THE prostate cancer which eventually killed the man convicted of the Lockerbie atrocity was a “gift from God” to those involved in the case who had something to hide, the author of a book proclaiming the bomber’s innocence said yesterday.
John Ashton made the claim on the opening day of the Edinburgh International Book Festival when he was joined by other high-profile critics of the case in which Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was found guilty of mass murder.
Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, and Hans Kochler, the UN observer at the subsequent trial in the Netherlands, also took part in the festival event.
Megrahi was sentenced to life for the atrocity, which claimed 270 lives above Lockerbie and on the ground in the town, but he was set free on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in May, two years and nine months after Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill released him on the basis that he had a life expectancy of only three months.
Ashton, who recently published the book Megrahi: You Are My Jury on the life of the former Libyan intelligence officer, said: “Megrahi’s cancer was a gift from God for everybody involved that had something to hide. It allowed his release, it allowed the final stages of the rapprochement between the UK and Libya, and it allowed the Scottish Government to allow him out of prison on a legal basis that wasn’t one laid down by the hated government in Westminster.
“It was a tragedy for Megrahi but I think everybody else was punching the air.”
The course of events was a “political fix”, he told the audience at the Charlotte Square venue. But he denied the trial was a “grand conspiracy” involving a range of security services and leading all the way to heads of state such as the US president.
“What I say is, first and foremost, that the judges got it wrong, for whatever reason, and the Crown Office withheld evidence. I’m sure they did so in good faith but their behaviour was utterly incompetent and shameful.”
The three men highlighted areas of evidence, heard under Scots law at Camp Zeist in Utrecht, which they said undermine the case against Megrahi. Key among them was a break-in at Heathrow Airport and discrepancies over the identification of Megrahi in a shop in Malta.
Swire, an outspoken critic of the trial, believes a bomb was taken on board at London.
“During the whole trial we did not know that Heathrow Airport had been broken into 16 hours before Lockerbie happened. It seemed to me very likely that was the technology that had been used,” he said. “The whole concept that the thing came from Malta via Megrahi’s luggage or anyone else’s seemed to me far-fetched.”
The panel’s comments underlined the gulf between those who believe in Megrahi’s guilt and those who feel he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Some American relatives in particular are convinced he is guilty.
The police investigation into Britain’s worst mass murder is still open.