Saturday, 23 May 2015

Tired old mantra

[What follows is a comment posted by me on this blog on 23 May 2012. I wouldn't today change a word.]

It is sad, but entirely in character, to see the Scottish Government and the Crown Office repeating the tired old mantra that the only proper way to address concerns over the Megrahi conviction is through a court of law. It is indeed true that the only way that the verdict can be overturned is through a further appeal. But we have clear evidence now of flaws -- indeed wrongdoing -- in the Lockerbie investigation and in the conduct of the prosecution. It is quite certainly not the case that only way in which these matters can be ventilated is in an appeal against the verdict. They are matters which have caused, or are capable of causing, public concern; and that is precisely the test that must be satisfied for an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. It would be outrageous if police and Crown wrongdoing in a case could be exposed only if the accused person chose to exercise his right of appeal. Such wrongdoing is a matter of public concern and it is to address such concerns that the 2005 Act exists.  Moreover, such an inquiry could lead to a royal pardon (indeed royal pardons almost invariably flow from inquiries into cases in which there has been a conviction). A royal pardon does not overturn the verdict, which technically still stands, but it is an official recognition that the conviction was flawed. So there really is no constitutional or legal problem about asking for an inquiry into what went wrong in the investigation and prosecution of the Lockerbie case.

Lockerbie as a diplomatic weapon

[What follows is an excerpt from Megrahi's death - An end to a century of mistrust? by Jason Pack of Cambridge University, published on the Aljazeera website on this date in 2012:]

In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in what was the deadliest "modern-style" terrorist attack of the 20th century. Since then, rather than searching for the genuine causes of the tragedy, the US and UK wielded Lockerbie as a diplomatic weapon against Libya. (...)

In the wake of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher - both of whom had long standing personal grievances with Gaddafi - decided to isolate Libya from the international system. They and their successors used Lockerbie as a pretext to pass crippling UN sanctions. From 1992-1999, Libya was literally cut off from the world. International flights into and out of the country were forbidden, GNP dropped by over a third, oil infrastructure rusted and many Libyans grew up nursed by Gaddafi's anti-Imperialist rhetoric.

The economic damage from the sanctions compelled Gaddafi to back away from his support for international terror and to turn over Abdel Basset al-Megrahi (and his co-suspect Lamin Fhima, who was later acquitted) to face a Scottish tribunal at Camp Zeist in Holland. Conclusive evidence has never existed that Megrahi was actually involved in Lockerbie. To this day, many experts believe that he was indicted on fraudulent evidence from a Maltese shopkeeper and that the CIA bribed witnesses.

In 2003, Libya agreed to formally accept responsibility for the bombing, pay over two billion dollars in compensation to victim's families and voluntarily surrender its WMD program. This initiated a limited detente with the West. Yet, the relationship remained plagued by mutual suspicion and backsliding was common.

Gaddafi hoped to receive a warmer embrace from Western leaders and a greater flood of investment. Western diplomats hoped for significant internal political change as a precursor for warmer relations. In August 2009, Megrahi was released on humanitarian grounds from Scottish prison due to a diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer. He was accompanied back to Tripoli by Gaddafi's son, Saif al Islam. Cynics claim that the Scots released him to help BP secure a favourable contract.

American anger over the Scottish decision further poisoned US-Libyan relations (...)

Western politicians should bite their tongue and not engage in any grandstanding about Megrahi's passing.

In fact, they should no longer refer to Lockerbie when dealing with the new Libyan leadership. Furthermore, the sensationalist Western media should stop fueling the fire in an attempt to make the Megrahi controversy fresh again. Lockerbie is a decades-old sore. The time has come to stop picking the wound and let it heal.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Public interest immunity and security-vetted counsel

[What follows is the text of a report published in The Herald on this date in 2008:]

Prosecutors will next week attempt to throw an unprecedented veil of secrecy over the appeal of the Lockerbie bomber.
The Crown Office will ask judges to bypass the defence team of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi and appoint special security-vetted advocates to represent him in a court hearing to decide whether a previously confidential document should be made public.
If the bid for a closed-door session is successful, it would be the first time in Scotland that such a step has been taken in a criminal case.
However, the tactic will fuel suspicions that the Crown is going to unusual lengths to preserve the UK's current diplomatic relations with other nations.
The paperwork, which originated in an unknown foreign country, is thought to contain vital information about the electronic timer which detonated the bomb that killed 270 people in the skies over Lockerbie.
It is not known if political pressure has been exercised directly on the Crown, but there have been previous instances in the Megrahi case where Britain's changed attitudes to foreign states since 1988 have played a key role in the legal process.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband has already said the document should remain confidential.
It was uncovered during the three-year investigation of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which resulted in the case being referred back to the courts for a new appeal last summer. The commission concluded the failure during the original trial to disclose the document could constitute a miscarriage of justice. Although the Crown allowed the commission to see the material, it has refused to disclose it to Megrahi's defence team.
The Crown's latest move is expected to anger further his lawyers, who believe the failure to disclose the document calls into question the ultimate right to a fair appeal.
The request will be made on Tuesday at the Court of Criminal Appeal when the decision on whether to grant the defence access to the document is to be debated.
The Crown is expected to ask for the hearing to be held behind closed doors in the absence of the defence, who would be represented by special advocates. Public Interest Immunity hearings of this kind in criminal cases have previously been held only south of the border, where there is a statutory system in place, and a list of special advocates.
Megrahi's defence team has made it clear that it needs to see the document in order to proceed with the appeal, and has accused the UK Government of "interference" in the appeal.
If the prosecution denies access to the paper, Megrahi's lawyers are expected to argue that the conviction should be quashed because, without it, their client's right to a fair trial would be breached.
One legal expert said: "This is entirely unprecedented in Scotland."
A spokesman for the Crown Office said the court hearing is to be from from May 27 to 29 in Edinburgh. "It is not possible to provide further comment," he said.
[RB: It was, of course, the UK Government (represented by the then Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Davidson of Glen Clova QC) not the Lord Advocate or the Crown Office, that sought the appointment of a special security-vetted advocate. The court ultimately (and utterly wrongly) acceded to the request. If a further appeal takes place in consequence of the current application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, will the present UK government adopt the same attitude? And, if so, will a differently constituted judicial bench be as supine as its predecessor? By the time those become live issues it is to be hoped that Prime Minister David Cameron will have got round to appointing an Advocate General -- at the time of writing the only ministerial office yet to be filled in the new UK administration.]

Thursday, 21 May 2015

A smear on the quality of Scottish justice

[Miscellaneous media comments from 21 May 2012, the day following the death of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi:]

Despite what the Prime Minister says, Megrahi’s guilt is not certain. As Ian Smart suggests, there is little consensus even amongst those best informed about the case. This was not a "slam-dunk" case. Far from it. The evidence for guilt or innocence is a close-run thing whichever side of the argument you choose to take. Moreoever, it is possible to be convinced the Libyans were responsible for Lockerbie while also suspecting that the evidence against them was only barely strong enough to secure a conviction. Indeed the layman might reasonably conclude that if ever a case made an argument for the Not Proven verdict, Lockerbie is that case. (The various appeals, remember, are a test of the evidence against Megrahi not of his actual guilt.)
Even so, one should not assume that the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission’s report would have led to Megrahi’s conviction being overturned. This too makes Megrahi’s cancer as unfortunate as it may have been darkly convenient. Though Lockerbie is still, as the First Minister pointed out yesterday, a live case the prospects of getting a fully persuasive resolution to the bombing of Pan-Am 103 seem pretty bleak.
The vengeful pursuit of Megrahi, the feeling that he has somehow escaped justice by not actually dying in a cell, is the result of a genuine belief by some that he was guilty, allied to anger that his release was part of the many dodgy deals between the British government and Muammar Gaddafi's regime. Yet there are cogent reasons why so many others, including members of bereaved families such as Dr Jim Swire who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing, have been convinced that Megrahi's conviction was a miscarriage of justice.
Soon after the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 American and British officials were busy laying the blame on the Iran Syria axis. However, after Iran and Syria joined the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War the same officials switched the blame to Libya, at the time very much a pariah state.
The trial of Megrahi and his fellow Libyan defendant Lamin Khalifa Fhimah at a specially constituted Scotttish court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands came under criticism from international jurists. The two men were effectively charged with joint enterprise, yet only Megrahi was found guilty. The prosecution evidence was circumstantial; details of the bomb timer on the plane contradictory and the testimony of a key witness, a Maltese shopkeeper, shaky under cross-examination.
The evidence of a supposedly prime "CIA intelligence asset", codenamed "Puzzle Piece" who turned up in a Shirley Bassey wig, was widely viewed as risible. It emerged later that important evidence had not been passed on to the defence lawyers.
Professor Hans Köchler, a UN appointed legal observer, described the proceedings and a subsequent failed appeal by Megrahi as "inconsistent, arbitrary and a spectacular miscarriage of justice".

The Libyan's second appeal was on the basis of new evidence, after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission ruled that there were six grounds for appeal. Details from the report have been printed in The Herald and the full report has been published online by our sister title the Sunday Herald. The grounds raise serious doubts about much of the forensic evidence on which the conviction relied as well as the veracity of the key witness, Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, who is said to have been paid a substantial reward for his assistance in the investigation. Crucially, evidence that might have helped clear Megrahi was not shared with the defence. The second appeal was withdrawn when he was released on compassionate grounds in 2009, following his diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer. Regardless of whether he is innocent or guilty, there are grounds for a conclusion that he should not have been convicted and that a second appeal would have come to that conclusion.
Megrahi's death must not end the search for the truth. One option appears to be the possibility of one of the bereaved relatives taking up the appeal. Another would be for the Scottish or UK government to institute a judicial inquiry. This would be long and expensive but we cannot put a price on justice. A country can be judged by the quality of its judicial system. This case leaves a smear on the quality of Scottish justice that needs to be either contradicted or belatedly put right.
The example of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry shows that even long after the event, it is possible to put together a detailed narrative of an event that answers many outstanding questions and brings a measure of closure to the relatives of those who lost their lives. Even if Megrahi was guilty, he cannot have acted alone. If it is possible to identify those involved, they must be brought to justice. Those who in the name of some perverted political ideology would massacre innocent civilians need to know that they can run but they cannot hide.
Of course, part of the problem is that several foreign governments and groups may have had a hand in this atrocity and without regime change in those countries, they are unlikely to come clean. Early evidence pointed to a Palestinian group and both Iran and Syria have been suspected of involvement. After all, they had a motive: retaliation for the shooting down of an Iranian passenger jet by the American warship USS Vincennes in July 1988. That is no reason for not attempting to get to the bottom of what happened. In the short term, the most likely source of new information is Libya itself, where the new government has a vested interest in exposing the sins of the Gaddafi regime and any international links with other sponsors of international terrorism.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Political overtones, memory gaps and flawed evidence

[Abdelbaset al-Megrahi died on this date in 2012. What follows is excerpted from the obituary by Robert D McFadden published on 20 May 2012 in The New York Times:]

The enigmatic Mr Megrahi had been the central figure of the case for decades, reviled as a terrorist but defended by many Libyans, and even some world leaders, as a victim of injustice whose trial, 12 years after the bombing, had been riddled with political overtones, memory gaps and flawed evidence. (...)

Investigators, while they had no direct proof, believed that the suitcase with the bomb had been fitted with routing tags for baggage handlers, put on a plane at Malta and flown to Frankfurt, where it was loaded onto a Boeing 727 feeder flight that connected to Flight 103 at London, then transferred to the doomed jetliner.

After a three-year investigation, Mr Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the Libyan airline station manager in Malta, were indicted on mass murder charges in 1991. Libya refused to extradite them, and the United Nations imposed eight years of sanctions that cost Libya $30 billion.

Negotiations led by former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa produced a compromise in 1999: the suspects’ surrender, and a trial by Scottish judges in the Netherlands.

The trial lasted 85 days. None of the witnesses connected the suspects directly to the bomb. But one, Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who sold the clothing that forensic experts had linked to the bomb, identified Mr Megrahi as the buyer, although Mr Gauci seemed doubtful and had picked others in photo displays.

The bomb’s timer was traced to a Zurich manufacturer, Mebo, whose owner, Edwin Bollier, testified that such devices had been sold to Libya. A fragment from the crash site was identified by a Mebo employee, Ulrich Lumpert.

Neither defendant testified. But a turncoat Libyan agent testified that plastic explosives had been stored in Mr Fhimah’s desk in Malta, that Mr Megrahi had brought a brown suitcase, and that both men were at the Malta airport on the day the bomb was sent on its way.

On Jan 31, 2001, the three-judge court found Mr Megrahi guilty but acquitted Mr Fhimah. The court called the case circumstantial, the evidence incomplete and some witnesses unreliable, but concluded that ‘there is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt’ of Mr Megrahi.

Much of the evidence was later challenged. It emerged that Mr Gauci had repeatedly failed to identify Mr Megrahi before the trial and had selected him only after seeing his photograph in a magazine and being shown the same photo in court. The date of the clothing sale was also in doubt.

Investigators said Mr Bollier, whom even the court called ‘untruthful and unreliable,’ had changed his story repeatedly after taking money from Libya, and might have gone to Tripoli just before the attack to fit a timer and bomb into the cassette recorder. The implication that he was a conspirator was never pursued.

In 2007, Mr Lumpert admitted that he had lied at the trial, stolen a timer and given it to a Lockerbie investigator. Moreover, the fragment he identified was never tested for residue of explosives, although it was the only evidence of possible Libyan involvement.

The court’s inference that the bomb had been transferred from the Frankfurt feeder flight was also cast into doubt when a Heathrow security guard revealed that Pan Am’s baggage area had been broken into 17 hours before the bombing, a circumstance never explored.

Hans Köchler, a United Nations observer, called the trial ‘a spectacular miscarriage of justice,’ words echoed by Mr Mandela. Many legal experts and investigative journalists challenged the evidence, calling Mr Megrahi a scapegoat for a Libyan government long identified with terrorism. While denying involvement, Libya paid $2.7 billion to the victims’ families in 2003 in a bid to end years of diplomatic isolation.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The law's delays

[On this date in 2009 the first stage of Abdelbaset Megrahi’s second appeal was concluded. Here is what the Lord Justice General (Lord Hamilton) said at the conclusion of the proceedings:]

The court is much obliged to counsel on either hand for the careful and comprehensive submissions which have been made at this stage of the appeal. We will now, of course, require to give these submissions detailed and careful consideration. A question will arise as to whether it is appropriate to decide grounds 1 and 2 at this stage or, alternatively, to defer that decision until we have heard argument on other grounds, which are or may be closely related to them.

We appreciate that having regard to, among other things, the appellant's state of health there will be concern that we deal with these matters as expeditiously as possible. But having regard to their importance to all concerned, we cannot and must not rush to judgment.

Time has been set aside towards the end of this term for a procedural hearing in relation to further grounds of appeal. And in terms of the interlocutor of 18 March of this year, days were set aside in the week commencing 29 June for that purpose. For reasons which it is not necessary to go into, we intend to change that date or dates to dates in the week following that, that is the week commencing 6 July. We expect that by that time we will have reached a decision as to whether or not we should decide grounds 1 and 2 at this stage and to be able to intimate which course of action, either deciding them at this stage or deferring them, we have decided upon.

But by this time, we shall simply continue the appeal to the first of the dates which are now substituted for the procedural matters which we have referred to, that is to Tuesday 7 July of this year.

[RB: In the light of the stately pace which this statement demonstrates that the court thought appropriate in an appeal brought by a man with a terminal illness, I take leave to reproduce a comment that I had made on this blog on 26 October 2008:]

[T]he delay in bringing Mr Megrahi’s current appeal to the hearing stage has been appalling. Had a measure of urgency been shown, it is entirely conceivable that the appeal could have been over before now and the appellant back with his wife and children in his own country, a free man. The SCCRC had his case under consideration for more than three years before referring it back to the High Court. The submission made to them was, admittedly, a long and detailed one. But the issue of the trial court’s unreasonable findings ... is a very simple and straightforward one and required virtually no investigation other that a perusal of the relevant portions of the transcript of evidence. If the SCCRC decided early in its deliberations that the case was going to have to be referred back on this ground – and it is difficult to believe that it did not – then delaying taking that step for three years is hard to justify.

Then there is the delay that has occurred after the SCCRC referred the case to the High Court in June 2007.

More than sixteen months have passed since then. More than thirteen months have passed since the first procedural hearing in the new appeal was held. More than ten months have passed since the appellant’s full written grounds of appeal were lodged with the court. Why has no date yet been fixed for the hearing of the appeal? Why does it now seem impossible that the appeal can be heard and a judgement delivered by the twentieth anniversary of the disaster on 21 December 2008?

The answer is simple: because the Crown, in the person of the Lord Advocate, and the United Kingdom Government, in the person of the Advocate General for Scotland, have been resorting to every delaying tactic in the book (and where a particular obstructionist wheeze is not in the book, have been asking the court to rewrite the book to insert it). These tactics include, to name but a few, raising difficulties about allowing the appellant access to productions used at the original trial; seeking to overturn previous appeal court decisions on the scope of the appeal in SCCRC references; and claiming public interest immunity on “national security” grounds in respect of documents which have been in the hands of the Crown for more than twelve years and which have been seen by the SCCRC. The judges on a number of occasions have expressed disquiet at the Crown’s dilatoriness; but have so far done little, if anything, meaningful to curb it.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Overweening arrogance best illustrated in the Lockerbie fiasco

[What follows is the text of a letter from Dr John Cameron published in today’s edition of The Scotsman:]

I suspect Nicola Sturgeon’s rejection of the call for judges to declare details of their finances in a register of interest will be recalled as her first major misstep as First Minister.

MPs, MSPs, councillors and board members of public bodies must register outside financial interests and judges, sheriffs and justices of the peace should be brought into line.

Scotland leading judge, Lord Gill, argued that acquiescing would “erode public confidence in the judiciary” – whereas most of the general public would argue the very opposite.

The Scottish judiciary has an overweening arrogance best illustrated in the Lockerbie fiasco and it is time they were told that rules which apply to the human race, apply also to them.

[A letter from Iain McKie published yesterday making a similar point can be read here.]

Test of post-Lockerbie airline security

[What follows is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on Dr Jim Swire:]

On 18 May 1990, Swire took a fake bomb on-board a British Airways flight from London's Heathrow airport to New York's JFK* and then on a flight from New York JFK to Boston to show that airline security had not improved; his fake bomb consisted of a radio cassette player and the confectionery marzipan, which was used as a substitute for Semtex. Some American family members asked Swire to keep the news of the stunt quiet; it became public six weeks later. Susan and Daniel Cohen, parents of Pan Am Flight 103 victim Theodora Cohen approved of the plan, while some other family members of American victims did not.**

**Cohen, Susan and Daniel. "Chapter 16." Pan Am 103: The Bombing, the Betrayals, and a Bereaved Family's Search for Justice. New American Library. 2000. 225.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The disgrace that is Lockerbie

[What follows is the text of a letter from Iain McKie published in today’s edition of the Sunday Herald:]

Paul Hutcheon's article highlights my belief that judges have an inappropriate power and influence in relation to how the legal system operates that can be a barrier to receiving justice in Scotland (First Minister rejects call for register of judges' interests, News, May 10).

Similar issues arise with the Lord Advocate, who remains a power almost without limits.

I see the First Minister's decision not to support a register of judges' interests as philosophically and constitutionally wrong. This political reticence to become involved in judicial matters harks back to the dim and distant past when properly the independence of the judiciary and Lord Advocate had to be protected from political interference.

Unfortunately this has morphed into a complete failure by our elected representatives to hold these authorities to account. With few exceptions they have washed their hands of their duty to ensure that the exercise of power is fair and proportionate.

Perhaps all of this is embodied in the disgrace that is Lockerbie where for over 26 years a whole system has sat on its hands and failed to help right a massive wrong. In essence the promise and hopes inherent in the SNP's clean sweep in Scotland is that things will be different. This stands for justice as well as the economy and it is to be hoped that our politicians are listening at last and can be educated and persuaded in this regard.

Malta could have done more to reject Lockerbie claims

[This is part of the headline over an article by Caroline Muscat published in the Maltese newspaper The Sunday Times on this date in 2009. It reads as follows:]

The man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing is not guilty as charged and there is no convincing argument for Malta's involvement in the terrorist act, according to the United Nations' appointed monitor of the trial in the Netherlands.

Hans Koechler, who was handpicked by the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to monitor proceedings, told The Sunday Times: "I never really understood why the government of Malta did so little to reject these allegations and to defend the integrity of the country's civil aviation system."

Twenty years after the bombing, the government has gone no further than saying that it is monitoring proceedings of the second appeal. Air Malta did not comment.

Malta was implicated in the terrorist act because the prosecution had argued that Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima had placed the bomb on an Air Malta aircraft before it was transferred at Frankfurt airport on board the doomed Pan Am flight 103A.

The flight went to London Heathrow and was bound for New York's JFK airport before exploding over Lockerbie in Scotland an hour into the journey on December 21, 1988. All 259 people on board died as well as 11 locals on the ground.

The trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands had led the Scottish judges to conclude in 2001 that Mr Al-Megrahi was guilty. He was jailed for life while the other defendant was released.

In his report after the verdict, Dr Koechler had concluded that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred. Several years on, he stands by his conclusions: "The court did not come up with any convincing argument that Mr Al-Megrahi is the one who bought the clothes at the shop in Malta and that the 'bomb suitcase' was loaded at Luqa Airport."

Dr Koechler expressed doubt that Mr Al-Megrahi's ongoing appeal, which started on April 28, could be fair and impartial because of the "outright interference of the British government trying to withhold certain sensitive evidence from the defence".

He said political expediency had guided the original verdict, saying it reflected the political considerations related to the foreign policy interests of the involved states at that time.

One of Malta's leading lawyers, who had formed part of the legal team in the defence of the two Libyan suspects, also believes Mr Al-Megrahi is innocent.

Emmanuel Mallia told The Sunday Times: "I personally know the accused and have always firmly believed in his innocence."

Mr Al-Megrahi's appeal was ordered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission in 2007, after a four-year investigation came to the conclusion that a "miscarriage of justice" may have occurred.

Dr Mallia would not enter into the merits of the case because it is still sub judice. But he said his personal view was that the verdict was flawed.

"Having examined the judgment of the court at Camp Zeist and being aware of the salient evidence produced in the case by the prosecution, I feel that the evidence could never have amounted to guilt of the accusation according to law," Dr Mallia said.

He said the prosecution lacked reliable evidence that could prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt: "Although there were a lot of issues which could give rise to suspicion, anything argued on the basis of suspicion may lead to conjecture but not proof. Even if considering circumstantial evidence, we know that such evidence can mislead and, in order to rely upon it, it has to lead to one direction."

Some argue that at the early investigation stage Malta was perhaps too compliant.

"The government gave access to the Scottish and American investigators to interview people and take any action deemed necessary. Some have argued that things may have been done differently with the Malta police having more direct control of the investigation".

A former Scottish judge regarded as the architect of the Lockerbie trial, Robert Black, also told The Sunday Times last week that there was never any evidence that the bomb left from Malta.

On his blog this week, Prof Black contested arguments made by the prosecution at the Court of Criminal Appeal in recent days that Mr Al-Megrahi's trip to Malta with a false passport the day the bomb was planted, and his departure the day after, was a link to the commission of the offence.

"As regards the coded - not false - passport, it is of relevance only if the bomb actually started from Malta, which is a finding the defence have strongly challenged in the appeal," Prof Black said.

The hearing continues despite rumours that the 57-year-old former Libyan intelligence officer may choose to drop his appeal and go home because of a recent prisoner transfer agreement between the UK and Libya.

Mr Al-Megrahi is suffering from prostate cancer and can choose to die at home. But dropping his appeal will leave him a condemned man and mean that Malta will remain implicated in one of the worst terrorist acts in aviation history.

According to Dr Koechler, it is "absolutely essential" that the appeal goes ahead: "The Scottish authorities can reconcile the imperatives of the rule of law and of humanity and grant the appellant compassionate release while the appeal goes on... In a situation where there are serious doubts whether he is guilty as charged, and where the public is confronted with an increasing number of shocking revelations about the mishandling of the case by the judiciary, tampering with evidence, and so on, it is appropriate to make such a step."

Dr Koechler believes the British Parliament should mandate an independent public investigation into the Lockerbie case.

"The international public, including the people of Malta, deserve to know the truth - the full and uncensored truth - about the chain of events that led to the explosion of the American jetliner over Lockerbie."

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Questioning the official narrative

[The following is excerpted from an article published in today’s edition of The Herald:]

Why is it, James Robertson wonders, that Scottish authors have been so drawn to the themes of hidden agendas and double lives?

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about this. Later, so did John Buchan. Later still, so did crime writer Frederic Lindsay - and Robertson himself.

These themes do seem to have a timeless fascination. They are not, of course, confined to Scots-born writers; but there is something in them that has plainly appealed to writers for a very long time.

The reason all of this has come up now is that Robertson, one of our most gifted and garlanded novelists, is giving an intriguing talk on this very subject next Friday. It has the fitting title of The Blanket of the Dark.

"Is this peculiarly Scottish or not?" he asks. "I don't think we're any more susceptible to leading double lives than anybody else in the world. Nevertheless, it is a theme that runs through quite a lot of our literature.You can even see it in James Hogg. It does seem to crop up time and again." (...)

Step forward Robert Louis Stevenson. "Jekyll and Hyde is the absolute prototype for books about double-dealing, about people leading one life on the surface but another one when night falls."

This is a theme that has appealed to Robertson himself over the years, and which he has explored in novels such as his "beautifully plangent" (so ran The Herald's accolade) work from 2013, The Professor of Truth.

"That was based on the Lockerbie disaster but I wanted to try to distance it from the real event and look at some of the bigger issues that always attach to major stories like that. One of the things I found fascinating about Lockerbie is how there's a narrative that has been officially presented through the investigation and the trial. Increasingly, people have questioned whether that is a valid narrative. Purely as a writer, because that's what I do, I'm interested in the whole question of narratives and how they become fixed, or distorted, and how they are challenged. In my big novel about Scottish politics, And the Land Lay Still, there is a subterranean dimension as well as a surface one." (...)

The Blanket of the Dark: Truth and Lies in Real and Imagined Scotland; Informatics Forum, Edinburgh University, Friday, [22 May] 5.30pm. Website: