Modern politics is the art of convincing the public that black is white. There is no finer illustration of the maxim than this press release, just issued by the Scottish Conservatives, headlined Megrahi is blocking release of Lockerbie papers. It states:
Evidence given to the Justice Committee this morning has raised doubts over the effectiveness of the SNP Government’s planned legislation to release documents detailing the reasons behind the release of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi. Sir Gerald Gordon QC, a member of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), said that the publication of details would be hampered by data protection laws. Meanwhile, founding member of the Justice for Megrahi campaign, Dr. Jim Swire, confirmed that Megrahi would not consent to the release of certain information during his lifetime. Scottish Conservative Justice Spokesman, David McLetchie MSP said: “Sir Gerald Gordon’s comments underline that this Bill will prove ineffective and the SNP Government should stop wasting parliamentary time in pandering to the Megrahi lobbyists. The fact is that Megrahi himself would block the release of all the evidence by refusing his consent, as was acknowledged by Dr. Swire and other campaigners today. Accordingly, having dropped his appeal in order to get out of jail courtesy of Kenny MacAskill, it appears he now only wants a partial release of information at least so as long as he is still alive. That is not my idea of justice.”
The statement follows the justice committee hearing on Tuesday 7 February, in which Mr McLetchie also asserted that Abdelbaset had consented only to the partial release of information on his case. The true position is that Abdelbaset has consented to the release of all the information for which that consent would be required, providing all the other relevant individuals and organizations also consent. His position is that all the Lockerbie evidence should be made public and that he has nothing to fear from the truth.
Yesterday I had the following email exchange with Mr McLetchie.
Dear Mr McLetchie,
During the justice committee meeting yesterday you stated that Mr Megrahi had consented only to the partial release on information on his case. This is not true. The true position was contained in a statement, dated 30 June 2010, and posted on the website http://www.megrahimystory.net/ For your convenience, the statement read as follows:
It has recently been wrongly reported, that Mr Al-Megrahi refused to give his consent for the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to release documents relating to him, referred to in the Commission’s Statement of Reasons on his case, and its appendices, that he and his lawyers provided, either directly or indirectly, to the Commission.
The true position is that Mr Al Megrahi, through his Libyan Lawyer, made it clear to the Commission in a meeting on April 12th 2010 that he was happy for the documents to be released, providing all the official bodies that provided documents to the Commission agreed to the release of all of those documents. These bodies include the police, the Crown Office, the Foreign Office, and the intelligence service, or services, which provided the secret documents referred to in Chapter 25 sources of the Statement of Reasons.
Mr Al Megrahi’s position has always been, and remains, that all information relating to the case should be made public.
I trust that you now stand corrected and will not make any further misleading statements on the subject.
Dear Mr Ashton
Thank you for this. However I see no logic in the Megrahi position. Why does he attach conditions to the release of information requiring his consent? Surely he should set the standard if he wants to clear his name otherwise you arrive at a position which puts him in control and where he can always claim that no matter how much is released by other parties there is always more that has not been disclosed by them thereby justifying his own refusal. Incidentally why does he refuse consent to the release of all the medical reports which were the basis for his release?
Dear Mr McLetchie,
Thank you for your reply.
Mr Megrahi attached that condition, because it was the only lever available to him – albeit a very weak one – with which he could push for full disclosure of all the evidence held by the Crown and the other relevant agencies. In the 10 years between his surrender to trial and his return home, the Crown consistently withheld key evidence, some of which was uncovered by the SCCRC and some of which was handed over, after a long legal struggle, to his lawyers prior to his second appeal. Much of this evidence was exculpatory and it is scandalous that it was never disclosed to the defence prior to his trail. He was rightly outraged by this.
The release of his medical records would not and could not carry any jeopardy for him. He refused to consent to their release for the same reason that anyone else might: they contained sensitive information about him and his illness. Since the records have no bearing upon his conviction, he was, and remains, entitled to privacy.
Dear Mr Ashton
Thank you for that explanation which I think justifies my claim that Megrahi is now trying to play the partial release game – the very conduct of which he accuses the prosecution.
If he wished to establish the truth as he sees it he should have proceeded with his appeal which would have put in the public domain both the Statement of Reasons and the accompanying appendices and there would be no need for this Bill. Moreover if he wishes to convince sceptics like me about the circumstances of his release and the claim of 3 months to live then he should have consented to the release of the medical reports at the outset. Indeed if I had been MacAskill I would have insisted upon it in order to justify my decision. We have excellent palliative care services in Scotland which would have been at his disposal.
Dear Mr McLetchie,
Mr Megrahi has stated that he is prepared to consent to the release of all the evidence for which that consent would be required. The Crown and the other relevant parties have made no equivalent statement. That is a highly significant difference. There is no game playing on his part; he wants all the evidence to be made public, including that which is not favourable to him.
It is a matter of public record that he abandoned his appeal because he believed that it would help him to gain compassionate release. He didn’t want to do so, but felt he had no choice. It is nonsense to suggest, as some have, that, in abandoning his appeal, he was also abandoning his claim of innocence.
No one claimed that he had three months to live, rather the government received medical advice that three months was a realistic prognosis. It is well known – and was well known, and widely canvassed, at the time of his release – that it is virtually impossible to give accurate prognoses for those suffering advanced prostate cancer. The only purpose that would be achieved in releasing the records would be to silence the conspiracy theorists who believe that he was never as ill as was claimed. Why should a terminally ill man pander to such idiocies?
Your scepticism would be better directed towards the guilty verdict that was brought against Mr Megrahi and towards the conduct of the Crown Office. Regarding the former, might I remind you that:
- The UN trial observer described the verdict as ‘incomprehensible’
- Following a four year investigation, the SCCRC referred the case back to the court of appeal on no fewer than six grounds
- One of those grounds was that the trial court judgment was unreasonable – stunning rebuke, given that Mr Megrahi was tried by three very senior judges, rather than a lay jury.
Regarding the conduct of the Crown, the SCCRC discovered that a number of items of crucial exculpatory evidence had been withheld from Mr Megrahi’s defence team. Taken together, these facts, which are all a matter of public record, paint a very disturbing picture, yet, with the exception of a couple of MSPs, the Scottish Parliament has turned a blind eye. Mr Megrahi’s conviction and the machinations surrounding it are an almighty scandal, which is one day going to jump up and bite the Scottish criminal justice system very hard. At that point you and your fellow MSPs will have to decide where you stand. You would be wise to start considering that decision now.
As readers will note, I veered slightly away from the specific issue at hand, which is the disclosure of the material relating to Abdelbaset that’s held by the SCCRC. By stating that Abdelbaset is seeking to block disclosure of that material, Mr McLetchie implies that Abdelbaset has something to fear from its release – a bizarre suggestion given that the SCCRC referred his case to the appeal court on six grounds. I shall make this point to Mr McLetchie, should he respond to my last email.