The row over the media’s reporting of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s interview with Reuters news agency took a new twist last night after it emerged a Scottish police force is to translate Mr Megrahi’s exact words.
Dumfries and Galloway Police have announced that they are seeking a recording of the full interview in an attempt at determining exactly what the dying Libyan said.
The announcement follows claims by elements of the Scottish media that Mr Megrahi had variously; made a deathbed ‘confession’, had given “some kind of admission of guilt”, and had complained about “his role in the bombing having been exaggerated”.
According to STV news, the Crown Office is seeking a copy of the full interview to establish exactly what Mr Megrahi said.
A spokesman for the Crown commented: “We are aware of the interview of Megrahi which was partly broadcast on yesterday’s news.
“We are also aware that Megrahi is reported as having said in that interview that his role in the Lockerbie bombing was exaggerated.
“Dumfries and Galloway police have been instructed to obtain the whole interview. Once available the translation will be checked for accuracy.”
According to transcripts of the interview Mr Megrahi called witnesses at Camp Zeist, where his trial was heard, “liars” and said that he had “never harmed anybody”. The Libyan also complained that the west “exaggerated my name”.
However several BBC reporters have claimed that the Libyan acknowledged a ‘role’ in the atrocity and at least one newspaper implied that Mr Megrahi had given a ‘deathbed confession’.
Yesterday on Good Morning Scotland BBC Scotland’s Gary Robertson claimed that Mr Megrahi had talked about “his role being exaggerated” and that the comment seemed to be “some kind of admission of guilt”. Mr Robertson was responding to former hostage Terry Waite who described the evidence that convicted Mr Megrahi as “very weak”.
On the BBC’s UK national news George Alagiah claimed that Mr Megrahi had complained that “his role in the bombing had been exaggerated”.
The Scotsman newspaper, in an article headlined Megrahi’s death bed ‘confession’, claimed that Mr Megrahi “appeared to admit that he did play some role in Britain’s biggest mass murder.”
Claims that Mr Megrahi talked of an ‘exaggerated role’ when referring to the atrocity in the Reuters interview, have led to criticism of the media by leading QC Robert Black who described it as ‘lazy journalism’.
Mr Black highlighted the fact that in the transcripts of the interview there is no mention of any ‘exaggerated role’, instead Mr Megrahi apparently complains that his “name” has been exaggerated.
It has also since been alleged that the word “exaggerated” itself was never uttered and instead has been erroneously given as a translation, when the more accurate term would have been ‘concoct’ or ‘fabricate’.
The interview has led to confusing and contradictory media reports. BBC Scotland news online originally headlined their online article using the ‘exaggerated role’ claim, however this headline was swiftly removed.
Radio Scotland’s Newsdrive programme on Monday afternoon ran regular bulletins describing Mr Megrahi as having complained that “his role in the bombing had been exaggerated” and “his role in the attack had been exaggerated”.
However later on Reporting Scotland, reporter Laura Bicker described Mr Megrahi as having made “no mention of guilt or innocence” in the interview.
Channel Four News that evening insisted that Megrahi had claimed innocence in the Reuters interview.
There is already speculation that the facts referred to by Mr Megrahi will be revealed in a forthcoming book into the Lockerbie case by author John Ashton. Far from admitting guilt, Mr Ashton has already let it be known that the contents of the book will back Mr Megrahi’s claim that he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice.