The BBC has today run a story, by home affairs correspondent Reevel Alderson, based on the SCCRC’s statement of reasons. I don’t intend, at this point, to comment upon those aspects of the story that concern Abdelbaset’s private life, other than to say that: 1) they have no bearing upon the safety, or otherwise, of his conviction; and 2) I’m appalled that the BBC could be so insensitive towards his family.
The more significant element of the story is the ‘revelation’ that Abdelbaset could have travelled to Malta without using his passport. This has made its way into a number of newspapers, including the Scotsman, whose report can be read here.
Alderson attributes the revelation to ‘Previously secret documents, seen by BBC Scotland’. If he had bothered to read Megrahi: You are my Jury, he would have known that the story was in fact first told on page 114, in which Abdelbaset states:
Had I wished to enter Malta [on 20 December 1988] without a written record of my visit, I would not have bothered with a passport, as my flight dispatcher’s identification was still valid. This would have enabled me to travel as part of an LAA flight crew and thus bypass Passport Control and avoid having to fill out a disembarkation card. As it was, we flew by Air Malta, rather than LAA. In reality, even if there was no paper record of my entry, I couldn’t hope to enter Malta anonymously, as I had spend a lot of time at the airport over the previous four years and was therefore known by sight to plenty of Air Malta staff.
Alderson’s article reports:
… defence lawyers realised if the original trial had known how easily Megrahi could travel undetected to Malta it could have strengthened the prosecution case. The SCCRC document says: “If the applicant (Megrahi) had spoken to this in evidence it would have removed the need for the Crown to establish the date of purchase of the items from Mary’s House as 7 December 1988.”
This suggests that the SCCRC concurred with the defence lawyers. In fact the quoted passage was reporting the view of Abdelbaset’s junior counsel, John Beckett, who was interviewed by the SCCRC. The complete sentence, which appears in paragraph 18.50 of the statement of reasons, reads:
‘Mr Beckett considered that if the applicant had spoken to this in evidence it would have removed the need for the Crown to establish the date of purchase of the items from Mary’s House as 7 December 1988.’
Alderson omits to mention that the SCCRC fully considered this issue and concluded, at paragraph 27.108:
In the Commission’s view while such evidence might ultimately have proved
unhelpful to the defence it also begs the question as to why the applicant would not have chosen to travel to Malta by this means on the crucial dates in December 1988, assuming these visits were connected to the bombing. In other words, if the applicant did indeed purchase the clothing on 7 December 1988 it is difficult to understand why he travelled to Malta using a passport in his own name when there was an alternative means available to him which would have minimised the possibility of his movements being discovered. Similarly, while the applicant’s use of a coded passport on 20-21 December 1988 went some way to obscuring his presence in Malta during that visit, it still required him to complete embarkation cards, something which he could have avoided had he travelled in uniform.
The SCCRC might have added that Abdelbaset freely volunteered the fact that he could enter Malta without a passport. If he was a terrorist, he would surely have kept schtum.