Lockerbie – A Demand For A Full Public Inquiry

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In recent weeks the issues surrounding the release and repatriation to Libya of Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi have been dominating television newscasts, newspaper front pages, editorials and comment on letter pages of the press throughout the UK, most notably in Scotland.


What follows is the text of a letter sent on behalf of the Justice for Megrahi campaign to the editors of selected newspapers and broadcast news media in the United Kingdom and abroad.

In recent weeks the issues surrounding the release and repatriation to Libya of Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi have been dominating television newscasts, newspaper front pages, editorials and comment on letter pages of the press throughout the UK, most notably in Scotland.

Whilst there have been demands from a number of quarters to open an inquiry into how and why Mr Al-Megrahi was availed of compassionate release, you will certainly also be aware of the efforts of others to not only investigate this but to establish a full, comprehensive and open public inquiry into the entire Lockerbie affair including:

  • The Fatal Accident Inquiry into the downing of Pan Am 103.
  • The police investigation of the tragedy.
  • The subsequent Kamp van Zeist trial.
  • The acquittal of Mr Fhimah and conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi.
  • The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission’s (SCCRC) referral of Mr Al-Megrahi’s case to the Court of Appeal.
  • The dropping of this second appeal and the compassionate release of Mr Al-Megrahi.

Ever since Mr Al-Megrahi’s conviction in 2001, many of the bereaved and eminent public figures from the fourth estate, legal, political, academic and religious spheres have protested that the trial was a travesty of justice. In the latter months of 2008, a campaign was launched with the express aim of obtaining Justice for Megrahi (JFM). Since its founding, it has petitioned the General Assembly of the United Nations Organisation, the Government of Malta, and most recently the Scottish Government and members of the US Senate to support the establishment of a comprehensive, public inquiry, of the type mentioned above, into all matters pertaining to the Pan Am 103/Lockerbie tragedy. At the heart of this campaign from its inception has lain a commitment to see transparency prevail and justice done in a case which from the outset has been afflicted with accusations of buck passing, obfuscation, political interference and a gross miscarriage of justice.

Confusion still continues to reign where this case is concerned, ranging from some believing that Mr Al-Megrahi was convicted by eight Law Lords to his having been released via the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA). Both of these contentions are erroneous. Mr Al-Megrahi was convicted in a court of fact, and it has always been central to this campaign, whether he actually committed the offence he has been convicted of or not, that this conviction was a miscarriage of justice based simply on the evidence laid before the three judges at Zeist by the prosecution. We do not seek to attribute blame for the events of 21st December 1988. We do not seek retribution for investigatory or judicial shortcomings. We seek justice in the name of justice.

Courts of fact can and do get things wrong. This, after all, is precisely why we rely on the institution of the Court of Appeal. Where most convicts would be happy to have their case put before the appeal court on just one ground for appeal, Mr Al-Megrahi’s second appeal was referred to the Court of Appeal by the SCCRC on no fewer than six grounds. Taking this into account, we also fully and deeply identify with those bereaved friends and families who, perfectly understandably, believe the conviction to be safe. Clearly they, more than any other group, would be utterly devastated if it were to be established that the conviction was unsafe. Nevertheless, if Mr Al-Megrahi’s appeal is not to be heard, the only option remaining is an inquiry. Justice should not and must not be viewed as a tool of convenience. It is our belief that all of the bereaved, regardless of their positions, have been done a disservice under Scots Law at Zeist.

For your convenience, you will find included below the letters sent to Mr Salmond and Mr McAskill, and, additionally, to the American senators. Furthermore, you will also find the list of signatories who are endorsing the objective of opening a Lockerbie public inquiry.

It is our belief that the fourth estate owes a moral obligation, not only to its readers and viewers but to the bereaved of Lockerbie especially, to commit its voice firmly behind demands for an inquiry into Lockerbie/Zeist. MSPs have already come out in support of such an inquiry, and although both Mr Salmond and Mr MacAskill have endorsed such in principle, they seem hesitant to grasp the nettle where it comes to setting one up in Scotland. Moreover, the media have a vital and powerful role to play in ensuring that our Scottish justice system, which is currently regarded internationally as an embarrassment, and is seen as demonstrably malleable by political hands, is reinstated to its rightful former position as an institution which can be looked up to, respected and trusted by the people.

With this in mind, we wish to extend to you an invitation to place your name alongside those of the other signatories on the letter to the Scottish Government. We feel that support of this nature from yourself, given the prominent stature of your institution, would add considerable weight to promoting the aims of this campaign.

  • The Scottish Government should not be allowed to expect other authorities to pick up the gauntlet.
  • The case was investigated by a Scottish police force.
  • The trial was conducted under Scots Law.
  • Mr Al-Megrahi was convicted under Scots Law.
  • Mr Al-Megrahi was imprisoned in a Scottish gaol.
  • The SCCRC referred the second appeal to the Scottish Court of Appeal.
  • Mr Al-Megrahi was given compassionate release by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

This is undeniably a Scottish issue.

The time to act is now. The once good name of Scottish justice can be redeemed. It must not be seen to die with Mr Al-Megrahi and finally sink into a mire of disrepute. Media pressure is a vital tool in achieving this in a case where the judiciary and politicians seem thus far to be failing. We hope that you will find the arguments presented here and in the letters below convincing enough for you to add your name to the list of signatories.

This letter is being sent to multiple press and media outlets.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Yours faithfully,
Robert Forrester (Justice for Megrahi committee member).

THE CURRENT LIST OF SIGNATORIES.

  • Mr John Ashton
    (Co-author of ‘Cover-up of Convenience: The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie’).
  • Mrs Jean Berkley
    (Co-ordinator UK Families Flight 103 and mother of Alistair Berkley: PA103 victim).
  • Professor Robert Black QC
    (Commonly referred to as the Architect of the Camp van Zeist Trial).
  • Professor Noam Chomsky
    (Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
  • Mr Tam Dalyell
    (Member of Parliament: 1962 – 2005, Father of the House: 2001 – 2005).
  • Mr Ian Ferguson
    (Co-author of ‘Cover-up of Convenience: The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie’).
  • Mr Robert Forrester
    (Justice for Megrahi campaign committee member).
  • Ms Christine Grahame
    (Member of the Scottish Parliament and justice campaigner).
  • Mr Ian Hislop
    (Editor of Private Eye: one of the UK’s most highly regarded journals of political comment).
  • Father Pat Keegans
    (Lockerbie Parish Priest at the time of the bombing of Pan Am 103).
  • Mr Iain McKie
    (Retired Police Superintendent and justice campaigner).
  • Ms Heather Mills
    (Reporter for Private Eye specialising in matters relating to Pan Am flight 103).
  • Mr Denis Phipps
    (Aviation security expert).
  • Mr Steven Raeburn
    (Editor of The Firm, one of Scotland’s foremost legal journals).
  • Doctor Jim Swire
    (Justice campaigner. Dr Swire’s daughter, Flora, was killed in the Pan Am 103 incident).
  • Sir Teddy Taylor
    (Former Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Member of Parliament from 1964 to 2005).
  • His Grace, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu
    (Defender of human rights worldwide, Nobel Peace Prize winner and headed South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission).

Letter to First Minister Mr Alex Salmond (The identical content was also sent to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Mr Kenny MacAskill), 22ND JULY 2010.

Dear First Minister,

I write on behalf of the current signatories to the petition to the United Nations Organisation General Assembly (published in September 2009) requesting the institution of a full, open and public inquiry into the investigation of the Pan Am flight 103 tragedy at Lockerbie in 1988 and the subsequent trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi at Kamp van Zeist, which resulted in his conviction in 2001 for the murder of 270 people. (…)

In August of 2009, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill MSP, sanctioned the compassionate release of Mr Al-Megrahi on medical grounds. No matter which side of the fence one is on, Mr MacAskill took a sensitive and challenging decision on an issue that was always going to be contentious and fraught; his conclusion was based on medical advice suggesting that Mr Al-Megrahi’s life expectancy might not exceed a total of three months. Medical judgments, much like legal ones, are based on practice and precedent. Medicine, however much we may wish it to be, is not an exact science, hence it is referred to by the term practice; no case is identical to any other in all respects and there must, therefore, always be an element of guesswork involved. Nevertheless, no sooner had the three month period elapsed than protests were emanating from predictable quarters in debating chambers and the press questioning why a Greater Power had neglected to avail Mr Al-Megrahi of an audience.

In light of the recent difficulties being encountered by BP in the USA, these voices have been encouraged to become increasingly shrill: with ill-informed aspersions being cast on an almost daily basis in the direction of the Scottish Government. Mr MacAskill employed due process under Scots law in acting as he did. He did not resort to the device of the PTA but instead applied a facility that is enshrined in Scots law, namely, compassionate release. All Scots have just cause to be proud of their system in this regard insofar as, combined with the fact that we have no death sentence available to us, we can demonstrate that we do not bring our system down to the level of the murderer to resolve our problems, and that we are compassionate. In response to the current attacks from both the USA and within the UK, it is now being suggested that an inquiry might be opened under the auspices of the Scottish Government into the circumstances of Mr Al-Megrahi’s release.

In our view, it is vital that the scope of any such inquiry ought also to encompass all aspects of the Lockerbie affair from December 1988 to the present day, including the investigation of the disaster and the Zeist trial itself (as laid out in the UN petition). Clearly, it is our belief that Mr Al-Megrahi may have been a victim of a gross miscarriage of justice, and in that regard, simply to focus on the questions arising from his release is of secondary import. It goes without saying, therefore, that we would be fully supportive of a full, public inquiry of this type should Edinburgh wish to open one.

From a political standpoint, such a course of action might succeed in fanning the existing flames, however, we feel that to institute a more wide-ranging inquiry could well serve to silence some of the critics, or at least make them more circumspect before going public. A step of this nature may also go some way towards restoring faith in Scotland’s once justifiably envied system of criminal justice, which is now internationally derided as a result of our continuing failure to tackle the problems created and sustained by the Lockerbie affair.

Finally, we should point out that the reason the petition was originally directed to the United Nations was because we considered that although the General Assembly does not have within its gift the power to subpoena witnesses to testify before it (unlike the Security Council), given the international nature of the incident and the fact that there seemed to be little appetite to open an inquiry in the either Westminster or Holyrood at the time, it was the appropriate route to follow. We hope that Holyrood will now take up the gauntlet and attempt to lift the fog that many feel has obscured aspects of this case from the very start.

Thank you kindly for your time and attention.

Yours faithfully,
Robert Forrester (Committee member of Justice for Megrahi).


Letter to Senators Gillibrand, Kerry, Lautenberg, Menendez, and Schumer, 29th July 2010

Dear Senators Gillibrand, Kerry, Lautenberg, Menendez and Schumer,

You may be aware that a group of signatories, many of international repute, have lobbied both the United Nations Organisation General Assembly (September 2009) and more recently the Scottish Government (July 2010) in an effort to establish a thorough, all encompassing and open, public inquiry which would cover all matters relating to: the investigation into the downing of Pan Am flight 103 (1988), the Kamp van Zeist trail of Mr Al-Megrahi and Mr Fhimah, the acquittal of Mr Fhimah and the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi (2001), and the eventual release of Mr Al-Megrahi (2009). The petition to the Scottish Government received the endorsement of seventeen signatories (see at the end: the list of signatories to the letter sent to the Scottish Government last week followed by a copy of the UN petition).

For your convenience, this link will provide you with a report on the Scottish letter and a link to the letter itself. The letter was sent both to First Minister, Alex Salmond, and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill:

In light of recent developments taking place in Washington, signatories to the Scottish Government letter wish to extend an invitation to members of the Senate of the United States of America to add their support to lobbying the Scottish Government for an inquiry by becoming signatories to the letter themselves. We all deeply sympathise with the position of those bereaved families and friends resultant from the 103 tragedy who are satisfied that the Zeist conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi was safe. Given their position, it is hardly surprising that they are outraged by his release and return to Libya. Nevertheless, on the basis of the evidence laid before their Lordships at Kamp van Zeist, it has always been our contention that Mr Al-Megrahi may have been a victim of a gross miscarriage of justice. This view is clearly supported by the fact that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred the case to the Court of Appeal. This appeal was in progress up to a point immediately prior to Mr Al-Megrahi’s release. We feel that the current focus on the circumstances surrounding Mr Al-Megrahi’s release, whilst engaging in their own right, pale into insignificance if indeed there was a miscarriage of justice.

With regard to the release, we too have questions. The Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) reached by Prime Minister Blair and Colonel Gaddafi appears to be in direct contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1192. It, moreover, seems to be rendered invalid by an existing agreement between the UK and US governments, which states that the prisoner was required to serve out his sentence in Scotland. If the PTA was in violation of the aforementioned, why was outrage not expressed on both sides of the Atlantic at the time of its being signed? See this link for details.

As it happens, and as you will be cognisant of, the PTA was not utilised in the release of Mr Al-Megrahi. He was released via due process under Scots Law by the device of Compassionate Release available the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Mr MacAskill, resulting from consideration of the prisoner’s medical condition. However, the following sequence of events may be worthy of investigation: Mr Al-Megrahi’s appeal commences, Mr MacAskill visits Mr Al-Megrahi in Greenock gaol for a private interview, Mr Al-Megrahi drops his appeal, Mr Al-Megrahi is released and repatriated to Libya. Given that under Scots Law there is no requirement to drop an appeal to be granted Compassionate Release, many of us would like to know why this was done and what transpired during the meeting between Mr MacAskill and Mr Al-Megrahi at Greenock. See also

Dr Swire, in his capacity as one of those many bereaved by the tragedy over twenty-one years ago now, has already made an impassioned plea for support in his quest for justice to Senator Kerry recently. It is essential, even after the passing of so many years, to address the question marks which continue to hang over the entire Lockerbie affair. The bereaved rightfully deserved justice from Zeist in the same way that Mr Al-Megrahi rightfully expected it. However, the verdict produced such controversy that it is simply not sustainable to continue to claim that it was safe because it was the one preferred by the three judges at the time. This is why we have courts of appeal and why the SCCRC referred the case to the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh. Now that this legal avenue is no longer open, it appears that the only possible recourse to addressing the doubts surrounding the issue is by means of an inquiry.

It is inappropriate in this letter to list the litany of shortcomings in both the investigation of the disaster itself and the prosecution evidence laid before the court at the subsequent trial. The criticism is copious and has long been in the public domain. Professor Robert Black (oft referred to as the ‘architect’ of Zeist) and Dr Hans Köchler (International Observer at Zeist – appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan) have both variously and very publicly stated views ranging from the verdict’s being a clear miscarriage of justice to one which seemed more concerned with political expediency than justice. If protestations of this calibre alone are not enough to generate an inquiry, one feels obliged to ask: what is? If ever a case were crying out for an inquiry, it is this one. Not only for the bereaved, not only for Mr Al-Megrahi but for justice itself.

High above courthouses worldwide stands a statue of Justice holding scales in her left hand and in her right a sword. She is a symbol of the glue that binds together the very fabric of society. We depend on justice and its instrument, the law, to provide cohesion in our relationships. If justice loses its lustre or becomes tarnished, we degenerate into a world of cynicism and chaos. Surely it is a sign of a great society if that society can reflect on its deeds and not be afraid to revisit perceived mistakes to seek redress and right wrongs where they have been committed. To have the resolve to take such action is not an admission of weakness but a sign of supreme strength.

An inquiry will no doubt bring with it embarrassment for some as it calls into question their reputations. However, if justice is regarded as a tool with which to achieve expedient results and defend human frailties by obscuring the truth, we are all in a very sorry state indeed. We do not seek retribution, we seek the truth. The ghosts of Lockerbie must be laid to rest.

We hope, therefore, that you will feel able to identify with the sentiments expressed in this letter and join with us in lobbying the Scottish Government by adding your names to the list of signatories.

We all thank you for your time and attention, and look forward to hearing your response.

Yours sincerely,
Robert Forrester.