Sunday, 1 February 2015

Conviction unsafe and unsatisfactory

[On 31 January 2001, Abdelbaset Megrahi was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. Here is something that I wrote on 1 February:]

The Reasons for Convicting Megrahi

In paragraph 89 of the Opinion of the Court the judges say: “We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications.  We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seem to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified.”

The danger may have been recognised.  But it has not been avoided.

i.    Who was the purchaser of the clothing and when did he do it?
The judges held it proved (a) that it was Megrahi who bought from Mary’s House in Malta the clothes and umbrella which were in the suitcase with the bomb and (b) that the date of purchase was 7 December 1988 (when Megrahi was on Malta) and not 23 November 1988 (when he was not).
As regards (a), the most that the Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, would say (either in his evidence in court or in a series of police statements) was that Megrahi “resembled a lot” the purchaser, a phrase which he equally used with reference to Abu Talb, one of those named in the special defence of incrimination lodged on behalf of Megrahi.  Gauci had also described the purchaser to the police as being six feet tall and over 50 years of age. The evidence at the trial established (i) that Megrahi is 5 feet 8 inches tall and (ii) that in late 1988 he was 36 years of age.  On this material the judges found in fact that Megrahi was the purchaser.

As regards (b), the evidence of Tony Gauci was that when the purchaser left his shop it was raining (or at least drizzling) to such an extent that his customer thought it advisable to buy an umbrella  to protect himself while he went in search of a taxi. The unchallenged meteorological evidence established that while it had rained on 23 November at the relevant time, it was unlikely that it had rained at all on 7 December, and if it had it would have been only a few drops, insufficient to wet the street.  On this material, the judges found in fact that the clothes were purchased on 7 December.

ii.    Did the bomb start from Malta?
The judges held it proved that there was a piece of unaccompanied baggage on Flight KM 180 from Malta to Frankfurt on 21 December 1988 which was then carried on to Heathrow.  The evidence supporting that finding was a computer printout which could be interpreted to indicate that a piece of baggage went through the particular luggage coding station at Frankfurt used for baggage from KM 180 and was routed towards the feeder flight to Heathrow, at a time consistent with its having been offloaded from KM 180.

Against this, the evidence from Malta Airport was to the effect that there was no unaccompanied bag on that flight to Frankfurt.  All luggage on that flight was accounted for.  The number of bags loaded into the hold matched the number of bags checked in (and subsequently collected) by the passengers on the aircraft.  The court nevertheless held it proved that there had been a piece of unaccompanied baggage on Flight KM 180.

iii.   Where did the fragment of timer come from?
An important link to Libya in the evidence was a fragment of circuit board from a MST-13 timer manufactured by MeBo. Timers of this model were supplied predominantly to Libya (though a few did go elsewhere, such as to the Stasi in East Germany).  This fragment is also important since it is the only piece of evidence that indicates that the Lockerbie bomb was detonated by a stand-alone timing mechanism, as distinct from a short-term timer triggered by a barometric device, of the type displayed in the bombs and equipment found at Neuss in the Autumn Leaves operation.  The provenance of this vitally important piece of evidence was challenged by the defence, and in their written Opinion the judges accept that in a number of respects this fragment, for reasons that were never satisfactorily explained, was not dealt with by the investigators and forensic scientists in the same way as other pieces of electronic circuit board (of which there were many).  The judges say that they are satisfied that there is no sinister reason for the differential treatment. But they do not find it necessary enlighten us regarding the reasons for their satisfaction.

These are some of the many factors that lead me to be astonished that the court found itself able to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of Megrahi, and which equally convince me that his conviction is unsafe and unsatisfactory.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

The announcement of the verdict

[What follows is a transcript of the proceedings in the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist on this date fourteen years ago:]

Proceedings commenced at 11.04 a.m.

THE CLERK: Call the diet, Her Majesty's Advocate against Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah. Take your seat, gentlemen, please. My Lords, have you reached a verdict in respect of each accused on the second alternative charge as now amended?
THE CLERK: Would you give me, please, your verdict in respect of the first named accused, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi.
LORD SUTHERLAND: Guilty. There are certain deletions to the indictment. In subhead (e), in line 4, delete from the words "and you" to the end of that subhead. In subhead (g), in the fourth line, delete the words "said suitcase, or"; and in the following line, the word "similar."
THE CLERK: That is all the deletions, My Lord?
LORD SUTHERLAND: These are all the deletions.
THE CLERK: Is that verdict unanimous, or by a majority?
THE CLERK: Would you give me, please, your verdict in respect of the second named accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah.
THE CLERK: Is that, My Lords, unanimous, or by a majority?
THE CLERK: I will now record the verdict, My Lords. My Lords, is the verdict truly recorded as follows: The court unanimously find the accused Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi guilty on the second alternative charge, but that under deletion of the words "and you Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah did there and then cause a suitcase to be introduced to Malta" in lines 4 to 6 of subhead (e) of the said charge, and under deletion of the words "said suitcase, or," in line 4 of subhead (g), and deletion of the word "similar" in line 5 of subhead (g), unanimously find the accused Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah not guilty.
Is that a true record, My Lord?
LORD SUTHERLAND: That is correct.
THE CLERK: Thank you.
LORD SUTHERLAND: Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, in view of the verdict of the court, you are now discharged and are free to go.
MR KEEN: My Lords, in light of the verdict of the court, I would move on behalf of myself and my junior counsel for leave to withdraw.
LORD SUTHERLAND: Certainly, Mr Keen.
MR KEEN: I'm obliged, My Lords.
THE LORD ADVOCATE: My Lords, I move for sentence. Megrahi is 49 years of age, his date of birth being the 1st of April 1952. So far as is known to the Crown, he is married and has children. A petition warrant was granted for his arrest on the 13th of November 1991. He was delivered to the Netherlands on the 5th of April 1999, when he was arrested on a provisional extradition warrant issued by the Dutch authorities, and having waived his rights to contest extradition, he was arrested by Scottish police officers the same day. He was committed for further examination in custody on the 6th of April 1999. He was fully committed on the 14th of April 1999 and has been in custody since that date. My Lords, in accordance with normal practice, as he is a non-British citizen, he has been served with a notice under Section 6(2) of the Immigration Act 1971, and it is open to Your Lordships to recommend in terms of Section 3(6) of that Act that he be deported if and when he is released from custody in the future. My Lords, the names of those who died were read to the court on the 5th of May 2000. In any ordinary case, Your Lordships would have heard something of the circumstances of the deceased and the family left behind. In this case it is not possible to do that, and I don't intend to try. I need hardly say to the court that each one left relatives, wives, husbands, parents and children. Something of the scale of the impact can be gleaned from the fact that more than 400 parents lost a son or a daughter; 46 parents lost their only child; 65 women were widowed; and 11 men lost their wives. More than 140 lost a parent, and seven children lost both parents. My Lords, they, together with the other friends and their relatives left behind, are also victims of the Lockerbie bombing.
LORD SUTHERLAND: Thank you, Lord Advocate. Mr Taylor, I should say at the outset that as you will appreciate, having regards to the nature of this offence, the court may have to consider a recommendation under Section 205(4) of the 1995 Act. We should say that the written reasons for the verdict will be available shortly, by which I mean within the next half hour or so. We do not know if you would wish to see these reasons before addressing the matter of a possible recommendation, but if you should so wish, obviously we shall be only too glad to give you time to do so.
MR TAYLOR: I am grateful to Your Lordship for that indication. I have given, as Your Lordship would anticipate, some consideration to the matter, and I am content that Your Lordships should proceed.
LORD SUTHERLAND: Very well. Thank you, Mr Taylor.
MR TAYLOR: There are two matters that I should draw to Your Lordships' attention. The first is in relation to my client. He maintains his innocence, and therefore there is nothing I can say by way of mitigation.
The second is in relation to the point at which Your Lordships will require to determine the sentence has to run from, and the submission I make to the court is that it should be from the 5th of April 1999.
Your Lordships are entitled to make recommendations on how long -- given the mandatory nature of the life sentence is concerned -- how long the individual should remain in prison prior to release being considered, and I have taken the view that that's a matter within Your Lordships' discretion, having heard all of the evidence in the case, and I have no submissions to make on it
LORD SUTHERLAND: Thank you, Mr Taylor. We shall take time to consider the matter of a recommendation. The court will adjourn until 2.00, when sentence will be pronounced.

Proceedings recessed at 11.18 a.m.
Proceedings resumed at 2.00 p.m.

LORD SUTHERLAND: Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the mandatory sentence for the crime of murder is imprisonment for life, and that is the sentence that we impose. That sentence will be backdated to the 5th of April 1999. In view of the horrendous nature of this crime, we think it right that we should make a recommendation to the Secretary of State as to the minimum period which you should serve before being considered for release on licence, but for the age that you will have attained at the time of your release and the fact that you will be serving this sentence in what is to you a foreign country, the period that we recommend is substantially less than it would otherwise have been. However, we consider that the appropriate recommendation to the Secretary of State is that a period of 20 years should elapse before you are considered for release. You will also be recommended for deportation at the end of the sentence.
That is all.

Proceedings recessed at 2.04 p.m.

[RB: And then the struggle began to correct this monstrous miscarriage of justice.]

Friday, 30 January 2015

Megrahi petition on Justice Committee agenda

Consideration of Justice for Megrahi’s petition calling for an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and conviction (PE1370) forms part of agenda item 2 for the meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to be held on Tuesday, 3 February 2015 at 10am in Holyrood Committee Room 2. The agenda and supporting documents can be accessed here. They include a report on a meeting between representatives of Justice for Megrahi and Police Scotland held on 24 November 2014 (Annexe B) and a letter from the JFM Committee to the Convener of the Justice Committee dated 24 December 2014 (Annexe C). The latter reads as follows:

We refer to previous Justice Committee decisions to keep the above petition open until the ongoing Police Scotland major enquiry into JFM’s 9 criminal allegations, made in October 2012, are investigated and reported on. 

We have no doubt that you and the committee members are aware of last weekend’s public interventions by the Crown Office and Lord Advocate in relation to their Lockerbie investigations. These comments are comprehensively reviewed in Professor Robert Black’s Lockerbie blog at and across the media. 

You will recollect JFM’s earlier submissions where we voiced our serious concerns in relation to the Crown Office/Lord Advocate‘s public rejection of our criminal allegations in 2012 before the police investigation had even started. 

It is quite clear that yet again these authorities, despite being aware of the ongoing police enquiry, are publicly stating that they have no doubts about the guilt of Mr Megrahi and that any who do not share that view are conspiracy theorists. 

In making these statements it seems to JFM that the Crown Office and Lord Advocate have effectively prejudged the police enquiry, dismissed the criminal investigation as irrelevant and severely compromised that investigation. 

Given that this is the Crown’s second public rejection of our allegations we cannot see how we, the Justice Committee or public can have any confidence that when the police report is delivered to the Crown Office and Lord Advocate it will be dealt with in a fair and objective manner. 

The Lord Advocate, as Scotland’s independent prosecutor in the public interest and a member of the Scottish Government, has severely compromised his constitutional position by making these comments when the enquiry is going on. 

We would value your observations and hope that your committee takes steps to clarify the Lord Advocate’s position in relation to these matters. 

It is important to underline that we value the excellent working relationship that we have forged with Police Scotland and have confidence in the integrity and thoroughness of their enquiry. 

Sadly these latest public comments by the Lord Advocate only serve to undermine this cooperation and trust and insult those who honestly believe that a public enquiry is needed into all the circumstances surrounding the Lockerbie disaster.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

"Conspiracy theorist" bites back

One year ago today, John Ashton published his demolition of Magnus Linklater’s Scottish Review article stigmatising Justice for Megrahi campaigners as obsessive conspiracy theorists, impervious to fact or reason. Mr Ashton’s rebuttal appears in the Scottish Review too, with an expanded version on his Megrahi: You are my Jury website. If you haven’t read these pieces you have a treat in store.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Secrets and lies: Gaddafi and the Labour Party

[This is the headline over an article published yesterday on the website which includes a long excerpt from a forthcoming book by G A Ponsonby. The whole article merits close attention. The following are extracts:]

Secret documents emerged recently to confirm details of how British intelligence agencies engaged in a series of joint operations with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s government.
The revelations, made first in The Guardian newspaper, indicate the bizarre attitudes of Labour while in government in London and in opposition in Edinburgh. The party said one thing in opposition, and did the opposite – simultaneously – in government.
According to The Guardian:The papers recovered from the dictatorship’s archives include secret correspondence from MI6, MI5 reports on Libyans living in the UK, a British intelligence assessment marked “UK/Libya Eyes Only – Secret”
“Gaddafi’s agents recorded MI5 as warning in September 2006 that the two countries’ agencies should take steps to ensure that their joint operations would never be ‘discovered by lawyers or human rights organisations and the media’.”
At the time of the joint operations, which it is claimed involved the rendition of Libyans for torture at the hands of Gaddafi’s regime, Tony Blair had also been negotiating a secret deal aimed at extraditing a healthy Abdelbaset al-Megrahi back to Libya.  The Labour Prime Minister also helped broker an oil deal for BP in what came to be known as the “Deal in the Desert”. (...)
In December 2010 the story took an unexpected twist.  News emerged of the publication of confidential US Government files by controversial free-speech group Wikileaks.  Listed in the files were details of confidential top level communications involving US and UK officials.  The communications included discussions on Megrahi and they revealed the UK Labour Government had been secretly helping the Libyans.
The files proved that far from being against the release of Megrahi as they had claimed, the Labour government had fully supported the decision to free the Libyan.
Britain feared “harsh and immediate” consequences, according to the leaked cables, if Megrahi were to die in a Scottish prison.
The US charge d’affaires in London, Richard LeBaron, wrote in a cable to Washington in October 2008:
“The Libyans have told HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] flat out that there will be ‘enormous repercussions’ for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship if Megrahi’s early release is not handled properly.”
Labour politicians had claimed publicly that the decision to release Megrahi was an embarrassment to Scotland – but the documents showed the Labour leadership were in fact favouring his release.
The cables showed that the UK government was aware of dire repercussions should Megrahi die in a Scottish prison:
“GOL (Govt of Libya) officials have warned U.K. Emboffs in demarches here that the consequences for the U.K.-Libya bilateral relationship would be “dire” were al-Megrahi to die in Scottish prison. Specific threats have included the immediate cessation of all U.K. commercial activity in Libya, a diminishment or severing of political ties and demonstrations against official U.K. facilities. GOL officials also implied, but did not directly state, that the welfare of U.K. diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk.”
The documents also revealed that the US had been privately suspicious of Tony Blair’s “Deal in the Desert” in 2007. The cable stated:
“Saif al-Islam implied that former UK PM Tony Blair had raised Megrahi with the Libyan leader in connection with lucrative business deals during Blair’s 2007 visit to Libya. [Note: Rumors that Blair made linkages between Megrahi’s release and trade deals have been longstanding among Embassy contacts. End note.]”
The Guardian reported that the leaked documents claimed:  “Anger with the British persists in some American circles, and UK ministers, Labour and Tory, have attempted to distance London from the release insisting it was purely a Scottish decision.”
Further cables from the US ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, revealed that the US position was to resist voicing opposition to Megrahi’s release at the time, so as not to risk Libyan retaliation against US interests.
Mr Cretz warned the US itself should keep quiet in order to protect its interests:  “If the [US government] publicly opposes al-Megrahi’s release or is perceived to be complicit in a decision to keep al-Megrahi in prison, [America’s Libyan diplomatic] post judges that US interests could face similar consequences.”
The documents suggested that both the UK Labour government and its US counterpart had unleashed false, and seemingly co-ordinated, furore about the Scottish government’s decision to release a dying Megrahi.
The cables also made clear that bribes in the form of “treats” were offered to the Scottish Government by Libyan diplomats, but refused point blank.  The cables revealed that US officials had privately acknowledged that the Scottish Government had acted in good faith at all times and had nothing to gain whereas the UK government, according to the leaked documents, gained massively from Megrahi’s illness and subsequent release.
The cables revealed the Americans were aware that the issue had been hijacked by Unionist politicians at Holyrood who were trying to capitalise on it for political gain: “Meanwhile, local Scottish opposition politicians are using the issue to call into question the SNP government’s credibility and competence.”
“Naysmith underscored that Scotland received “nothing” for releasing Megrahi (as has been widely suggested in the UK and U.S. media), while the UK Government has gotten everything – a chance to stick it to Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) and good relations with Libya.”
The publication of the secret cables was very bad news for Labour.  If true, then Blair himself had offered Megrahi as a bribe in order to clinch the BP oil deal. Both the UK and US governments were aware of the possible economic and geo-political repercussions for both nations if Megrahi was allowed to die in prison.
The documents featured as the main news item on BBC Scotland that day.  However it wasn’t the Labour party which found itself the target of the BBC’s reporting.  Somehow the corporation had managed to turn the incredible story into one attacking the SNP.
“First Minister made the decision to release the Lockerbie Bomber” was the introduction read out by the newsreader on the lunchtime news.
An online article appeared on the BBC Scotland news site with a headline that read:
“Salmond rejects new Megrahi claim”
Incredibly, BBC Scotland had decided the main story from the secret cables was not the former UK Labour government’s privately backing Megrahi’s release, but a short sentence related to Alex Salmond.
The BBC said:
“The leaked documents also appeared to contradict the official Scottish government position on who would make the final decision to release Megrahi.
“In August last year, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill insisted it was his decision and his alone.
“But the cables claimed Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond told the UK Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, he would make that call.”
Faced with a virtual banquet of information relating to Libya, the UK Labour government and the US government, BBC Scotland had managed to find something they could use against Salmond.  On that evening’s Reporting Scotland the real revelations were ignored as BBC Scotland embellished the reference to Salmond and managed to turn it into that evening’s main news story.
Like the BP oil deal, the BBC had managed to deflect attention away from Labour and towards the SNP.  It was an incredible editorial decision by BBC Scotland news editors.  More so because in a radio interview earlier that day, Jack Straw had let slip that David Miliband, when Foreign Secretary, had written to the Scottish Government saying the UK Government did not want Megrahi to die in prison.
Straw told interviewer John Humphrys: “Somebody did write to the Scottish Government, that’s a matter of public record.
“It’s been out for well over a year, which is a letter from the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband which set out that, and here I significantly paraphrase, but it said ‘other things being equal we think it would be better if al-Megrahi did not die in prison.”

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

"Scottish justice ... subject to cynical manipulation"

[What follows is the text of an article published in The Mail on Sunday on this date in 2002:]

The key witness whose evidence helped convict the Lockerbie bomber has enjoyed holiday trips to Scotland and lavish hospitality organised by police officers, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Legal experts believe the revelation could have significant bearing on the  case of Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, whose appeal against conviction for the murder of 270 people in Britain’s worst terrorist atrocity began last week.

Secret tape recordings, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, reveal witness Tony Gauci boasting about being taken from his home in Malta to Scotland by police for fishing, hillwalking and bird-watching trips.

Astonishingly, Gauci also claims he was taken to Lockerbie to be shown the damage caused by the bomb that ripped through PanAm Flight 103 in December 1988.

The tattered remains of clothes bought from Gauci's shop were found in the suitcase that contained the bomb. The shopkeeper is the only person to have linked Megrahi directly to the Lockerbie bombing, telling investigators he “resembled a lot” the man who bought the clothes.

A Scottish undercover investigator travelled to Malta and secretly taped conversations with Gauci, owner of Mary’s House clothes shop in Sliema, and Det Constable Ian Goodall, a Strathclyde Police officer based in Malta.

Gauci claims he has been taken to Scotland by police on five or six occasions since the Lockerbie bombing.

In the early part of the investigation, Gauci claims he was taken to the small Scottish town to be shown the damage - a highly unusual move as the Scottish justice system frowns upon taking a witness to a crime scene before a trial.

Gauci also reveals that the hospitality of the Scottish police has been extended to four other members of his family. He talks of being taken into the mountains, visiting the Aviemore ski resort, going fly-fishing for salmon and bird-watching. While in Scotland he has on at least one occasion stayed at the luxury £150-a-night Hilton Hotel in Glasgow. A day ticket for a top salmon fishing river can cost up to £1000 a day.

Indeed, Gauci is believed to be in Scotland at the moment. A trip was being prepared for him when the investigator, a former detective, left Malta two weeks ago. It is believed that Gauci might have travelled in the last week under an assumed name.

In a conversation with George Thomson, a leading criminal investigator working undercover, Gauci said he had been an important witness in a terrorist trial and that the police had to look after him to keep the “bad man” in jail.

Asked by Thomson if detectives had indeed looked after him well, Gauci replied: “They have to. They want this man to stay in jail.”

In another conversation, Gauci volunteers information potentially crucial to Megrahi’s appeal that officers took him to Scotland on one occasion “to check the quality of my statement and make sure I am saying the same things.”

There are already question marks over the evidence given by Gauci during Megrahi’s trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, which ended in January last year.

On the second day of Megrahi’s appeal in front of five Scottish judges, William Taylor QC, who leads Megrahi’s defence, said the trial judges had drawn the wrong conclusions from evidence riddled with “contradictions and inconsistencies.”

Mr Taylor said Gauci's evidence was “palpably unreliable” both in its identification of Megrahi and on the question of the date when the Libyan is alleged to have bought clothes in his shop.

Also, the shopkeeper made some 20 statements over ten or 11 years before giving evidence. Most have been leaked to journalists and researchers over the years. They show substantial variations, underlining the difficulty of achieving perfect recall over a long period of time. This suggests his recollection of the crucial events he was involved in might not have been as precise as he indicated to the court.

Robert Black, Professor of Scots Law at Edinburgh University, said the matter of Gauci’s trips had to be fully investigated during the course of Megrahi’s appeal.

Prof Black added: “As far as I am aware, this is not normal practice. I do not know of any other witness in a Scottish murder trial to have been taken on holidays and fishing trips by the police.”

He said that if a witness in a trial had been offered “treats” by one side, the other side ought to have the opportunity to cross-examine him to establish whether he might have been motivated to “improve” his evidence in favour of those giving the “treats”.

He added: “If it transpires that Gauci was being treated in this way before or during the trial, or indeed understood that he would be given trips after the trial, it would require his credibility as a witness to be re-examined and could alter the outcome of the case.

“Senior police officers and prosecutors worked very closely on this case.  If the prosecution was aware of the arrangement, it ought to have alerted the defence.”

One of Britain's most senior retired judges said he regarded the matter as “wholly improper”.

The judge, who refused to be named because he feared it would seem “impudent” to criticise the conduct of a Scottish trial, said: “If I learned that a crown witness had been treated and spoiled by the police or prosecution, I would be very concerned that it might have interfered with the course of justice.

“The defence would be entitled to know and to question the credibility of the witness. If such a matter emerged after a guilty verdict, it would be a valid point of appeal. Whether it succeeded would be determined by the weight of other evidence.” [RB: The retired judge in question is still alive.]

Tam Dalyell, the most dogged campaigner on Lockerbie in the House of Commons, expressed shock and dismay last night. He said: “If your information is correct, it is very significant. I believe it’s vital to establish who knew about these trips. Did the trial judges know? Did the lord advocates who were in office during the years of the investigation know? If they did, those who have gone on to become judges should be removed from the bench.”

Dalyell said he would be raising the matter with the appropriate authorities and would seek to establish who was paying for the trips. He added: “This raises the most fundamental questions imaginable about Scottish justice apparently being subject to cynical manipulation.”

British relatives of those who died felt it would be inappropriate to comment because the appeal was underway. But one said: “You can take it we are horrified by this.”

A spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police said: “We never comment on matters relating to witness protection.”

Det Ch Supt Tom MuCulloch, head of CID at Dumfries and Galloway police and nominally the senior investigating officer in the case, said through a spokesman: “We do not make any comment in matters relating to witnesses in the Lockerbie investigation.”

Gauci’s contribution to the trial was absolutely central to the conviction of Megrahi a year ago. His co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, walked free while Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum recommendation of 20 years.

The key difference in the case against the two men was that in Fhimah’s case, no credible witness existed to give the court a first-hand account of incriminating conduct.

Gauci was able to tell the court that Megrahi “resembled a lot” the man who bought the clothes from his shop weeks before the bombing.

His original description to investigators was of a man much taller and at least ten years older than Megrahi, but when shown photographs of the Libyan agent, he always said there was a resemblance.

However, he also identified other suspects, including the convicted bomber Mohammed Abu Talb, serving life in Sweden for terrorist bombings, as resembling the man.

Despite acknowledging that Gauci’s identification was not absolute, the three Scottish judges who found Megrahi guilty of murder attached much weight to it and clearly were impressed by his evidence.

Taylor has already set out his grounds for appeal to the five-judge bench that will decide his client’s ultimate fate. Already, it is clear that the appeal hinges largely on Gauci’s evidence.

As well as arguing that the judges were not entitled to conclude from his testimony that Megrahi bought the clothes, they will also argue that they were wrong to conclude the clothes were purchased on December 7.

The trial heard evidence that the likely date of purchase was in fact November 23, when Megrahi was in Libya, but opted instead for December 7, when he was in Malta where he worked for Libyan Arab Airlines.

This conclusion was reached despite evidence that it was raining when the buyer left the shop and testimony from Malta’s met office that it did not rain on December 7.

Thomson learned that Gauci already enjoys protection from armed Maltese officers. Witness protection officers in the UK are normally assigned only to someone whose life is considered to be in danger as a result of their testimony in a trial. In such cases, the witness is moved and given a new identity.

Gauci continues to live on Malta and to run Mary’s House with his brother, Paul, a situation that hardly suggests his life is in danger. He is known to locals as Tony Lockerbie.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Double-dealing and naked hypocrisy

[What follows is an article entitled Know Who Your Friends Are published today on the Derek Bateman Broadcaster blog:]

I have been silent for some days following a family bereavement and will try to catch up with events.
One thing that happened was the report detailing cooperation between the British government and Libya under Gaddafi:
This tale of betrayal of British and American interests – as opposed to commercial advantages which was their real objective – opens up a whole area of the Blair government to exposure for its double-dealing and naked hypocrisy affecting Scotland. It also leads directly to the door of Jim Murphy and reveals an untrustworthy individual who is the enemy of justice and transparency.
The close ties between the UK’s intelligence and security services and those of Libya are nauseating to read laced as they are with a tone of complicity, subterfuge and sadistic pleasure at rendering back into the hands of the Gaddafi regime political dissidents for torture and death.
Not only did Britain play this sordid game of spider and fly with real people and in full knowledge of the consequences, it also invited foreign agents from Tripoli to operate here in our country where they could pursue and harass Gaddafi’s opponents.
This, remember, was a Labour government, ostensibly a left-of-centre party committed to human rights and an ethical foreign policy.
At play was a desire to bring Gaddafi in from the cold by encouraging him to disown weapons of mass destruction – an initiative with a social conscience which required delicate handling.
Like much else in the contradictory world of Blairism, this became confused with other objectives like securing oil deals in North Africa for BP, a long-time corporate friend of New Labour and benefactor to its lieutenants.
What this attempted rapprochement did not need was to engage Libyan state security as Britain’s best friends in the grubby world of kidnap, torture and kill. Little wonder that when Moussa Koussa defected in 2011 it was to the UK and his friends in the Foreign Office that he turned for sanctuary, to be spirited away unscathed to a new life.
is to the story of how the Labour government simultaneously had an undeclared policy of trying to get the Lockerbie bomber freed in order to improve relations with Gaddafi and ease the way for those oil contracts in the Deal in the Desert. Here, Sir Gus O’Donnell, head of the Civil Service (the one we now we can trust courtesy of Sir Nicholas Macpherson) produced a report for the Prime Minister which proves that throughout the years of Megrahi’s imprisonment in Scotland it was the Labour government’s policy to help get him released.
So two things are going on…the UK is buttering up the man responsible for the Lockerbie bombing to the extent that it is working hand in glove with his state security while simultaneously it is beavering away behind the scenes to free the man they agree performed the actual bombing. It is a twin-track approach to appease the sponsor of the worst terrorist atrocity on British soil.
Meanwhile what was going on in Scotland where the Pan Am flight came down? Well, another Labour member, Scottish leader Iain Gray was regularly excoriating the SNP for  releasing Megrahi – the very thing that the head of the Civil Service now says was Labour policy.
Gray said: ‘The last time the SNP appealed to ‘moral authority’ was when they released the Lockerbie bomber. They were wrong about that and most Scots agree that was the wrong decision. That’s another example of poor judgement.’
Gray used the release as a trump card during the election in 2011. He said: ‘The SNP must provide the US with details of how it reached the decision to free Megrahi, who has always maintained his innocence. We have to make it clear to the US what the basis of the decision to release Megrahi was. I don’t believe that lobbying by BP had anything to do with his release. I think it was a decision made by Kenny MacAskill and Alex Salmond and a decision I think they both got wrong. If we reach the anniversary of his release and Megrahi is still alive, I think Kenny MacAskill should apologise and admit he made a mistake and should apologise to the families of the victims.’
Now you see where this is going…in London it is the secret policy of Labour to work behind the scenes for the release of Megrahi because that will open up trade links and should make Libya a safer place. But up the road at Holyrood, poor old Labour is hammering away at a cracked bell trying to get a ring. How they must have smiled at Westminster when they read of Gray’s desperate attempts to condemn the very policy they were actively supporting.
So why didn’t Gray know the truth? (He told the BBC he didn’t know and made up his own view). After all there is a Secretary of State for Scotland in Cabinet whose job is to represent Scotland and to act as intermediary between the two.
Enter Jim Murphy. For most of this time (2008 – 10) Murphy was Scottish Secretary. (Des Browne is also but more briefly culpable).
Yet it seems Murphy did not disclose any information to Gray or his Labour colleagues to rein in their criticisms of the SNP in case the news leaked that they wanted Megrahi released all along. Why not? I contacted Murphy’s office several times through the BBC and never once received a reply, clearly indicating that he knew he was guilty of deceiving his own party and Scotland on an issue of huge emotional importance. He sided with secret deals with Gaddafi and Moussa Koussa and the torture of dissidents instead of truth and fair dealing, even when dealing with his own side.
Iain Gray’s humiliation came in the 2011 election of course but if he ever wants to revisit the issue with double-dealing Jim, well he’s in his Cabinet today…
[RB: Derek Bateman is entirely correct in pointing out the hypocrisy of Labour over the release of Megrahi. There is no doubt that Tony Blair & Co were striving mightily to secure his repatriation by means of prisoner transfer, but were swift to condemn Kenny MacAskill when he granted compassionate release. But I am extremely disappointed at the reference to “the Lockerbie bomber” and “the man responsible for the Lockerbie bombing”. Does anyone who has taken the trouble to study the case (and who is outside the Crown Office) still believe that Megrahi was the Lockerbie bomber? Certainly, as Ian Hamilton QC has said, “I don't think there's a lawyer in Scotland who now believes Mr Megrahi was justly convicted.” 

As he has made clear on Twitter (@DerekBateman2) Derek Bateman is not someone who believes that Megrahi was guilty. The point he was making was that Labour Government ministers believed that Megrahi was "the Lockerbie bomber" and that Gaddafi was "the man responsible for the Lockerbie bombing” (or at least said that they did) but nevertheless had the dealings that they did with the Gaddafi regime.]