Lockerbie bomber loses his appeal

A LIBYAN secret agent today lost an appeal against his conviction for the murder of 270 people in the Lockerbie bombing.

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, 49, will now be transferred to Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow to serve a life sentence for the biggest single act of mass murder in modern British history.

A panel of five Scottish law lords chaired by the Lord Justice General Lord Cullen, 66, the Lord President of the Court of Session, rejected the appeal unanimously on all the appeal grounds.

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Home Secretary Jack Straw said he hoped the decision would bring some “solace” to the families of the victims of Lockerbie. The end of legal proceedings in the Lockerbie case will spark a fresh drive for Libya to pay compensation as called for by the United Nations’ Security Council.

Lord Cullen told the Scottish Court in the Netherlands today: “For the reasons given in the opinion, in which we all concur, we have concluded that none of the grounds of appeal is well founded. The appeal will accordingly be refused.”

As Lord Cullen dismissed the appeal, the prisoner swallowed hard and there was a shout of: “Yes” from someone in the public gallery. Al-Megrahi’s wife Aisha collapsed in sobs and had to be helped from the court.

The bomb detonated as Pan Am flight 103 passed over the Dumfries and Galloway town of Lockerbie in December 1988, killing all 259 people on board and 11 others on the ground.

Al-Megrahi will be transferred to Scotland within 24 hours to serve the rest of his sentence, which carries a minimum 20-year term.

It is understood he will be housed in Scotland’s largest prison, Barlinnie.

However, he could still decide to appeal to the Privy Council in London, which is made up of about 300 people, including all Cabinet ministers past and present.

Mr Straw said: “The decision of the Scottish Court to uphold the conviction cannot make up for the loss of those who died nor for the suffering of their relatives.

“Nevertheless, I hope it gives them some solace.

“The judgement runs to some 200 pages and after we have considered all the issues carefully, we shall announce our decision about a Government inquiry.

“It remains for Libya to fulfil its international obligations on Lockerbie. Libya has shown a desire to turn away from international terrorism. But I urge Libya to comply with the terms of the United Nations resolutions."

Scottish Justice Minister Jim Wallace said: “Over the past two years, the Scottish justice system has been placed under unprecedented scrutiny from the public, the media and legal observers all across the globe. As Justice Minister, I can say that Scottish justice has stood up well to that scrutiny.

“I would like to express my sympathy for the families of the victims. Today closes a chapter in their search for justice but for them the tragedy of losing their loved ones will never end.”

Scotland’s Lord Advocate Colin Boyd said: “I believe these proceedings have demonstrated what the judicial process can achieve when the international community acts together. I hope this can be the enduring legacy of the Lockerbie trial.”

The ruling was today welcomed by victims’ families. Jane Swire, 63, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora died in the bombing, said: “Justice has been done and seen to be done and we hope and pray that it is right. We must respect the opinion of these judges who have great legal minds.

“I don’t envy their job as the evidence must have been very hard to prove.”

But Mrs Swire said the failure of the appeal did not end her family’s anguish.

She said: “If you lose someone you miss that person for the rest of your life.”

Linlithgow MP Tam Dalyell today expressed his disappointment with the decision.

“I just want the truth. I am not convinced we have got the whole truth at all.”

He said the ruling meant the judges had endorsed the view at the original trial that controversial evidence from Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, was reliable.

His evidence, that al-Megrahi had bought clothes from him that were packed in the suitcase containing the bomb, was crucial for the prosecution.

It took just three minutes for the appeal to be formally dismissed.

Dressed in black, Mrs al-Megrahi rose from her seat wailing and several male relatives jumped up to hold her. Al-Megrahi glanced in her direction through the bullet-proof glass wall as she was led away.

British and American relatives in the public gallery shook each other’s hands.

The president of the Libyan Bar Association attacked the outcome as a “political” result. Hafid Jhoja said: “The whole of Libya will be upset by this verdict. This was clearly a political judgment and not a legal one.

“We will certainly be going to the Libyan Human Rights Court because all Libyan people are upset by what has happened.”

And the assistant secretary general of the Union of Arab Lawyers, Sabra Ammar, said it had been a “political trial” and like “theatre”.

He said: “Arab rulers should no more accept any trial concerning an Arab citizen outside the Arab world. This is what’s being applied to the detainees in Cuba.

“It is a political trial which aimed to convict the political Libyan system.”

Britain and the US have been involved in talks with Libya to agree compensation for victims’ relatives in return for ending sanctions.

Officials have refused to comment on reports Libya is prepared to offer 1.3 million per victim, although a deal depends on Libya accepting responsibility.