Lockerbie: Megrahi ‘pressured into appeal U-turn’

Convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi pictured in the Netherlands' Camp Zeist in 2002. Picture: AP

Convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi pictured in the Netherlands' Camp Zeist in 2002. Picture: AP

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RELATIVES of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing have joined victims’ families in launching a fresh bid to clear his name more than two years after his death.

They said that individuals within the Scottish and British governments pressurised Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi to drop an appeal against his conviction in return for his release.

Names of those within the two governments were yesterday passed to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC).

Solicitor Aamer Anwar, who is acting on behalf of the Megrahi family and 24 British relatives who lost loved ones in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, said the claim the British and Scottish governments had played no part in pressuring Megrahi to drop his appeal was “fundamentally untrue”.

The families are applying to the SCCRC in the hope that an appeal will overturn Megrahi’s murder conviction.

In 2007, the SCCRC referred Megrahi’s case to the High Court for a new appeal on six grounds, suggesting that there “may have been a miscarriage of justice”.

But in 2009, Megrahi, who was by then suffering from terminal prostate cancer, dropped the appeal. He died in May 2012, three years after being freed on compassionate grounds.

Yesterday, Mr Anwar was joined at a press conference in Glasgow by Dr Jim Swire – whose daughter Flora died in the bombing and is one of those on whose behalf the application has been lodged.

Mr Anwar said: “The case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has been described as the worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history. A reversal of the verdict would mean the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom would stand exposed as having lived a monumental lie for 25 years and having imprisoned a man they knew to be innocent for ten years.”

Asked what evidence he had that pressure had been put on Megrahi to drop his appeal in 2009, Mr Anwar said: “Evidence has been submitted to the commission today to say Megrahi was pressurised into dropping his appeal as a condition of his immediate release.

“Individuals within the Scottish Government and within the British government are named in the volumes that have been provided to the SCCRC today. That’s a matter for them to ­investigate and we will not be releasing these names.”

Mr Anwar said the application would ask the commission to reconsider the grounds for appeal that were before the court when Megrahi’s appeal was abandoned.

Fresh evidence has also been submitted that it was impossible for a timer identified by prosecutors to be responsible for the bombing. A total of 270 people were killed on the night of 21 December 1988, the majority of them Americans.

Mr Anwar read a statement from the Megrahi family in which they referred to their relative as the 271st “victim” of the bombing.

He said: “We, the family of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, will keep fighting for justice to find out who was responsible for 271 victims of the Lockerbie disaster.”

Mr Swire said: “As relatives, we want to know all that is known about who is responsible for murdering our lovely families all those years ago.

“Who did it? Why am I and other relatives still desperately seeking to get to the truth 25 years after our families were murdered?”

Asked about the view of the American families, none of whom are taking part in the application for an appeal, Mr Swire said: “I know that my comments that we don’t know the truth make life uncomfortable for them and there are people who I have had extremely poisonous letters from over the past few years.”

The SCCRC said it would now give “careful consideration” to the new application.

A Crown Office spokesman said: “We do not fear scrutiny of the conviction by the SCCRC. The evidence upon which the conviction was based was rigorously scrutinised by the trial court and two appeal courts after which Megrahi stands convicted of the terrorist murder of 270 people.

“We will rigorously defend this conviction when called upon to do so.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The justice secretary is on record as saying that at no time did he or any other member of the Scottish Government suggest to anyone connected with the Libyan government, or to Megrahi himself, that abandoning his appeal against conviction would in any way aid or affect his application for compassionate release.”

BACKGROUND

Delay ‘has protected the real perpetrators from the probing of international justice’

When Pan Am Flight 103 came down over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, all 259 people on board were killed along with 11 on the ground.

Most of the victims were Americans on their way home from Europe for Christmas.

The New York-bound jet fell from the sky after an explosion some 40 minutes after leaving Heathrow Airport.

Launching their application for an appeal yesterday, the family of the former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the bombing referred to him as the 271st victim.

While many of the British relatives believe Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is innocent, his description as a “victim” is likely to anger American families.

Megrahi was found guilty of the bombing and jailed for life in 2001, later losing his first appeal against the mass murder conviction in 2002.

An investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) led to a finding in 2007 of six grounds where it believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, paving the way for a second appeal. Megrahi dropped that appeal in 2009 before being released by the Scottish Government on compassionate grounds in light of his terminal cancer.

The latest move is believed to be the first time in UK legal history that relatives of murder victims have united with the relatives of a convicted deceased in such a way.

In his submission to the SCCRC, Dr Jim Swire, who lost his 23-year-old daughter Flora in the bombing, said he still “ached” for her. He added: “If the verdict is unjustified, then the delay in redressing it has protected the real perpetratorsfrom the probing of international justice.”

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