Bomber bids for £1m return to Dutch court

A SPECIAL Scottish court in the Netherlands may have to be reopened at a cost of more than £1 million to hear appeals in the case of the Lockerbie bomber.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, 54, believes there is "every likelihood" he will be given the right to run a second appeal against his conviction, and his lawyers maintain it would have to be staged at Kamp van Zeist, the venue for his trial and a first, failed, appeal.

Even if he is denied a second chance by the body which considers alleged miscarriages of justice, he still has an appeal against the length of his prison sentence, and he also claims he should be returned to the Netherlands for that.

The Crown disagrees, and says appeals can take place in Scotland, which would avoid the huge security problems and the cost of transporting Megrahi abroad from Greenock Prison, where he is currently held.

The Court of Criminal Appeal will decide, but probably not before the autumn.

Pan Am flight 103 from Heathrow to New York was blown up over Lockerbie in December 1988 - 259 passengers and crew died, along with 11 residents in Lockerbie. In 1991, warrants were issued for two Libyans, Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah. Years of political wrangling followed, until an agreement was reached for a trial in a neutral country, before Scottish judges.

It took place at the Special Scottish Court created at Kamp van Zeist, a former military base, near Utrecht. In 2001, Megrahi was found guilty and given a life sentence; Fhimah was acquitted. In 2002, after an appeal against his conviction was rejected, he was moved to Scotland to serve his sentence.

Subsequently, a system was introduced for fixing the minimum period of a life sentence that must be served before the prisoner can apply for parole. In Megrahi's case, it was set at 27 years. Megrahi lodged an appeal, on the basis that 27 years was excessive; the Crown also decided to pursue an appeal, on the grounds it was unduly lenient.

Those appeals - the "sentence appeals" - were set to be heard next month, but Megrahi also has an application before the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which can refer a case back to the appeal court if it considers there may have been a miscarriage of justice.

Yesterday, the Court of Criminal Appeal agreed to discharge next month's hearing and to call the case again in October.

Part of Kamp van Zeist is now used as a detention centre for illegal immigrants. The trial buildings remain but are empty and not in use.