Kenny MacAskill: Lockerbie bomber's conviction may well collapse

Kenny MacAskill, the then Scottish Justice Minister who released the Lockerbie bomber has called for others to be prosecuted in relation to the atrocity.

The Lockerbie saga continues and, as with the assassination of John F Kennedy, conspiracy theories will run for ever. It’s unsurprising that the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC) has passed it through the first stage of their process, as Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction is questionable to say the least.

As the SCCRC found on the last occasion when they considered this a decade ago, there are issues to investigate. Not least the evidence of Tony Gauci, a man who it’s since been disclosed received substantial sums of money for his testimony. Of course, it doesn’t mean he was a liar, I’ve heard many say he was just a simple man who tried to help and only later discovered there was a reward available.

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However, given that it’s unprecedented in Scots Law and that the court in the same trial castigated the evidence of a paid CIA informer, it’s hard to see how it can be accepted. If it falls, then the case against Megrahi almost certainly collapses.

Megrahi was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, but others can still be brought to justice. Picture: AP

That doesn’t mean that those who prosecuted him or convicted him were at fault. In my view, all involved sought to act appropriately in what was an extremely difficult case. Nor does it necessarily follow that the court will exculpate Megrahi as I’ve always he had a peripheral role but wasn’t the bomber. It’s one thing to argue the conviction was unsafe but quite another to say that he had no involvement.

It’ll also be interesting if it does return to court to see if new evidence is rolled out by the Crown. Since the fall of Gaddafi, the CIA and MI6 have obtained documentation from Libya, as well as locating key witnesses and removing them from the failed state. They’re now available but will they be produced? In particular will Moussa Koussa, Libya’s former Foreign Minister, appear? He defected with the help of MI6 and now lives in Qatar.

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Conspiracy theories abound about who perpetrated the Lockerbie bombing, most are absurd though a few have more legitimacy. However, it’s surprising that people still question Libya’s involvement in the atrocity and the reasons are threefold. Firstly, all the evidence points to it. Secondly, Colonel Gaddafi admitted it, stating that they hadn’t planned it but accepting that they’d taken over its delivery. He explained that if had they conceived it they wouldn’t have used Malta as the airport to place the fatal case on board, given its known use by Libyans. Thirdly, those who have succeeded Gaddafiin whatever semblance of government that has followed in that country have also accepted culpability, though they blamed it on the former despot’s regime.

Of course, what gives some credence to conspiracy theories is that Libya neither acted alone nor initiated it. As a former senior police officer once told me, using that euphemism from the Iraq war, it was a “coalition of the willing”. And that included Iran who put up a bounty for an American airliner to be bombed, following the downing of their own civilian airliner by the USS Vincennes just months before.

It also included the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, which accepted the contract and had been planning an atrocity before being intercepted by German police just weeks prior in possession of Pan Am air tags, timetables and similar bomb-making equipment. Others including Syria would have known or been involved.

This coalition mirrors the investigation into the atrocity which included not just US and UK law enforcement and security services but many others including the Germans and Israelis.

Now there are some who persist that Megrahi was just some innocent abroad who happened to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Really? Flying in on a false passport never to be used again, initially denying ever being there and apparently travelling without any luggage.

The specific evidence against him may be limited but the circumstantial evidence is compelling. He was a senior Libyan intelligence agent – head of security at Libyan Arab airlines. Not only did he carry out covert work for the regime but he was both a member of the Gaddafi clan and married into the family of another senior regime leader.

His co-accused Fhimah had been head of security at Luqa Airport in Malta and Megrahi was flying out from there, when the suitcase containing the bomb was placed aboard a flight and eventually transferred the fateful flight Pan Am 103.

For sure, as well as doubts over identification, issues remain over just how the bomb was placed aboard that flight and these have never been satisfactorily resolved. But, placed aboard it was, as it was tracked arriving at Munich before heading on to Heathrow.

Some have argued that the bomb was placed aboard at Heathrow but that’s rejected by the evidence though it’s been unhelpful that the Crown have yet to publish the police report into. More compellingly Pan Am went bust as a result of their security failings at Malta and it’s inconceivable that if there were any doubt that wouldn’t have been challenged. Money talks as they say!

The initial prosecution was also against many more than just Megrahi and his co-accused Fhimah. They included far more senior figures and included the man believed to be the bomb-maker. All requests even by the defence in due course to speak to him were rejected by the Libyans, just as all demands for more senior accused to be handed over were rejected.

For a deal had been brokered by the United Nations between the US/UK and Libya that not only would the trial be under Scots Law, though at a neutral venue, but that there would be no regime change. In a nutshell the two accused offered up by Libya were the highest-ranking accused that the Libyan regime was prepared to release and the lowest level that the UK/US were prepared to accept.

But, there’s more evidence available now and others that can be prosecuted. So rather than looking back at Megrahi’s conviction, maybe it’s time to look at new evidence and at other accused.