, when faced with such intransigence, precisely whom the democratically elected, executive arm of state represents.
Historically, all the major parties, both in Holyrood and Westminster, must shoulder equal responsibility. However, since first coming to power in 2007, the SNP government has actively taken measures which hinder any progress towards lifting the fog that lies over events, much to the dismay of its own party supporters and activists who take an interest in the case.
In 2009, a statutory instrument which was supposed to remove the legislative prohibition on publication of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission’s statement of reasons for the second appeal (a document that cost tax payers in excess of £1,000,000 to produce) was so drafted as to render publication effectively impossible. In 2010, the government also fired new legislation through parliament (‘Cadder’ Section7) that makes any prospect of opening another appeal in the interests of justice a forlorn hope.
Even today, ignoring the fact that, with the support of the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee, campaigners finally forced the government to admit that it does in law (under the Inquiries Act of 2005) have the power to open an inquiry into the case, the government persists in sending out correspondence claiming that it doesn’t; this, of course, is accompanied by the hackneyed old mantra of their not doubting the safety of the conviction.
Furthermore, during the consultation period of the Criminal Cases (Punishment and Review) (Scotland) Bill, campaigners established that the Data Protection Act posed no legal obstacle to the publication of the SCCRC’s statement of reasons for the second appeal, however, the government maintained otherwise with the result that it was ultimately left to the courage and commitment of members of the journalistic community to test the government’s position to destruction.
All of the aforementioned, and the regrettable habit of appointing Crown Office insiders to the position of Lord Advocate, are not reassuring signs that this matter is being treated with a sense of balance and objectivity by the authorities. The record has stuck. The longer this goes on, the more the doubts over the government’s true loyalties will increase.
This case has now become emblematic of an issue which affects each and every one of us and poses some profoundly basic questions which we ignore at our peril, namely: what do we perceive justice to be, what role ought it to play in our society and whom should it exist to serve?
Our laws and how we apply them to our society are the most fundamental descriptor of how we function as a cohesive and coherent entity. They are effectively a portrait of our identity as a people.
If, through complacency, we permit cosy, established authority to dictate the terms and to brush under the carpet concerns over how justice is defined and dispensed for the sake of convenience, expediency and reputation, we will only have ourselves to blame for the consequences.
The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, says that “Scotland’s Criminal Justice system is a cornerstone of our society, and it is paramount that there is total public confidence in it.” Scotland’s independent and professional arbiter in the matter of referrals to the Court of Appeal, the SCCRC, believe that, on no fewer than six grounds, Mr al-Megrahi may have suffered a miscarriage of justice at Zeist.
Whether or not the courts are the right and proper platform to deal with this case, the conviction has been in the hands of the High Court of Justiciary since 2001 producing no resolution whatsoever and, moreover, how amenable are the courts now likely to be towards sanctioning another appeal given that they have been invested with new powers which allow them to reject applications which question their own judgements?
Fine words are not enough. Action is required. After all, the government took executive action to release Mr al-Megrahi following the dropping of his appeal (something he was under no legal obligation to do). 52% of respondents to an opinion poll conducted by a major Scottish national newspaper supported the call for an independent inquiry into the case. Over a two week period, and with minimal publicity, 1,646 individuals put their names to a petition for an inquiry, which still remains open before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.
If Scotland wishes to see its criminal justice system reinstated to the position of respect that it once held rather than its languishing as the mangled wreck it has become because of this perverse judgement, it is imperative that its government act by endorsing an independent inquiry into this entire affair.
As a nation which aspires to independence, Scotland must have the courage to look itself in the mirror.
- Ms Kate Adie (Former Chief News Correspondent for BBC News).
- Mr John Ashton (Author of ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’ and co-author of ‘Cover Up of Convenience’).
- Mr David Benson (Actor/author of the play ‘Lockerbie: Unfinished Business’).
- Mrs Jean Berkley (Mother of Alistair Berkley: victim of Pan Am 103).
- Mr Peter Biddulph (Lockerbie tragedy researcher).
- Mr Benedict Birnberg (Retired senior partner of Birnberg Peirce & Partners).
- Professor Robert Black QC (‘Architect’ of the Kamp van Zeist Trial).
- Mr Paul Bull (Close friend of Bill Cadman: killed on Pan Am 103).
- Professor Noam Chomsky (Human rights, social and political commentator).
- Mr Tam Dalyell (UK MP: 1962-2005. Father of the House: 2001-2005).
- Mr Ian Ferguson (Co-author of: ‘Cover Up of Convenience’).
- Dr David Fieldhouse (Police surgeon present at the Pan Am 103 crash site).
- Mr Robert Forrester (Secretary of Justice for Megrahi).
- Ms Christine Grahame MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament).
- Mr Ian Hamilton QC (Advocate, author and former university rector).
- Mr Ian Hislop (Editor of ‘Private Eye’).
- Fr Pat Keegans (Lockerbie parish priest on 21st December 1988).
- Ms A L Kennedy (Author).
- Dr Morag Kerr (Secretary Depute of Justice for Megrahi).
- Mr Andrew Killgore (Former US Ambassador to Qatar).
- Mr Moses Kungu (Lockerbie councillor on the 21st of December 1988).
- Mr Adam Larson (Editor and proprietor of ‘The Lockerbie Divide’).
- Mr Aonghas MacNeacail (Poet and journalist).
- Mr Eddie McDaid (Lockerbie commentator).
- Mr Rik McHarg (Communications hub coordinator: Lockerbie crash sites).
- Mr Iain McKie (Retired Superintendent of Police).
- Mr Marcello Mega (Journalist covering the Lockerbie incident).
- Ms Heather Mills (Reporter for ‘Private Eye’).
- Rev’d John F Mosey (Father of Helga Mosey: victim of Pan Am 103).
- Mr Len Murray (Retired solicitor).
- Cardinal Keith O’Brien (Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church).
- Mr Denis Phipps (Aviation security expert).
- Mr John Pilger (Campaigning human rights journalist).
- Mr Steven Raeburn (Editor of ‘The Firm’).
- Dr Tessa Ransford OBE (Poetry Practitioner and Adviser).
- Mr James Robertson (Author).
- Mr Kenneth Roy (Editor of ‘The Scottish Review’).
- Dr David Stevenson (Retired medical specialist and Lockerbie commentator).
- Dr Jim Swire (Father of Flora Swire: victim of Pan Am 103).
- Sir Teddy Taylor (UK MP: 1964-2005. Former Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland).
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prize Winner).
- Mr Terry Waite CBE (Former envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury and hostage negotiator).