The really damning stuff hasn’t been published yet

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By Kenneth Roy

BBC Scotland walked into a minefield last night, and they were not alone. Many of those who have fought for transparency in the Lockerbie case were also tip-toeing across traps.

The 30-minute feature by the investigations unit at Pacific Quay, ‘Lockerbie – The Lost Evidence’, appeared as the Herald published chunks of extracts from a new book about Megrahi. This was no coincidence but part of a well-orchestrated marketing campaign, a brilliant coup by the Scottish publishers Birlinn to achieve maximum exposure for ‘Megrahi: You Are My Jury’ by John Ashton.

By Kenneth Roy

BBC Scotland walked into a minefield last night, and they were not alone. Many of those who have fought for transparency in the Lockerbie case were also tip-toeing across traps.

The 30-minute feature by the investigations unit at Pacific Quay, ‘Lockerbie – The Lost Evidence’, appeared as the Herald published chunks of extracts from a new book about Megrahi. This was no coincidence but part of a well-orchestrated marketing campaign, a brilliant coup by the Scottish publishers Birlinn to achieve maximum exposure for ‘Megrahi: You Are My Jury’ by John Ashton.

The first I got to know of any of this was 10 days ago when Mr Ashton contacted me for advice about the Scottish media and to inquire whether SR would be interested in a piece or pieces based on the book. Last Friday we published a short article by Mr Ashton – a scene-setter – hinting at sensational developments which would fatally undermine the prosecution case.

For some of us, the most startling news of the last 24 hours was that the author had acquired access to the unpublished report of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) on the prosecution and trial of Megrahi, a report pointing strongly to a miscarriage of justice, a report whose publication has been constantly thwarted. As recently as last Friday, the chief executive of SCCRC, Gerard Sinclair, was writing in SR with his views on how publication could best be achieved.

How did Mr Ashton come to see this secretly-guarded document, which is now leaking like the proverbial sieve? Was it as a member of the defence team? I have not talked to him about this, but there seems to be no other plausible explanation.

On the same day – last Friday – a contact in Washington DC alerted us to a fuller picture: that both Al Jazeera and BBC Scotland were planning to go big with the story (whatever the story was), and that it was heavily embargoed.

Ahead of the BBC programme last night, both the Scotsman and the Guardian were running online summaries of ‘Megrahi: You Are My Jury’, the Guardian accompanying its report with a photograph of Dr Jim Swire holding the book. Neither, however, made any reference to the most damning claim, which is included in some detail in a longer piece by John Ashton for SR later today.

Nor did the BBC repeat this most damning claim. Did they think it unworthy of mention? Surely not. Perhaps it was considered too hot to handle. Who knows? I certainly don’t.

For anyone who has followed the case closely, there was little new in this programme with one important exception: fresh evidence about the circuit board, discovered as a result of Mr Ashton’s admirable attention to forensic detail.

Mostly, however, the programme concentrated on Megrahi himself: the human factor. It showed a man called George Thomson – a former detective; a friend of Megrahi, it seems – conducting an interview with the dying man using a hand-held camera. Expectations, fuelled by the BBC, that this interview would reveal fascinating insights into the case proved unfounded. Poor Megrahi was not in a state to say very much, although he did find it in his heart to forgive Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper whose evidence convicted him.

The BBC was curiously reticent about the circumstances of this interview. In a statement on Professor Robert Black’s blog last December, Mr Thomson said that ‘as it happened Baset was too ill to be bothered with a television crew setting up in his bedroom’ but that he had agreed to be interviewed as long as he (Mr Thomson) operated the camera on his own. The BBC insists that this unusual arrangement did not breach any of its editorial guidelines: the fact that it has had to issue this disclaimer speaks volumes.

However, Mr Thomson’s assurances do not go quite far enough. Was Megrahi aware that it was proposed to use this interview as part of a BBC programme? Did he give explicit permission for its use? Why did Mr Thomson choose to start his camera rolling before he entered the house, following a robed figure along a corridor in jerky, knee-height shots – rather in the style of an under-cover investigator? Was this to create a dramatic atmosphere? If so, why? The BBC could have been upfront about these matters. It chose not to be.

It is strange how deeply unrevealing revelations can turn out to be. The most interesting thing about last night’s programme was the politics of the programme itself: what it left unsaid, or skirted coyly around, and why. Mr Ashton, for example, has read the SCCRC report; Scotland’s justice secretary claims he hasn’t. How extraordinary. Yet this astonishing fact was left unexamined by the BBC.

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Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy at the Scottish Review