Guestpost: Lockerbie and the wicked silence of our press

In light of the publication last week of John Ashton’s biography of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, here’s a timely and welcome personal view of the Lockerbie trial and conviction from David McEwan Hill.

As we beaver away on political blogs defining and refining our positions on every subject under the sun, we should never forget that we are the seriously informed – or perhaps the seriously misinformed – proportion of the Scottish population. A big part of the rest of our community has a significantly superficial view of most issues and assumes what they read in their chosen newspaper to be substantially true.

It is a widespread disengagement with the truth resulting from this flawed confidence which is frustrating the heroic attempts of a handful of dogged campaigners to have the travesty of the Camp Zeist conviction of al-Megrahi driven into public consciousness.

If we are to be a part of a society that is just, honest and civilised – as most believe it to be – it is essential that the complete and utter absurdity of the trial and conviction is completely exposed. There are powerful forces just as doggedly blocking this exposition and, depending on your point of view, our media is either a compliant part of this conspiracy or a victim of it.

If what I and a steadily growing number of informed people believe is true we see a plot that strikes at the very foundation of society in which our generations have confidently put their trust.  And it may be a disgrace a lot bigger than the fitting up of one innocent man.

This is a concise overall account of the issue as I see it. Everything I cite can be easily sourced in the works of Private Eye’s late Paul Foot, in the late David Rollo’s booklet   “A Bum Rap” and indeed, in John Ashton’s book published now, and in millions of other words published through many other sources and available online – but distressingly, so very little of it published in any meaningful way in our mainstream media. This is a critical point.

This almost blanket suppression is one of the great “whys” of this distressing affair . There are many “whys” and I hold that the unravelling of issues like this is better pursued through the “whys” than by the “hows “.

But to the main story.

On 21st December 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish border town of Lockerbie killing all 259 persons on the flight and eleven persons in the town.

On the 31st January 2001 – extraordinarily, more than eleven years after the atrocity – Libyan agent Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was charged and found guilty of placing a bomb on a plane in Malta which caused the subsequent explosion on Pan Am Flight 103. This was the verdict delivered in a special Scottish court, convened, oddly without a jury, in Camp Zeist in Holland. His co-accused was found not guilty. The convicted man was sent to serve his life sentence in Greenock Jail. He subsequently was given a compassionate release due to suffering from inoperable terminal cancer.  None of this is in doubt: we all know this stuff. On this case sadly this is about all on which there is no doubt.

Immediately after the trial the United Nations observer at it, Austrian Professor Hans Kochler described the verdict as “a spectacular miscarriage of justice.”

Professor Robert Black QC, the Scottish organiser of the trial said “I am satisfied that not only was there a wrongful conviction, but the victim of it was an innocent man. It constitutes, in my view, the worst miscarriage of justice by a Scottish Criminal Court since the conviction of Oscar Slater in 1909 for the murder of Marion Gilchrist”.

Dr Jim Swire, whose 23 year old daughter Flora died in the bombing, went to the trial to see justice done to the murderer of his child and left the court convinced of Al Megrahi’s innocence.

He has said “The scandal around Al Megrahi is not that a sick man was released but that he was convicted in the first place. “  He describes the trial as “a tragedy for Scotland .”   

Now I’m prepared to take these guys’ word for it. But the problem is that none of this has ever made sustained headlines – or any headlines at all in any of our media.  And because of this amazing, long term episode of suppression the dirty deed at Camp Zeist was initially got away with.

Like most folk, I was mildly surprised when Libya suddenly was put in the frame. Until that point Iran had generally been spoken of as the likely suspect for the Lockerbie bombing.

This was because on 3rd July in 1988 the USS “Vincennes”, patrolling in the Mediterranean (and in Iranian waters), had shot down Iran Air Flight 655, a civilian airbus carrying Hajj pilgrims, killing all 290 civilian passengers on board plus the crew. There appeared little doubt, therefore, that Lockerbie was Iran’s revenge.

But the fact that the Libyan government freely handed over two suspects made a case. The fact also that I had lived for many years in an Islamic society had informed me of the trans-national loyalty that suffuses Islam in the Middle East, so like many I conceded that Libyan involvement was possible. Many shrugged and accepted that.

One of the important consequences, however, of the shooting down of the Iranian Airbus was that Iranian oil was made unavailable to the US. There were sanctions in place against Libya also at that point, so Libyan oil was similarly out of reach. Remember this point. It is probably critical. It could explain one of the big “whys”.

The progression of my thoughts over the years on this affair probably mirrors that of many others.

I was very soon sure that al-Megrahi was a scapegoat. No man operating alone could have achieved what he was charged with. A scapegoat for whom, however, was the next question. A scapegoat for Ghaddafi’s part in this seemed initially plausible but later developments made this seem less than a complete answer.  As time went on and other disturbing information leaked out, this became no kind of an answer at all. So the first “why” rears its head.

Why, after a period during which it was widely assumed that Iran had taken down Pan Am Flight 103, were two Libyans, under no sort of previous suspicion, abruptly offered as culprits?

Whose interests did this development serve? That is the only important question. Some have suggested that everybody was a winner. Iran’s relationship with the US was resumed. Libya shortly thereafter had Western sanctions against it lifted and Iranian and Libyan oil stated flowing westwards again. The only little question remaining was the “honour” one. Was Iran offered revenge for the shooting down of Iran Airbus 655?

We will return to that.

But all the while suspicion grew of dirty deals between the US and the UK on one side and a variety of Middle Eastern interests on the other.

A decade later, the Lockerbie affair continues to unravel. Even a superficial examination of the case against al-Megrahi and the “evidence” put forward to support it immediately demolishes it.

The initial public euphoria built on a hunger to find someone guilty for the Lockerbie atrocity has faded. In the cold light of day, the travesty of a trial which proceeded on evidence that would have been laughed out of a Sheriff Court becomes internationally recognised as a disgrace and a stain on Scotland’s reputation.

Over the years, my opinion of the evidence that put al-Megrahi behind bars has gravitated from a belief that it was very dubious to a conviction now that most of it is absurd.

My initial judgement – that they would have caught the right man, but the evidence was hardly compelling – was probably shared by many. This perception has lingered on, as has a notion held by others that maybe he didn’t place the bomb but somehow he was “involved in it”. Therefore it’s all right to lock him up.

No, it’s not.  If he didn’t place the bomb on a plane in Malta, as charged, he should have been acquitted. That’s all.

That’s the way our law and our courts are supposed to work – and generally do at the hands of juries.

So let’s have a look at the first absurdity. Those of you who have flown about or changed planes will know what I’m talking about. We are expected to believe that Al Megrahi placed a case with a bomb in on a plane In Malta which then, presumably on time, flew to Germany where the case was, as planned , transferred to another plane which set off for London. On time. The plot doesn’t work otherwise. Now my experience of intercontinental air travel tells me that there would have been a significant chance that the case loaded in Malta would have set off on a plane for Madrid or turned up three days later in Sumatra.  The bomb, we are informed, was specifically timed to go off just after the plane cleared the UK mainland and went out over the Atlantic, but a slight flight delay meant it went off over Lockerbie. (This much is probably true. No pesky searches for evidence would have been possible.)

But how they would manage this accurately from Malta has never been spelled out.  It is, in fact, a completely absurd proposal. Nearly as absurd as an initial suggestion, quickly withdrawn, that the bomb was triggered by achieving a certain altitude which implied that the plane had gone from Malta to Germany at hedge height.  Altitude activation could of course have been achieved had the bomb been loaded in London, but the plot didn’t stretch to paying someone to say they had seen al-Megrahi in London.

The next absurdity is the fragment of bomb timer mechanism. The size of a finger nail, this apparently was found somewhere in a wild and hilly area of over 300 square miles of the South of Scotland and North West of England.

I wouldn’t have been able to find it in my front garden. The delay in finding it, the absence of any trace of explosives on it, the opinion of experts that it couldn’t have survived the explosion, the strange numbering of it when it was inserted into a list of other exhibits causing them all to be renumbered and even a filmed statement by an ex CIA operative that it was manufactured in a CIA laboratory, demolishes this as a piece of evidence.

Of course the significance of this little piece of hokum was that it had little threads of a shirt on it. So we are told.

This shirt is the only piece of “evidence” that linked Al Megrahi to the bombing.  The fact that it seems entirely possible that al-Megrahi was not in Malta the day the shirt apparently was sold to him shouldn’t be allowed to cast any doubt on the veracity of this evidence. Especially as it was purchased at great cost. The shopkeeper who says he sold the shirt to Al Megrahi was given $2million for giving his evidence and his brother was given $1million to keep him on message.  There are disturbing reports alleging that Scottish police officers were involved in the bargaining exercise here.  Lord Fraser described the Maltese shopkeeper as “an apple short of a picnic”. Yet on this man’s  testament another man was imprisoned for life on the basis of no robust evidence whatsover.

We don’t have to ask “why” this $2million bribe was given. But we have to ask “why” it wasn’t mentioned in court and “why” the defence had no whiff of it. It wasn’t mentioned at the trial because it would have rendered the evidence from the Maltese shopkeeper completely inadmissible. There would have been no case whatsoever against al-Megrahi.

The next “why” is why the break-in at the baggage handling unit at Heathrow a few hours before the fateful flight was kept from the court and out of the public domain until after the trial? That of course would have dealt a fatal blow to the fanciful Malta proposal.

It is very easy, however, to see “why” the UK and US governments in particular are doggedly defending the indefensible conduct of this whole affair.

Because what we are looking at here is not just a wrongful conviction, a mistake.  Mistakes happen and Governments’ first impulse is to defend the verdicts reached in their courts. What we are arguably looking at here, however, is a very deliberate miscarriage of justice masterminded by governments to send an innocent man – and a man they know to be innocent – to jail. Should this be established the implications are terrifying.

And another “why” and the biggest why in my eyes, is why our media is ignoring what facts there are in this sorry issue.  We are treated daily to a range of offensive, ignorant and infantile comment on al-Megrahi and Lockerbie in our newspapers. Many of these journalists know they are spouting rubbish. Our great, brave, campaigning press that will leave no stone unturned in exposing politicians’ expense fiddles or in detailing the sexual frolics of sports persons and showbiz nonentities refuse to deal with this growing scandal. This is hugely important. Does our “free” press now hold that defending those in power is one of their obligations? Why? And what kind of pressure is being put on them – and from what source?

The current and continual “why” now is the swirling doubts about the abandoned appeal and absolute imperative that this whole issue be blown apart publicly.

Again we have to ask ourselves: Whose interest is served by the suppression of the truth?  And again we can line up the US, the UK and the previous Libyan regime.  How convenient now the imposed silence of Muammar Ghaddafi!

Did the Libyan authorities suggest al-Megrahi abandon his appeal?  A reversal of the verdict and a demolition of the fabricated evidence against him would have gone a way to supporting theories of a Libya/UK/US plot.

What complications is Kenny MacAskill struggling with? There is nothing in this for the Scottish Government but grief.

Finally, there is, of course, another big “why”.

Why did Pan Am Flight 103 take off from Germany only two thirds full?  It was reported that it had already been booked up full, like air traffic all across Europe carrying thousands home to the US for Christmas. But for some reason American embassy, military and intelligence personnel were told at the last minute to take other flights. Did somebody know that plane was coming down? That very plane, because nobody was taken off any other flight.

Was blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 what Iran got? And is that absolutely abominable possibility the reason why we can’t get to the truth?


27 thoughts on “Guestpost: Lockerbie and the wicked silence of our press

  1. I have to say I’m a bit concerned by the inaccuracies in this “guest post”. Some of this may be due to using Rollo as a source, but then thinking Rollo is a major or even a completely reliable source is a problem in itself. Even the revered Paul Foot got some things wrong in his excellent article which is now over 10 years old, and only wide reading around the subject can remedy such misinformation.

    – Megrahi was certainly found guilty on 31st January 2001. He most certainly was not charged on that date.

    – Megrahi was sent to serve his sentence in solitary confinement in Barlinnie, as anyone who has read John Ashton’s book will be well aware. It was only later that he was moved to Greenock, once it finally got through to the prison authorities that this man was not a dangerous terrorist.

    – The switch to Libya as the culprit state may have seemed sudden, but the story is a great deal more complicated than that, with the first attempt to blame Libya occurring only a few days after the bombing.

    – Megrahi was not convicted of acting alone. The implication was of unidentified, invisible accomplices.

    – Megrahi was indeed neither charged nor convicted on putting the bomb on the plane, merely of being an accessory in some unspecified way.

    – While the investigators believed that a barometric timer had been used, they postulated a malfunction on the Frankfurt leg. This may have been reaching, but they didn’t suggest that the 727 had flown across France at hedge height.

    – The timer fragment was (allegedly) found on 13th January 1989 in the big field of rough grazing behind the steading of Blinkbonny Farm near Newcastleton.

    – What is this “delay in finding it” you are talking about? Exactly when it was first genuinely present in the chain of evidence is an interesting question, but what “delay” are you talking about?

    – The “piece of hokum” was allegedly found blasted into the neckband of a shirt – rather more than “little threads”.

    – The reason the bribe to the Gaucis, which was allegedly $3 million as it happens, wasn’t mentioned at the trial is that there was no bribe to mention at that time. The investigators were very careful not to pay any money out until after the trial and the first appeal. They’re still denying there was any prior promise, and they may even be telling the truth. Some people will do quite a lot in the mere hope of reward.

    – And finally, where is your evidence that the flight was emptier than it should have been, or that it was ever fully booked (other than what Jim Swire says Flora told him)? Where is your evidence that people were warned not to take that specific flight? Of course, there is no evidence. There are rumours and allegations, none of which have been substantiated. It’s one thing to mention that there have been such rumours, but to repeat this as if it were verifiable fact is irresponsible.

    The thrust and aim of the article is excellent. It is badly let down by its factual inaccuracies. Indeed, there are many secondary sources which publish inaccurate information about Lockerbie, but there is nothing to be gained by parroting them as if they are reliable. There is no substitute for familiarity with the primary sources, and accurate reporting.

  2. I’ve been watching this whole farrago for a long time. In summer 2010 I spoke, off the record, to a BBC journalist who assured me that everybody knew Megrahi was innocent – the UK government, the US government, their respective press and media editors and journalists, in fact the whole world. At this time, I was incensed by the anti-Scottish vitriol and invective in the American blogosphere, fomented by Hillary Clinton and her like after Scotland released Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

    What puzzles me is why the SNP government is not rushing to wash this dirty linen in public. The whole fit-up was organised by a previous unionist administration, in connivance with others and nothing to do with them. By re-investigating this and publishing honest findings, would not the SNP government gain great respect and credibility on the world stage? Would the Scottish judiciary not be lauded for cleaning out its own house, setting the record straight and publicly avowing that this sort of travesty would never happen again in an independent Scotland? Scotland, as a whole, could gain great traction in its independence struggle, something you would think the SNP would jump at. And yet this is not happening – why?

    What are we not yet aware of? What pressure is being exerted? What admission is just too awful to contemplate? Basically………what?…….. and why?…………and who?

    • I couldn’t agree more Judy. When the SNP took its first term in government the SCCRC announced its findings around one month later. For many of us this was the ideal opportunity for a Party, with clean hands on Lockerbie, to take the issue by the throat and go for justice, not just for Mr Megrahi, but for Scotland which by then had a Justice System which was globally discredited over that Zeist verdict.

      That the SNP took no such path still shocks me. The reasons why Mr Salmond, and his Justice Minister, Mr MacAskill keep referring to “the integrity of Scots Law” are not clear especially when there is so much evidence to suggest that Scots Law functions with neither justice or integrity evident in proceedings. No case proves this more than the Lockerbie case. The reasons behind their frequent claims that Megrahi had a fair trial and that the verdict is sound are even less obvious.

      I would say in fact that the SNP, as a Party, has actually gone further than its Unionist counterparts to withhold justice from anyone tried, in future, in Scotland or who tries to bring an appeal. For the SCCRC has been stripped of its powers to refer cases direct to the Appeal Court. Thanks to Mr MacAskill the SCCRC now needs a judge to give such a decision the nod, thus, the original plan, that the SCCRC would function free from political and judicial interference, is gone. If having a judge making the really big decisions is not judicial interference then I would like to know what is.

      Some believe Mr MacAskill has prepared the way here for any future appeal being brought back on Megrahi’s behalf. For even if the SCCRC were to go with a new appeal a judge can come along and say, “Sorry, no chance!” The really sad thing is that this legislation by MacAskill was voted through in emergency legislation following Cadder. Thus, it was rushed and avoided real scrutiny. It could even be that many MSPs didn’t realise what Mr MacAskill actually planned to do to the SCCRC. But make no mistake, the changes make justice harder to come by in Scotland, not just for Megrahi, but for anyone.

  3. There’s nothing I can add that hasn’t already been said, except to say that this has been a long time coming. I’m too young to remember the atrocity but I remember the trial, and I remember the confusion surrounding why Libya entered the frame as the aggressor state, and the outrage I held that was not reflected in our nation’s media when it became clear the FBI had paid the key witness for the prosecution in excess of $2 million. That was the reason I wholeheartedly supported Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release Megrahi: he had been convicted by the heartlessness of the American approach to justice, and the only way to reconstitute some of that shame was to make use of the compassion our system still retains.

    • Another good thing to do would have been to do everything in his power to preserve Megrahi’s appeal, so that the chance of getting to the truth wouldn’t have to be sacrificed to Megrahi’s desire to go home.

      Just sayin’.

      • My understanding was, firstly, that the two solutions were mutually exclusive, that Megrahi could either appeal or be compassionately released. Secondly, that nobody was very confident that Megrahi would survive the appeals process, which would rule out any possibility of him ever being freed to spend time with his family. So compassionate release was a win-win for both parties on at least some level: the Scottish Government got to free an obviously innocent man while Megrahi got to be with his family before he died.

        And anyway, as the case of Alan Turing shows, overturning a wrongful conviction is less important than ensuring justice is done. Turing was criminalised for sodomy and eventually killed himself in light of his treatment, and eventually the law was changed to reflect the inhumanity of his “crime”. An attempt to posthumously pardon him was regarded as self-serving, seeing as modern society can’t justifiably pardon a man who never committed a crime, according to their sensibilities. Megrahi has been released, and although we can’t give him back his lost years, we gave him the freedom a basic appreciation of justice demanded he have.

      • That said, a seperate inquiry would certainly have been welcome from the Scottish Government, independent of Megrahi’s personal circumstances. It was a missed opportunity to correct some of the media opinions of him that one wasn’t undertaken before the publication of the latest book

      • No, there was no requirement to give up the appeal in order to be granted compassionate release. Many interested people were extremely anxious that the appeal should continue, even though Megrahi was granted compassionate release. Megrahi knew that there was no requirement in law that he give it up. The question of why he chose to abandon the appeal has never been satisfactorily answered.

  4. …and Will Rogers III got a medal for “meritorious conduct”.

  5. Digging away

    By Tam Dalyell Former Labour MP for Linlithgow and former Father of the House of Commons.

    WHY have US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her officials’ responded to the return of Megrahi with such a volcanic reaction? The answer is straightforward. The last thing that Washington wants is the truth to emerge about the role of the US in the crime of Lockerbie. I understand the grief of those parents, such as Kathleen Flynn and Bert Ammerman, who have appeared on our TV screens to speak about the loss of loved ones. Alas all these years they have been lied to about the cause of that grief.

    Not only did Washington not want the awful truth to emerge, but Mrs Thatcher, a few – very few – in the stratosphere of Whitehall and certain officials of the Crown Office in Edinburgh, who owe their subsequent careers to the Lockerbie investigation, were compliant.

    It all started in July 1988 with the shooting down by the warship USS Vincennes of an Iranian airliner carrying 290 pilgrims to Mecca – without an apology.

    The Iranian minister of the interior at the time was Ali Akbar Mostashemi, who made a public statement that blood would rain down in the form of ten western airliners being blown out of the sky.

    Mostashemi was in a position carry out such a threat – he had been the Iranian ambassador in Damascus from 1982 to 1984 and had developed close relations with the terrorist gangs of Beirut and the Bekaa Valley – and in particular terrorist leader Abu Nidal and Ahmed Jibril, the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command.

    Washington was appalled. I believe so appalled and fearful that it entered into a Faustian agreement that, tit-for-tat, one airliner should be sacrificed.

    This may seem a dreadful thing for me to say. But consider the facts. A notice went up in the US Embassy in Moscow advising diplomats not to travel with Pan Am back to America for Christmas.

    American military personnel were pulled off the plane. A delegation of South

    Africans, including foreign minister Pik Botha, were pulled off Pan Am Flight 103 at the last minute.

    Places became available. Who took them at the last minute? The students. Jim Swire’s daughter, John Mosey’s daughter, Martin Cadman’s son, Pamela Dix’s brother, other British relatives, many of whom you have seen on television in recent days, and, crucially, 32 students of the University of Syracuse, New York.

  6. RullI
    I can’t quite remember where I sourced that some very considerable time ago but I’ll dig it up.

    The Boeing 747 carries beween 410 passenger up to 660 on some adapted versions.
    I believe the assertion that no plane at the at time of year carrying Americans home for Christmas would be less than two thirds full and that this one was fully booked initially..
    There are a lot of conflicting conspiracy theories about that flight including suggestions that it was carrying drugs which were involved in covert CIA activities and even that the bomb went on the wrong plane. I suspect a lot of this is deliberate diversion
    PAN AM Flight 103 “Inconvenient Truths” by Hugh Miles is to be recommended

    • It’s difficult to know the truth of these assertions, but there was an investigation which showed nothing untoward about the booking patterns for the flight, and I’ve never seen its published conclusions debunked.

      The only definite part is the bit about the US embassy in Moscow posting details of the Helsinki warning for its staff to see. And there was something about the particular days certain flights flew which meant it was doubtful whether anyone from the Moscow embassy would have been on that flight on that day. Some did change their plans from other flights because of the general warning though.

      According to Pan Am, the flight was never full, though it was possible some people might have been told there were no seats available in certain categories at one point, due to flexible decisions about the exact layout of the plane.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more scandals still to come out in this area, but so far none of the stories suggesting that the US security services had advance knowledge that that particular flight was a target have been substantiated.

  7. Not that I doubt it, but can you source your claim that “American embassy, military and intelligence personnel were told at the last minute to take other flights”?

  8. My last post was inresponse to Jo’s incisive piece and in poarticular the fact that all avenues that might get us towards the truth are being skewed. Why? I repeat. That is the key

  9. Indeed.
    And the question again is “why”.
    There is nothing but grief in this for the Scottish Government and Kenny MacAskill and there must be some compelling reason.

  10. Also, I meant to say, well done for highlighting the media suppression of this scandal. It’s inexplicable.

    John Ashton’s book contained a number of important new revelations, most importantly the metallurgy results on the timer fragment which prove it was not one of the 20 devices manufactured for MEBO and supplied to Libya. And what do all the newspapers start obsessing about? That’s right, whether MacAskill had hinted to al-Obeidi that it might be helpful if al-Megrahi would drop his appeal.


  11. David, just one comment for now. The plane was not late. (It was the only one that wasn’t – KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt and PA103A from Frankfurt to Heathrow were both late.)

    This is a canard that started the day after the crash, with the BBC, who forgot how airports work. The plane was scheduled to DEPART at 6pm, and it was reported that it TOOK OFF at 6.25. Indeed that is what happened. That is not a late plane. Did you ever know of a plane whose wheels left the tarmac on the dot of the scheduled departure time? Of course not. The scheduled departure time is the time the plane is expected to push off from the departure gate.

    Pan Am 103 pushed off from the departure gate at 6.03. “On time” within any reasonable definition. In fact, so on time that a passenger who was running to the gate was left behind, rather than delay any longer and risk missing the take-off slot. (Mr. Basuta, the luckiest man in known space.) 20 or 25 minutes footering around on the tarmac, queueing for the runway and so on, is de rigeur at Heathrow. This was specifically attested to at the trial, and indeed it is simple common sense, but still people keep repeating that the plane was late. No it wasn’t, it didn’t miss its slot.

    Two other little wrinkles. First, the course the plane was actually on would not have left land behind for another 20 to 30 minutes. The route was over Glasgow, the Isle of Skye and Benbecula. No way could it possibly have been over the Atlantic at 7.03, even if it had somehow sprinted off the blocks and been cleared for immediate take-off. Second, the northerly route was relatively unusual, but bad weather over Ireland meant the ATC sent it on that route that night rather than the more usual one crossing Ireland. Anyone intending to bomb that plane and thinking about timer settings would have been more likely to be thinking about Ireland. Again, it would not have been over the Atlantic by 7.03 that way either.

    Consider. This is December. The flight time is over 7 hours. You have a wide expanse of broad Atlantic to aim for, with plenty of leeway if the plane happens to be delayed. Set the timer for midnight, and the whole thing vanishes in Davy Jones’s locker. Or at worst, it comes down in the vast empty spaces of north-east Canada. As one blogger put it, the terrorists had the huge picture window of the Atlantic to aim for, and we’re being asked to believe they aimed for the window sill – and missed.

    Missed, but indeed the miss could have been far worse from the terrorists’ point of view. If the feeder flight had been delayed only a little longer, or if the staff had decided to remove Mr. Basuta’s luggage from the plane before departing, it would have lost its take-off slot, and still been on the tarmac at 7.03. The explosion would have been non-fatal, only damaging luggage and the plane.

    And yet we’re supposed to believe a terrorist with a count-down timer did exactly that? Ignored the huge opportunity afforded by the long flight time, and set the timer for a time when there was a very definite possibility the plane would still be on the ground? (Even assuming the suitcase ever got there, what with delays and misroutings and security x-rays to contend with.)

    On the other hand, you have a completely different bunch of thugs, in possession of nifty altimeter devices that will make sure the bomb doesn’t go off until the plane is actually in flight. No need to worry about delays, it can be delayed all it likes, and the device will sit quiet until the actual take-off. These devices didn’t have a long time delay, but they didn’t need to have. Forty minutes or so after take-off is ample for a plane to be at cruising altitude. And if it crashes on land, well, does that matter?

    Pan Am 103 exploded 38 minutes after take-off. Bang on time for one of these devices. The delay or lack of delay to the plane is irrelevant. Lockerbie was doomed the minute ATC decided to send the plane on that particular course that night.

    And if there was a good chance of the crash being on land, well, maybe arranging to have clothes wrapped round the bomb that might send the police on a wild-goose chase to the Mediterranean wasn’t such a bad idea.

  12. Google “the selective use of polygraphs”

  13. I have a very personal interest in what happened. One of the families wiped out in Lockerbie, in their house, were very close personal friends of my parents. I knew them from when I was a little boy. The anger and upset has never, ever subsided.

    They accept that Megrahi is probably innocent – perhaps competely, perhaps not. But what is really angering them is that all the focus is on Megrahi. Jim Swire’s approach has been dogged, but carried out in a very respectable manner. He avoids using this for political purposes, something that far too many nationalist and unionist supporters have done and continue to do so. His efforts have also been hampered by both the media and politicians.

    Some nationalists use this as an excuse to promote independence.

    Some unionists use this to attack some SNP figures, such as Christine Grahame, for trying to get at the truth.

    I firmly believe that a select few senior government figures in Washington, Westminster and Holyrood know the precise facts. I also believe that the release was made in agreement with all three governments, with the expectation that Megrahi, being so ill, would not survive for long. Once he had succumbed to his illness, then things would soon be forgotten.

    Lockerbie is still a very sensitive subject, and it is sometimes worth considering if an appeal would benefit anybody. If MacAskil has now restructed the SCCRC, then moving forward that should prevent any similar cases in the future.

    The bottom line is that 270 died in that atrocity, yet all the attention appears to remain firmly fixed on one man. That statement does not justify ignoring the facts, but is a gentle reminder that several hundred people, probably more than a thousand, were personally affected by this tragedy. Something that should be kept in mind.

    • There’s a good reason attention is focussed on Megrahi. From the point of view of those who wish to support his guilt, he is the culprit, and that’s that.

      From the point of view of those who believe this was a miscarriage of justice, Megrahi is inevitably still central. He is central because his conviction is a massive and insuperable road-block to getting at the truth. As long as that conviction stands, there can be no possibility of the atrocity being re-examined to find the true culprits.

      Who else are we supposed to talk about? The 270 victims died, and their friends and relations mourn, but who is to blame? No chance of finding out until the official stonewalling answer of “Abdelbaset al-Megrahi” is removed.

      • I agree Morag. I’d also like to say to Barbarian that no one forgets that other people were caught up in this terrible event.

      • Indeed, Jo, the victims are always in the thoughts of anyone who studies this atrocity. When examining the baggage evidence, one continually stumbles over the human tragedies. Travellers making decisions about their journey, and the route to take, and sometimes making last-minute changes, which turned out to be absolutely life-or-death decisions.

        I’ve stood at the memorial at Lockerbie, and looked a the names, and realised I know who so many of them were, and why they were on the plane, where they were coming from, where they were going to. And of course everyone in Scotland knows the stories of the Lockerbie people who died. And I have wept for these innocent, ordinary people, doing ordinary things and looking forward to Christmas, just like the rest of us. I remember crawling up the A74 two days after the crash, in a terrible traffic jam, and being able to smell the burning from the crater, and knowing the dark hills around me were still strewn with bodies.

        But the writing has to be about Megrahi, the 271st victim. The wrong done to the 270 can never be properly dealt with until the road block caused by the wrong done to Megrahi is removed.

  14. “And another “why” and the biggest why in my eyes, is why our media is ignoring what facts there are in this sorry issue. We are treated daily to a range of offensive, ignorant and infantile comment on al-Megrahi and Lockerbie in our newspapers. Many of these journalists know they are spouting rubbish. Our great, brave, campaigning press that will leave no stone unturned in exposing politicians’ expense fiddles or in detailing the sexual frolics of sports persons and showbiz nonentities refuse to deal with this growing scandal. This is hugely important. Does our “free” press now hold that defending those in power is one of their obligations? Why? And what kind of pressure is being put on them – and from what source?”

    A very good series of questions. Thank you David for asking each one of them and, particularly, for challenging our media on Lockerbie. It is high time someone did.

    When Mr Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds the media chose to focus only on that: They seemed unconcerned that his second appeal was now conveniently gone despite the SCCRC having identified SIX grounds to suggest his original convictions may have been extremely unsafe. This atrocity cost 270 lives and even if the Statement of Reasons by the SCCRC remains unpublished many of us, and certainly the press, are aware of the major flaws in the case. That six grounds were identified suggesting a possible miscarriage should have sent the media into a frenzy to get to the truth behind the biggest loss of life we had ever seen here in peace time. That frenzy should have gone up a notch every time the Scottish Judiciary attempted, yet again, to delay hearing Megrahi’s second appeal. It was ultimately stalled for more than two years without a whimper from the media although a UN observer at the trial, Professor Hans Koechler, observed that the conduct of the Scottish Judiciary over that delayed (some would say blocked) second appeal was “tantamount to the obstruction of justice”. That’s quite an assessment of good old Scots Law

    Indeed if one has a look at the trial transcripts that alone proves something very dirty was going on. We even had the Lord Advocate at the time misleading (some would say lying) to judges about the value of the contents of certain cables to the defence team. Colin Boyd assured judges the information was of no value to the defence. When that information was revealed however it was established that Giaka, a prosecution witness, was in fact in the pay of the US security services. Giaka was consequently dismissed as a reliable witness. Imagine if it had been revealed to the court that the US also intended to pay the Gaucis $3 million dollars between them for testimony? Imagine if it had been revealed to the court that as well as the Luqa route there was another possibility because there had been a break-in at a baggage area at Heathrow on the morning of the day Pan Am 103 was to go down over Scotland? Yet this evidence was withheld from the court. Who withheld it? Was it the UK government? Was it the Crown? The police. We know that break in took place. Why were the details not part of the investigation and why was the defence team not told about it?

    Trial transcripts show evidence, from Air Malta, that no unaccompanied bags traveled from Luqa Airport. Documentation was produced proving that all bags were accounted for yet the judges chose to conclude that one bag had traveled unaccompanied despite the evidence saying the opposite.

    Are the conclusions reached by judges not meant to be based on evidence? Is this not the warning judges sternly hand down to juries before they consider verdicts? Yet in the Lockerbie case judges IGNORED that sound advice and the evidence in order to reach a verdict favoured by the political establishments of the UK and the US.

    Weather records were also brought to the court showing that on the day Gauci claimed Megrahi allegedly purchased clothes from his shop it had rained heavily enough in Sliema to warrant the purchaser adding an umbrella to his list of purchases. The only day Megrahi was on Malta was a December date, when it was NOT raining, yet judges opted for that date despite official records showing there was no rain that day. It seemed that the priority for the judges was to choose a date which “fitted” Megrahi’s movements rather than to read the evidence being presented to them.

    The media, as a body, is aware of all of these things and more. Further revelations since only add to the many questions yet they are not demanding answers or holding politicians and the judiciary to account which, for me, makes them part of a toxic plot which shocks, and actually terrifies, any believer in justice to the core.

    The ridicule heaped on those who want justice for those who died at Lockerbie is deeply offensive. Many heaping the ridicule on are politicians who duck and dive in order to avoid addressing the very serious issues surrounding that terrible tragedy. Personally for me it isn’t about getting the person or persons behind it: it is about dealing with evidence, clear evidence, that the person convicted was not guilty. This case shames Scotland as a people and the conduct of our Justice System throughout has been lamentable and, perhaps, even corrupt. The same can be said of politicians across all Parties starting with Thatcher’s Conservatives who were in power when the atrocity occurred. The body with the power to challenge, to hold all of them to account is the media. It is time they got off their backsides and began that process.

    Mad conspiracy theories do exist in the world, certainly, but a body such as the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission don’t do conspiracy theories: their findings are based on evidence. In this particular case there is not a single elephant in the room: they produced SIX of them, an entire herd one might say.

    There is talk, lately, of a future new appeal against Megrahi’s conviction. People should realise that if the present Justice Secretary, Mr MacAskill, is now relaxed about this it is because he slipped in some extra bits and bobs of his own when he rushed through his “emergency” legislation following Cadder. This directly alters the powers of the SCCRC to refer cases it reviews directly back to a Court. The SCCRC was created via an Act of Parliament so that Scotland had its own Commission which would review, independently and impartially, cases brought before it. It was to function without political or judicial interference. Under Mr MacAskill’s new legislation the SCCRC will still reach conclusions on its cases but a JUDGE will now need to grant approval for any case to go back to Court. Thus, Mr MacAskill has removed the SCCRC’s entire purpose which was to scrutinise all aspects of cases including the conduct of the judiciary when a case was originally heard. Yet no one uttered a whimper. So we can be fairly sure that any future appeal will be looked after by a Judicial System which, the Lockerbie case has shown, is rotten to the core. Mr MacAskill has done his bit to get the power shifted back to them and the wings of the SCCRC well and truly clipped. Perhaps the title of Justice Secretary needs to be changed to something else since the concept of justice itself seems not to have any role whatsoever to play either in his job or, astonishingly, in Scots Law. But I do know that every time I hear the man speak of “the integrity of Scots Law” I have an overwhelming urge to reach for a sick bucket.


    • Well said, Jo.

      • Absolutely. The Herald (and other papers, and come to that the BBC) have often published articles pointing out that the Zeist conviction was perverse. Lucy Adams, Marcello Mega and Ian Bell are quite vocal on the subject. But when it comes to the political ramifications of Megrahi’s release, and especially if it’s possible to bash the SNP, all this is forgotten and those baying for a mass murderer to die miserably in jail are allowed a free platform.

  15. It was a political trial from start to finish.

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