Campaigners welcome ‘momentous’ review of Lockerbie bomber’s conviction

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, right, is escorted by a police officer to court in Tripoli, Libya, in 1992. Picture: Jockel Fink
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, right, is escorted by a police officer to court in Tripoli, Libya, in 1992. Picture: Jockel Fink
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Campaigners for the man found guilty of carrying out the 1988 Lockerbie bombing have welcomed the “momentous” decision to review his conviction.

Megrahi, who died in 2012, was jailed in 2001 for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 which killed 270 people.

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi leaves a police van before he boards a plane at Glasgow Airport in 2009, after he was released on compassionate grounds by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi leaves a police van before he boards a plane at Glasgow Airport in 2009, after he was released on compassionate grounds by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

The SCCRC said yesterday that it believed Megrahi had abandoned an earlier appeal because he thought it would result in him being released from prison and allowed to return home to Libya.

The former intelligence officer was released from custody in 2009 with terminal prostate cancer and died in Tripoli three years later.

Gerard Sinclair, the chief executive of the SCCRC, said: “In any application where an applicant has previously chosen to abandon an appeal against conviction the commission will, at the first stage of its process, look carefully at the reasons why the appeal was abandoned and consider whether it is in the interests of justice to allow a further review of the conviction.

“The commission has now investigated this particular matter and interviewed the key personnel who were involved in the process at the time the previous appeal was abandoned in 2009. The commission has also sought access to the relevant materials and has recovered the vast majority of these, including the defence papers which were not provided during its previous review.

Wreckage of the nose-cone and cockpit near the Borders town of Lockerbie, where Pan Am flight 103, a 747 Jumbo jet, crashed after a bomb exploded on board in December 1988.

Wreckage of the nose-cone and cockpit near the Borders town of Lockerbie, where Pan Am flight 103, a 747 Jumbo jet, crashed after a bomb exploded on board in December 1988.

“Having considered all the available evidence the commission believes that Mr Megrahi, in abandoning his appeal, did so as he held a genuine and reasonable belief that such a course of action would result in him being able to return home to Libya at a time when he was suffering from terminal cancer.”

He added: “On that basis, the commission has decided that it is in the interests of justice to accept the current application for a full review of his conviction.”

A previous review of Megrahi’s conviction led to the case being referred to the High Court for an appeal in 2007 after the SCCRC determined there may have been a miscarriage of justice.

That appeal was abandoned with Megrahi’s release from prison on what the Scottish Government called compassionate grounds.

READ MORE: Police inquiry into Lockerbie bombing claims coming to conclusion
A further application was made on Megrahi’s behalf by relatives of some of the victims in 2014 but was rejected by judges.

The latest application has been brought by members of Megrahi’s family, including his wife and son, and has allowed the SCCRC access to the original appeal documents.

In a statement released on behalf of the family yesterday, solicitor Aamer Anwar said: “To date both the UK Government and Scottish Government have claimed that they played no role in pressuring Mr Megrahi into dropping his appeal as a condition of his immediate release. It was alleged that this was fundamentally untrue.

“We welcome the news that today that the SCCRC having considered all the available evidence have confirmed that they believe then when Mr Megrahi abandoned his appeal, he did so as he believed he held a genuine and reasonable belief that such a course of action would result in him being able to return home to Libya...”

He added: “The reputation of the Scottish law has suffered both at home and internationally because of widespread doubts about the conviction of Mr Megrahi. It is in the interests of justice and restoring confidence in our criminal justice system that these doubts can be addressed, however the only place to determine whether a miscarriage of justice did occur is in the appeal court, where the evidence can be subjected to rigorous scrutiny.”

Police Scotland is currently examining allegations made by the Justice for Megrahi (JFM) group about the prosecution of Megrahi at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands 18 years ago.

Now in its fifth year, Operation Sandwood is investigating a number of complaints against prosecutors, police and forensic officials, alleging attempts to pervert the course of justice

Iain McKie, a member of JFM, said: “This is an absolutely momentous decision given the years of the system trying to bury the whole question of Lockerbie and Mr Megrahi’s guilt.

“The SCCRC, having reviewed the evidence, has accepted Mr Megrahi’s decision to give up his appeal was motivated by a dying man’s wish to return home.

“It seems to me the SCCRC have carried out a bold step in carrying out that work.

“This comes together nicely with the police about to report to the Crown Office on the possible criminality in the people involved in the investigation and trial.”

He added: “This is the 30th anniversary of Lockerbie; it seems particularly appropriate something is now being done.”

Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the bombing, said the length of time taken to reach this point was “lamentable”.

He said: “(In 2015) they decided the immediate relatives of the murder victims from the atrocity weren’t allowed to question how the Scottish authorities had handled the case.

“They’re now confronted by the legally proven successors to Megrahi asking for an appeal. They will find it very difficult to deny the family.

“The only dark cloud is that the SCCRC have done three years work on it already. Hopefully that will mean that they don’t take very long to look into the case again.”

Last night, Kenny MacAskill, who was justice secretary at the time of Megrahi’s release, said it had been the Libyan’s own decision to abandon his earlier appeal.

He said: “The SCCRC are an important part of the Scottish justice system and their investigations and procedures need to be respected.

“The decision to abandon his appeal was for Mr Megrahi and his advisors. Neither pressure was put upon him nor was the decision to release dependent on it.”