As the Times is now behind a paywall, much of its content remains under the radar. So it was with an opinion piece written by the late Paul McBride QC, published on the day of the book’s publication, 28 February, which I only saw last week and to which I have been unable to respond until now.
McBride was, by all accounts, a very gifted and popular advocate. It’s sad that what was almost certainly his last published article should be so poor.
My comments are in normal typeface.
Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi’s book is called You The Jury and in it he, of course, maintains his innocence, and argues that he was framed by the authorities for a crime of which he was innocent. Furthermore, he maintains that he had been persuaded to drop his appeal by the Justice Secretary to ease his passage back to Libya. Both of these assertions are complete self-serving nonsense.
Abdelbaset has never claimed that Kenny MacAskill persuaded him to drop his appeal, rather, he claims that Libyan minister Abdelati al-Obedi told him that MacAskill had said privately that it would be easier to grant compassionate release if Abdelbaset abandoned the appeal.
Al-Megrahi is happy to set forth his detailed account to a friendly journalist while not on oath in front of his imaginary jury. He chose not to give evidence at his actual trial, where he would have been the subject of cross-examination and have the opportunity to tell the court his account. Accordingly, his claims are easily dismissed as self serving and worthless untruths.
When writing the article McBride could have had no idea of Abdelbaset’s detailed account because he hadn’t read the book, which was not published until the day after.
While I have never been of the opinion that Kenny MacAskill should have visited the prisoner at Greenock prison – in his own interests, if nothing else – it is obvious he acted in good faith to assess the condition of a dying man. Furthermore, al-Megrahi’s claims about Mr MacAskill cannot stand up to any reasonable scrutiny. If the Justice Secretary had been minded to release al-Megrahi but insist that he drop his appeal, it would have been open to him to use the prisoner transfer treaty, given birth to by Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, where there is a requirement that an appeal has to be abandoned before a transfer.
Any ‘reasonable scrutiny’ of Abdelbaset’s decision should take into account the fact that he was terminally ill and stuck in a foreign prison with little prospect of accessing the best quality medical care. He was, in short, desperate and willing to take any course of action that increased his chances of returning home.
The Justice Secretary, however, chose to release al-Megrahi on the ground of compassion, where there is absolutely no requirement for an appeal to be dropped. Indeed, far from covering matters up, the Justice Secretary is bringing forward legislation to allow the public to see the documentation of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission’s referral to the appeal court. Hardly the actions one might think of a man involved in a cover-up.
Other, better informed, legal commentators have pointed out that the Scottish government could have taken a far less tortuous route to publication of the SCCRC report.
Furthermore, al-Megrahi’s lawyers would have informed the Libyan that he could continue with his appeal not only after his compassionate release, but that the appeal could be continued by a member of his family after his death. In any event, al-Megrahi chose to abandon his appeal and he – and he alone – prevented any further examination of the evidence.
Abdelbaset was well aware that he did not have to abandon his appeal and was very upset that he had to do so. If he was, as McBride implies, guilty, why would have spent so many of his dying days cooperating with the writing of a book?
Readers should also bear in mind that he had a previous appeal unanimously refused.
Readers should further bear in mind that none of the evidence that would have been presented at his second appeal was available to the first appeal court.