IT’S thought to be without precedent in the UK — the relatives of murder victims joining with the family of the man found guilty of their killing to have his conviction overturned.
But while it may be an appeal unlike any other in British legal history, it relates to a uniquely complex case — the Lockerbie bombing.
Last week, 24 British families united with that of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi in taking their case to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC).
The families want the commission to re-examine grounds for appeal that were before the courts when Megrahi abandoned the case in 2009.
In 2007, the SCCRC referred the Libyan’s case to the High Court for a new appeal on six grounds, suggesting that there “may have been a miscarriage of justice”. But two years later, the former intelligence officer, who was by then suffering from terminal prostate cancer, dropped the appeal, which was the second against his conviction. He died in May 2012, three years after being freed on compassionate grounds.
Lodging the application with the commission last week, the families’ solicitor, Aamer Anwar, said there was evidence Megrahi had been pressured into dropping his appeal in return for his release.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has always denied that any member of the Scottish Government suggested to Megrahi that abandoning his appeal would aid his early release.
But Mr Anwar said the claim the British and Scottish governments had played no part in pressuring Megrahi to drop his appeal was “fundamentally untrue”.
While the latest bid to have Megrahi’s conviction overturned has the support of many of the British families, the same cannot be said for the relatives of the Americans who died in the atrocity.
The majority of the 270 killed when Pan Am flight 103 came down on 21 December 1988 were those heading home to the United States for Christmas.
Dr Jim Swire, who lost his 23-year-old daughter Flora in the bombing, told a press conference in Glasgow last week that he had received “poisonous” letters due to his campaigning on Megrahi’s behalf. While he refused to confirm whether these letters had come from the families of American victims, he acknowledged that his refusal to believe the official version of events was not a position shared by those on the other side of the Atlantic. Should the commission decide to re-open the case, the Crown Office has promised to “rigorously defend” Megrahi’s conviction.
While it is difficult to predict the likelihood of an appeal’s success, it seems clear at this point that, whatever the result, questions about what led up to the Lockerbie bombing will long remain.