Lockerbie: eight other 'high-level' suspects

EIGHT suspects who may have been involved in the Lockerbie bombing have never been investigated because the Libyan government refused to co-operate with Scottish police, The Scotsman has learned. The individuals emerged as possible "high-level" suspects as part of the original inquiry into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 following the atrocity in December 1988.

Now The Scotsman can reveal that the eight – all thought to be male – were never ruled out of the investigation because Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi refused to release them for questioning.

The detail – never previously made public – came as the Crown Office and police confirmed officers are reviewing the investigation and are set to pursue several lines of inquiry into the bombing, focusing particularly on others suspected of being involved.

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Prosecutors said Lockerbie was subject to a further review because the only man to have been convicted of the crime, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, had dropped his appeal. Megrahi, who is suffering from terminal cancer, was allowed to return home to Libya in August after justice secretary Kenny MacAskill released him on compassionate grounds.

Stuart Henderson, who spent four years leading the investigation, said a list of people in Libya was identified by officers investigating the bombing, but they were never interviewed.

Mr Henderson, a former detective chief superintendent with Lothian and Borders Police, who led the Lockerbie incident control centre until 1992, told The Scotsman he hoped the case review would allow officers to pursue the lines of inquiry opened up by his team.

"We submitted eight other names of people that we wished to interview that were strong suspects. Unfortunately, we never got that opportunity.

"I am delighted they are making moves to see if there is anything further, because no matter what anybody says, we did not ever say it was just Megrahi we were after. We never said that," Mr Henderson added. "We were after his bosses."

Sources close to the original investigation have revealed that police efforts to speak to the eight suspects at the time were blocked by the intransigence of Colonel Gaddafi, who refused to release them for questioning.

Megrahi's release and thawing diplomatic relationships between the UK and Libya have raised hopes that officers in the revived investigation will now be given an opportunity to speak to individuals.

But Col Gaddafi appeared to dismiss that hope yesterday when he insisted that, despite good relations between his country and the UK, any review of the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 was not a matter for Libya.

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The Scotsman understands Libya is unlikely to co-operate with the investigation.

A source said: "Col Gaddafi wouldn't release anybody. Without going over the top, we are talking about some high-level people. When you have high-level people, they have immunity, so it is very difficult."

The news that police are to continue their pursuit of other suspects in the atrocity, which killed 270 people, was confirmed by authorities yesterday after an e-mail to the victims' families was leaked.

A senior procurator- fiscal, Lindsey Miller, told UK relatives of those who died that the case was still open and proactive efforts were ongoing to uncover new evidence.

She wrote: "Now that the appeal proceedings are at an end, a further review of the case is under way and several potential lines of inquiry are being considered."

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the investigation into the attack was never formally closed. He said it was "wholly appropriate" for police to pursue others who may have been involved, but insisted that he had not spoken to Libya about the development.

Meanwhile, the Crown Office moved to play down suggestions that a wholesale review of the case was under way, stressing that there was no question of the Crown reopening the case against Megrahi himself.

A spokeswoman added: "The open case concerns only the involvement of others with Megrahi in the murder of 270 people, and the Crown will continue to pursue such lines of inquiry that become available.

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"The trial court accepted the Crown's position that Mr Megrahi acted in furtherance of the Libyan intelligence services and did not act alone."

The decision by police to continue their pursuit of other suspects was welcomed by the families of the bombing victims, although some cast doubt on the timing of the leak, after it appeared on the same day fresh demands for a public inquiry into the matter were issued.

The UK Families Flight 103 group revealed it had written to the Prime Minister demanding a full independent inquiry, a development quickly overtaken by news of the revived police investigation. Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter, Flora, died on the plane, said he was concerned the ongoing police work might be used as an excuse to block any independent public inquiry.

His concerns were echoed by the Rev John Mosey, who lost his daughter, Helga, in the attack. He said: "It may be a damage-limitation exercise on behalf of the government in order to say, 'We are doing this instead of giving you an independent inquiry'. That would not be acceptable."