Libya joins probe into Lockerbie bombing

The Lockerbie bombing killed 270 people - the plane exploded over the town in 1988. Picture: Jane Barlow
The Lockerbie bombing killed 270 people - the plane exploded over the town in 1988. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Libya has appointed two prosecutors to deal with the international investigation into the Lockerbie bombing, Scotland’s chief law officer has revealed.

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland insists there are still others with “blood on their hands” who have not been brought to justice.

Libyans will now work alongside Scottish and US investigators, in a move described as a “welcome development” by Mr Mulholland. Scotland’s senior prosecutor said: “As a result of developing good relations and understanding of what we’re trying to achieve, the Libyan law enforcement have appointed two prosecutors to work with the US and Scottish prosecutors in investigating this.

“So that’s a welcome development and hopefully this will progress matters.”

Mr Mulholland will meet the head of the FBI to discuss the inquiry during a visit to the US when he will attend events to mark this weekend’s 25th anniversary of the terrorist bombing. Scottish detectives could also be poised to visit Libya in the new year as part of the investigation.

The 1988 atrocity, when Pan-Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, killing 270 people, remains the worst criminal act in UK history.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is the only person to have been convicted, but authorities on both sides of the Atlantic have long held that others were involved.

Megrahi was found guilty after a trial at the special Scottish court at Camp Zeist in Holland in January 2001.

The Scottish Government released him on compassionate grounds from Greenock jail in 2009 after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died last year, still protesting his innocence.

The fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya last year has opened a new front in the investigation, with Scottish and US authorities working together in an effort to track down others involved.

Mr Mulholland said: “It’s a live criminal inquiry and we need to keep it that way and keep looking for the others involved.”

He and then FBI director Robert Mueller visited Tripoli a few months after the fall of Gaddafi for talks with the transitional government. That led to Scottish prosecutors and police visiting Tripoli this year.

“There’s been ongoing contact since I attended and this is a positive development, the appointment of two prosecutors,” the Lord Advocate said.

The development is significant, given recent comments by Libyan justice minister Salah al-Marghani and his deputy that the Lockerbie case is closed and “in the past”.

Those remarks followed concerns that the US particularly was looking to secure additional compensation from Libya for the bombing.

But Mr Mulholland continues to correspond with the Libyan authorities and Scottish police or prosecutors could be heading out to the country again.

“I think the hope is that they can follow up on the good contact and follow up on the appointment of two Libyan prosecutors,” he said.

He will meet new FBI director James Comey this weekend for talks on the Lockerbie case. “It’s also a chance to introduce myself and him to me, but it will be to discuss the ongoing inquiry,” the Lord Advocate said.

But he warned Libya remained in transition. “You have to recognise the security situation in Libya and also you have to understand that the focus understandably of the Libyan government is perhaps in other directions,” he said.

The courts have ruled that the Lockerbie bombing was an act of “state-sponsored terrorism” and that Megrahi didn’t act alone. Mr Mulholland said: “I think it’s absolutely clear from the evidence there are others out there who have blood on their hands and if I just close the lid on this, I don’t think from my perspective it would be the right thing to do and that I would feel comfortable with myself.

“I’ve got a duty to the public, to the families, to progress this matter.”

Abdallah Senussi, Gaddafi’s brother-in-law and head of his intelligence services, who is now in prison in Tripoli, is a key figure the Scottish and US authorities would like to interview. The Crown Office has also been investigating Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, Megrahi’s co-accused, who was acquitted in the original trial.

Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, of Police Scotland, said: “It is complex. It’s not a stable operating environment in Libya at the moment.

“We’re in constant contact with the Crown and the Foreign Office to see if there is an opportunity. We will keep pursuing it – the passage of time doesn’t mean that we won’t seek evidence.”

Some British relatives have cast doubt on the conviction of Megrahi. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed, has been a central figure in the Justice for Megrahi campaign, which has pushed for a full public inquiry into the bombing.

“The Crown Office seem to be sitting on their hands and avoiding taking action to see if they got it wrong,” he said.

“Unless they do that, their position is essentially untenable because there’s plenty of evidence they did get it wrong.”

But the Lord Advocate insisted the only place to determine guilt was in a court.

“It doesn’t matter what people think or what theories they hold – and I’m not being critical of people for having their own views on the case – I believe in the rule of law and the rule of law is that the only way to determine a person’s guilt or innocence is in a court of law,” he said.

“If there’s any new evidence in the case, take it to the Scottish Criminal cases Review Commission, which is set up to deal with this type of situation.”

Mr Mulholland also dismissed the latest “cover up” claims that centre on a report naming Egyptian terrorist Mohammed Abu Talb as the bomber.

“This was matter which was raised at the trial and Mr Talb gave evidence at the original trial,” he said.

“It was then considered by the appeal court, so all that evidence was before the court and they rejected the contention that Mr Talb was responsible or the terrorist organisation he was a member of.”

Lockerbie lament to herald pause for reflection at memorial events in Scotland and US

A LAMENT composed by a Scottish piper will be played at 25th-anniversary memorial events for Lockerbie in both the US and Scotland this weekend.

Composer Alan Maltman, a member for the former Dumfries and Galloway Police Pipe band, and Detective Sergeant Matt Jackson will play at the memorial in Arlington National Cemetery in the US on Saturday. It will be attended by Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland who commissioned the lament.

It will also be played at a ceremony at Dryfesdale Cemetery in Lockerbie, to be attended by First Minister Alex Salmond and justice secretary Kenny MacAskill.

The UK government’s top law officer, Lord Advocate Lord Wallace, will attend the Lockerbie ceremony, along with Solicitor General Lesley Thomson, who will lay a wreath.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will be attending a special ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

Mr Mulholland attended Arlington soon after being appointed Lord Advocate to mark the 23rd anniversary of the tragedy, and he gave his word that he would return for the 25th anniversary.

He was in Lockerbie last year and laid a wreath along with the then Dumfries and Galloway Chief Constable Pat Shearer. The law officer also visited various other sites in the town.

Mr Mulholland was not involved in the original inquiry or prosecution of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, but said that on being appointed Lord Advocate, it was one of the major issues he had to deal with.

This meant meetings with the UK families in both London and Glasgow, as well as his meeting with the US families two years ago.

“It’s very humbling and my impression was that it’s still very raw – and it’s not just a distant memory,” he said.

He went on “I think it’s very important the focus for the 25th anniversary is on the appalling tragedy of this.

“It shouldn’t be on the criminal case that was against Megrahi or the ongoing criminal against the other. I felt the focus should be on remembering those who lost their lives.”

Scotland Office minister David Mundell will be attending the memorial events in the US, home of most of the victims, on behalf of the UK government.

The Tory MP, who represents Lockerbie, said the service would be a “time to pause for thought and remember the loss of life on that tragic night”.

A cairn of red sandstone, with one brick for every life lost, stands at Arlington. The block came from Corsehill Quarry in Annan, Dumfries-shire.

Two hundred and seventy people were killed when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie on 21 December, 1988.

Lockerbie in numbers

270 people lost their lives in the bombing of the Pam Am 747

44 of the dead were British

35 of the dead were students from Syracuse University in Upstate New York

400 parents lost a son or daughter

46 parents lost their only child

65 women were widowwed

11 men lost their wives

7 children lost both parents

140 children lost a parent

800 square miles was the size of the crime scene, making the biggest in UK history

20 inches was the width of the hole the explosion punched in the left side of the fuselage of the aircraft

23 times key prosecution witness Tony Gauci was interviewed as part of the investigation

15,000 was the total number of witness statements that were taken

3 years was the length of time spent on the joint investigation by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation

8 1/2 years was the portion of his sentence that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi spent in Greenock prison