Chief Constable Sir Stephen House was responding to fierce criticism from MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee.
They had accused Police Scotland of kicking Justice For Megrahi’s claims “into the long grass” through “procrastinating and obfuscation”.
In particular, MSPs said they would write to Sir Stephen asking how many officers were working on the investigation, and what stage it was currently at. JFM made the allegations to then-deputy chief constable Patrick Shearer in April last year.
The Crown Office is currently leading fresh inquiries into the atrocity, having recently signed information-sharing agreements with Libyan prosecutors, and police claim those must take precedence. Sir Stephen wrote to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee: “The reality is that no further investigation could take place because of the conflict with the live investigation.”
However, Sir Stephen’s letter failed to convince MSPs. Christine Grahame MSP, the justice committee convener, said: “It’s very disappointing and a bit annoying. We feel it’s being kicked into the long grass. I don’t see why it’s being held up just because there’s a live inquiry.”
John Finnie MSP, a former police officer and justice committee member, added: “The response from the chief constable does nothing to reassure me that there is a will to address the serious accusations of criminality which have been reported.
“Indeed, the letter prompts more inquiries than it answers. For instance, given that Mr Shearer – who was initially appointed senior investigating officer (SIO) – retired last October, why did it take to the day before last week’s justice committee for his replacement, Detective Superintendent Johnstone, to be appointed ‘in a full-time capacity’ and what, if anything, should we read into the fact that the new SIO is three ranks lower than the original appointee?
“Mr House’s letter states that Mr Johnstone’s ‘appointment will now provide for a full examination of further allegations that Police Scotland have determined to be investigated’. The point is that Police Scotland should investigate all allegations they receive, albeit some may not be progressed beyond initial investigation.”
JFM insists the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person ever convicted of the bombing, was innocent. It says the prosecution relied on evidence known to be false during the Camp Zeist trial.
In his letter, Sir Stephen said his force was determined to investigate these claims and estimated the “conflict” with the live inquiry would be over by the end of March.
“I can assure you that the allegations made by the Justice for Megrahi group are being investigated thoroughly and as expeditiously as possible,” he wrote.
“Detective Superintendent Johnstone’s appointment is in a full-time capacity, such is the commitment of Police Scotland to progress the allegations in this regard. As and when he identifies the need for additional support to help him I can assure you that will be provided.
“I will, of course, ensure the justice committee is provided with updates as appropriate.”
Megrahi was convicted in 2001. He was freed from a Scottish jail in 2009 on compassionate grounds, suffering from cancer, stirring controversy when he outlived doctors’ expectations, and died at his home in Libya in 2012.