Time to end all doubt with a public inquiry
SO WHERE does the report of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission leave the reputation of Scottish justice?
As the son-in-law of former Lord Justice Clerk, John Wheatley, and as one who helped to persuade Libya to surrender Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah and Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi to the Scottish legal process it pains me to say: "In proverbial tatters."
On 21 December, 1988, things went wrong from the beginning.
Within an hour of Pan Am 103 crashing on Lockerbie, on a point of order, I interrupted House of Commons routine business to ask for a statement.
Simultaneously, by helicopter, American personnel were arriving on the scene, and were soon to take over. Since it was an American airliner, and most of the casualties, seemed to be American, none of us objected at that moment.
It was not until New Year's Eve that a constituent, a police officer who had been bussed down from the Lothians and Borders force, came to me as a local MP and complained gently that Americans were buzzing around unsupervised, in a way that would not be acceptable in a British murder investigation.
Given the emotions of the moment, the Scottish authorities can be forgiven for their permissive attitude towards the swarm of American investigators.
But their activities were to lead to huge future difficulty and suspicions, outlined in a book The Trail Of The Octopus.
What was deeply unsatisfactory was the narrow remit of the Fatal Accident Inquiry. A blazing row between relatives of the British victims and their counsel - the 20 years younger Brian Gill, now the present Lord Justice Clerk, is ruled out of any participation in an appeal.
The relatives wanted a public inquiry - and when they went to see the incoming Secretary of State for Transport, Cecil Parkinson (his predecessor, Paul Channon, had been sacked over Lockerbie, in circumstances, the exact nature of which he has now taken to his grave). They thought they had won what they asked for. Until they were going out of the door, and Mr Parkinson called them back and said: "Just one thing - I have to clear a public inquiry with colleagues."
A fortnight later, Mr Parkinson, embarrassed, said that "colleagues did not agree". Only one colleague was in a position to tell Mr Parkinson what to do in his own department. She was the prime minister.
Fast forward to 2004.
At the residence of the then Colombian ambassador, Victor Ricardo, at 76 Chester Square, I was asked to take one of my fellow guests, a little old lady from two doors up, Margaret Thatcher, into dinner.
She had not spoken to me in the past 17 years, after I had been ejected from the House for saying she had fibbed over the Falklands and Westlands, subjects which good manners dictated that I should avoid.
Sitting down to dinner, I said: "Margaret, tell me one thing. Why in 800 pages ...?"
MT: "Have you read my autobiography?"
TD: "Margaret, I've read it very carefully."
She positively purred.
TD: "Why did you not mention Lockerbie once?"
MT: "Because I did not know about it!"
TD (astounded): "What, you didn't know about it!"
MT: "No, I did not know what happened."
TD: "But you went and looked into First Officer Wagner's eyes!"
MT: "Yes, but I don't write about things when I did not know what happened."
I think Margaret Thatcher was telling the truth. She did not know the full story. She owed a huge debt to the United States, and when they asked her not to have a public inquiry, she willing acceded to a White House request.
The last thing that the US government wanted was the truth - that Washington knew enough to put up notices in its Moscow embassy warning personnel not to travel on Pan Am flights, to withdraw the South African general staff - Generals Van Tonder and Malan, Rusty Evans and Pik Botha - and advise personnel from the American army of the Rhine not to travel but allow the young students to take up the pre-Christmas places.
There would have been an explosion of public opinion in the US damaging the incoming president, George Bush snr, had this emerged from a serious inquiry into the truth.
So it had to be an adversarial court case when Libya was brought into the frame. Alistair Duff, of McCourts, the chosen solicitor, gave me the impression that he thought that it was little different from a murder case on the streets of Edinburgh.
Why on earth he and William Taylor did not press the Crown on the evidence of Tony Gauci defies the imagination.
What of the judges? I just could not imagine how a distinguished lawyer's lawyer, John Coulsfield, could ever have acquiesced in such a verdict.
I think they were under huge pressure - not from outside, let alone political interference, but from inside their own minds. Given all the palaver and expense of Zeist they would make Scottish justice look silly in the eyes of the world even if they arrived at the not proven verdict that they ought to at least have given.
Ironically, by seeking misguidedly to protect Scottish justice from looking silly they have done their beloved Court of Session dramatic harm.
What now? There is a problem. On account of previous involvement, many of the senior judges in Scotland are ineligible to take part in an appeal. Which is an added reason, but only added - as to why two or three of the judges should be brought in from other, English jurisdictions.
But in fairness to Mr Megrahi, the appeal should be heard in much less time than the commission has taken.
Thereafter, there must belatedly be the public inquiry that Mr Parkinson proposed.
TAM Dalyell, the veteran former parliamentarian, has been one of the most tenacious campaigners for justice over the Lockerbie bombing.
He was instrumental in securing the trial at Kamp van Zeist and then fought hard for the verdict to be reconsidered.
He has consistently maintained that Iran, and not Libya, was responsible for the outrage.
Just this week, Mr Dalyell, who will be 75 next month, called for an independent public inquiry, led by foreign judges, into the handling of the Lockerbie inquiry.
The Lockerbie case has been one of a number of issues which Mr Dalyell has pursued relentlessly through a 43-year parliamentary career that came to an end when he retired at the 2005 election.
He harried Margaret Thatcher for years over the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano during the Falklands War.
He famously opposed devolution, calling it a "motorway to independence with no exits". Mr Dalyell was the instigator of the so-called West Lothian Question - his 1977 prediction that devolution would fuel resentment over Scottish MPs voting on England-only matters.
His lineage has never been that of a typical Labour MP. A tenth baronet who does not use his title, he is descended from "Bluidy" Tam Dalyell, the 17th-century opponent of Cromwell, mercenary to the Tsar of Russia and one of the few prisoners to escape from the Tower of London.
After Cambridge - where he was president of the Conservative students - he joined the Royal Scots Greys, the family regiment founded by Bluidy Tam. He went on, as Tony Blair frustratedly observed, to "oppose every bullet fired since 1945".
Only after two years as a national serviceman and the Suez Crisis of 1956, did he turn to socialism, going on in 1962 to marry Kathleen Wheatley, the daughter of a prominent Scottish Labour family, with whom he has a son and a daughter.
Mr Dalyell never achieved ministerial office, primarily because he was a maverick, a rebel parliamentarian who pursued individual causes to the exclusion of any party interest.
The controversial MP, who was elected in 1962 for the then West Lothian constituency, appeared to be embarking on a career that would see him attain senior office when he was parliamentary private secretary to Richard Crossman when Labour won the 1964 election.
He was made a front-bench spokesman on science after Michael Foot became the Labour leader. But the onset of the Falklands war led to him voting against the whip and being sacked from the post.
By the time he left the Commons, he had become the longest continuously serving member there, taking the honorary title "Father of the House".
THE LOCKERBIE GLOSSARY
• The Trail of the Octopus - Published in 1993, the book was written by Donald Goddard and Lester K Coleman, a former member of the US Defence Intelligence Agency. The authors alleged US complicity in the Lockerbie bombing.
• First Officer Wagner - Raymond Wagner was the First Officer on board Pan Am 103 on the night of the explosion. His body, along with those of the captain and other staff, was discovered still in their seats in the nose-cone, which was inspected by Margaret Thatcher during her visit to the location the next day.
• Pre-bombing warnings - On 5 December, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a security bulletin after the US embassy in Helsinki received a warning that a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the United States would be blown up within the next fortnight.
The State Department cabled embassies and warned staff.
Investigators, however, would go on to conclude that the telephone warning made by a person with an Arabic accent was nothing more than a chillingly coincidental hoax.
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