UN Lockerbie trial observer urges independent inquiry into the case

THE United Nations observer appointed to oversee the Lockerbie trial has called on Alex Salmond, the First Minister, to agree to demands for an international inquiry into the handling of the case.

Dr Hans Kchler has written to Mr Salmond and Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, calling for experts from countries not involved in the case to investigate the way the investigation was conducted by UK and US authorities.

His letter follows the decision by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), announced last week, to grant a fresh appeal into the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

In a summary of its 800-page report, released following a three-year review into the case, the SCCRC said it had found six grounds which indicated that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

These concentrated on the evidence of Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who said a man resembling Megrahi had bought clothes from his shop which were found to have been wrapped around the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December, 1988, killing 270 people.

The SCCRC also said it rejected nearly 50 other grounds presented by Megrahi's defence team.

It also dismissed claims that Megrahi's original defence team was incompetent and rejected an attack on the credibility of a key witness, forensic expert Allen Feraday. The SCCRC also rejected claims evidence was invented to lead a trail to Libya.

"The commission has found no basis for concluding that evidence in the case was fabricated by the police, the Crown, forensic scientists or any other representatives of official bodies or government agencies," it said.

Such exoneration of the authorities was described as "rather strange" by Dr Kchler, who concluded in an earlier report that the original Camp Zeist trial was "not fair and was not conducted in an objective manner".

In his letter, Dr Kchler called for "a full and independent public inquiry of the Lockerbie case and its handling by the Scottish judiciary as well as the British and US political and intelligence establishments".

He also called for the SCCRC's full report to be made public.

His letter states: "In order to avoid bias, such an investigation will require the participation of additional legal experts, to be appointed by the United Nations Organisation, from countries that are not involved in the Lockerbie dispute.

"Those politicians in the United Kingdom and the United States who have proclaimed an international 'war on terror' will not be credible in their strategy if they prevent a full investigation into the causes of the explosion of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. All those responsible, without exception, must be brought to justice."

His call for an independent inquiry was last night backed by the Reverend John Mosey, whose daughter was killed in the disaster, a member of the support group UK Families Flight 103.

"There has to be some sort of independent inquiry. We have been calling for that for some time. I realise it wouldn't necessarily be a public inquiry at all times because it would have to deal with the dissemination of highly-sensitive intelligence.

"An international panel of experts would guarantee a certain open-mindedness. The problem with an inquiry in Scotland, composed of Scottish legal establishment figures, is who can we trust to chair it? Who is not establishment? This proposal has some mileage in it."

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: "Our focus remains fixed on ensuring that justice is done in the public interest. "

HEARING WILL BE NEXT YEAR

AN appeal over the conviction of Megrahi will not be heard until well into 2008.

There has been speculation that a hearing could be staged as early as this year, but such a timescale will be impossible to meet for the Libyan's defence team.

Following the move to grant a fresh appeal, Tony Kelly, Megrahi's lawyer, said he had "a blank sheet" upon which to write a new set of grounds to try to have the conviction quashed.

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