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Lockerbie update

Danny | 14.07.2009 13:40 | Repression | Terror War

The difference between law and justice, and the dominent influence of the Whitehouse on Scottish judiciary and government is more apparent, but remains most visible in the Lockerbie appeal.

Al Megrahi, the innocent man convicted of Britains biggest terrorist attack in the biggest trial in world history, is dying of cancer in HMP Greenock. Libya and the UK signed a prisoner transfer agreement so that he could die with his family, but the SNP intervened and blocked this saying he could not be released into Libyan custody unless he drops his appeal.

He doesn't want to die a guilty man and so he remains in prison, dying alone rather than admitting to a crime he didn't do. It gets worse. Lord Wheatley, one of the three High Court judges is recovering from heart surgery and this has been used as an excuse to delay the appeal until September - after Megrahi is expected to have died. There is no logic or legal reason that Wheatley couldn't be replaced by any other judge.

The week before the appeal was suspended, one of the relatives of the victims spoke to Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Minister.


The prisoner transfer agreement (PTA), which is among the subjects we will raise with you today was born in what the media have come to refer to as ‘the deal in the desert’ between Prime Minister Blair and Colonel Gaddafi.

We, relatives of some of those who died aboard the Maid of the Seas in 1988 come from a deeper darker desert of more than 20 years duration: the desert of loss in which we have searched for truth and justice. During those 20 years, time and again, we have been denied an inquiry by a whole succession of English Prime Ministers. Almost the only light to shine into that darkness has been those aspects of the truth which we have gleaned from study of the evidence led at Zeist. You will find us make common cause for the continuation therefore of the current appeal as being the only currently available vehicle for discovering more of that truth we crave, and to which we have an unalienable right.

I am grateful for the opportunity to put my personal views to you today, that is both a privilege and an honour. I know that within our group there is great hope that the current appeal will clear up the major doubts surrounding this verdict and throw some light on the truth we seek as to how our beloved families came to be unprotected, and whose was the hand that slew them. But today my plea is an individual one from the heart.

You have the great responsibility of deciding how to balance the needs of Scotland, her criminal justice system and her people, against what shall be the impact upon the prisoner Baset Al Megrahi, who till now has always maintained his innocence and his desperation to clear his name.

You have the new procedure of the Prisoner Transfer agreement (PTA) to consider, and the knowledge that Baset is dying in his prison cell and that his presence there adds nothing to the judicial process, any more than his release could further endanger the public.

I may speak only for myself, but for you to take any step that would abort the current appeal would be anathema to me and I believe to many other UK relatives. I realise that for Baset’s present appeal to continue, is an expensive option in terms not only of money, resource allocation and their Lordships' time, but also raises the possibility that the decisions made by some of Scotland's most eminent judges at Zeist, and the behaviour of the Crown Office and Scottish police might be called into question should the appeal succeed. Such possibilities will lead to pressure upon you as you make your decision.

On the other hand, to allow the appeal to be abandoned would be a body blow to the international reputation of Scotland and to domestic confidence in our judicial system for a generation. I suggest that the decision to use the PTA and so stop the appeal would, in the longer term, be even more dearly bought than to allow the appeal to continue.

Immediately following the issue of indictments against the 2 Libyans I went to see Colonel Gaddafi to plead that he allow his 2 citizens to attend trial before a Scottish Court under what I believed to be one of the most distinguished and fairest systems of criminal justice of any country. After the intervention of a number of eminent people around the world, the Colonel agreed, and I remained in court throughout, to listen to all the evidence.

I found that far from underlining their guilt the evidence convinced me that the two were simply not guilty as charged. That view has been amplified since by the spectacle of a number of international observers and jurists adding to a flood of public criticism about the lack of fairness of the trial, and by new evidence coming to light, especially that concerning the Heathrow break-in.

But we must look closer to home within our own Scottish borders for the most significant criticism of the trial process: to the SCCRC. As you know sir, they found that, partly on account of a failure by the Crown to share evidential material with the defence, there was a significant risk that a miscarriage of justice might have occurred. Hence the current appeal.

We are the inheritors of a justice system of which our great nation, Scotland, has been the proud protector for centuries, and over which you now have great influence. Faced with the spectre that Zeist may have been a miscarriage of justice by that great system, during what is arguably the most significant case it has ever handled, I feel sure that you will want to ensure that the name of Scotland and her justice emerge at the bar of history vindicated. For that to be evident to the historians of the future, our judicial system needs to be seen to have reacted responsibly from within its own resources to the challenge which this case has presented.

The SCCRC findings were but a first step in such a process of self examination. To continue that process we need to see our best legal minds re-evaluating the evidence, both original and new, to decide whether this verdict should stand. That seems to demand the continuation of the present appeal.

The news that there had been a break-in at Heathrow airport on the early morning of the disaster, and that information about it had remained unknown till after Baset had been found guilty, has led me to write personally to Elish Angiolini our current Lord Advocate, as a vital member of the existing Scottish justice system to ask her to do three things:-

1.) To discover whether the Crown Office had evidence of the break-in during the 12 years that it had remained hidden.

2.) If no such evidence could be found, to show why it had not been passed to the Crown Office by those who must have discovered it during their conduct of the criminal investigation.

3.) To consider whether a fresh Fatal Accident Inquiry(FAI) should be initiated in view of the misdirection given to the original one namely that the court was to presume that the explosive device must have come from Frankfurt.

It must be clear to any objective observer that the absence of this information influenced the fairness of the Zeist trial, and rendered the FAI unable to examine all factors which might have contributed to the deaths. The absence of an explanation for its having lain unmentioned for 12 years has led to grave accusations against the Crown Office by one of the UN's appointed observers, Prof Hans Koechler, and no doubt these matters will be faced up to if the appeal continues.

My letter to the Lord Advocate of 5th June this year remains acknowledged, but as yet unanswered.

In a letter to our group's co-ordinator, Jean Berkley, and dated 19th June this year, Jack Straw, your opposite number at Westminster wrote "As the (PTA) was the first .... to provide for the transfer of a prisoner without his or her consent... the Joint Committee on Human Rights requested additional time to consider the human rights implications of this...." Jack Straw then refused to allow that committee the full time that they had asked for, to consider those Human Rights implications.

You, Sir, however under the provisions of the PTA have at least 90 days from the date of the Libyan government application, to consider the balance between the prisoner’s rights, the needs of the Scottish public to have faith in their criminal justice system and the needs of the relatives of all nationalities to know the truth about who murdered our family members, and why they were not prevented from doing so.

I think that the eyes of those proud Scots who gave the world the Enlightenment and guarded our legal system so well will be upon your decision.

To use the PTA would be to stop the second appeal and would cost our country the best chance of showing that it can objectively assess its own past performance and if necessary be brave enough to correct it from within, even in the face of gross international pressures.

It would also grievously damage the search by innocent relatives for the truth concerning the murders of their dear families.

You have, Sir, an alternative which again appears similarly to carry no legally enshrined requirement on the part of the prisoner to initiate its use. That would be to grant him Compassionate Release (CR). The decision to do that could include provision to return him home just as soon as the PTA could, but without compromising the ongoing second appeal.

I began by pointing to Baset's position, he has always maintained to me that he is innocent but that he did not wish to return home to his beloved family until his name, and that of his family for the future had been cleared. I acknowledge that for you the responsibility for resurrecting the good name of Scottish justice through the continuation of this appeal is a far greater issue than the needs of an individual convicted prisoner.

But I am here simply as a father who is determined to find out who murdered his daughter and why they were not prevented from doing so. I have a right to know these things, but as an individual I have never sought revenge, for vengeance must remain in the hands of a far greater Power than you or I Sir. Thus I have applauded the easing of the enmity between Libya and Britain, but I have also empathised with the fate of one man, now dying, and his family, whose continuing torturous separation serves no purpose in the administration of justice, beyond being a means of reducing the cries of outrage raised by those who set aside the precepts of human kindness.

Use of Compassionate Release(CR) would allow Baset home knowing that review of his case could continue. It would gloriously fulfil the Christian exhortation ‘love thine enemy’ for many I know regard Baset as such.

Use of CR would also mean that those innocent relatives who seek the truth and desperately hope therefore that the appeal can continue and reveal more of that truth would get their wish.

We or our descendents will be around to see how history judges the great decision which it falls upon you, Sir, to make.

I wish you wisdom, integrity and human kindness in making that weighty decision.

Dr Jim Swire, Father of Flora age 23, one of 270 people killed at Lockerbie 21/12/88.