Today’s Scottish edition of the Times contains the following comment piece by Magnus Linklater, with whom I had an exchange of views at the Edinburgh Book Festival event on Saturday. My response to the paper’s letters editor is further below.
A remarkable thing happened at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday. Eight senior Scottish judges were accused of presiding over a major miscarriage of justice in the Lockerbie affair — and a packed Scottish audience applauded.
That trust in the judiciary should have descended to this level says much about the way that the long saga of this terrorist atrocity has evolved. A determined campaign to absolve the convicted bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, of guilt, has succeeded to the extent that not only does it appear to have swayed public opinion in his favour, it has also undermined confidence in the most important legal process Scotland has been involved in since the Second World War.
The man who lodged the accusation was Hans Köchler, the UN observer at the Lockerbie trial. He believes that the judges, both at the original trial, and the appeal, were prepared to overlook flawed evidence to ensure a conviction. His fellow panel members, Jim Swire, whose daughter died in the bombing, and the writer John Ashton, who has ghosted al-Megrahi’s own account of the affair, agreed.
They believe not only that the evidence was deliberately manipulated at the trial, but that, from the outset, there was a conspiracy to point the finger at Libya and divert attention from the real instigator, Iran.
Yet that contention has never been challenged in any detail. Because the trial judges and the Crown Office, Scotland’s prosecution service, are bound by convention to remain silent, the counter-argument has gone by default so that we have only heard one side of the case. The opportunity of a second appeal, which might have tested the allegations, was abandoned by al-Megrahi himself when he was released on compassionate grounds and returned to Libya.
But the case mounted by the pro-Megrahi campaigners is every bit as flawed as the one it seeks to dismantle. To demonstrate that Libya was framed, they have to prove that there was a calculated decision to do so. That decision would have had to lead to the planting or suppression of forensic evidence, the control of witnesses by intelligence services, the approval of senior politicians, the complicity of police officers, a prosecution team prepared to bend every rule to secure a conviction, and a set of senior Scottish judges willing to go along with that.
This last contention is perhaps the most controversial. As Brian McConnachie, a senior Scottish QC, puts it: “The idea that eight Scottish judges took part in a deliberate manipulation of evidence for political reasons is simply preposterous.” But for the conspiracy theorists, who have excluded reason and logic, the preposterous is all that remains.
Dear Sir or Madam,
Magnus Linklater’s article in today’s Scottish edition of the Times, ‘Has Scotland really swallowed this crazy conspiracy?’, misrepresents my position on the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. It claims that I, and certain others who believe that Mr Megrahi was wrongly convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, have alleged a grand conspiracy to frame him and Libya, in which the police, the Crown Office, witnesses, judges, senior politicians and the intelligence services were all complicit. As I pointed out to Mr Linklater at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday, had he read my book, Megrahi: You are my Jury, carefully, he would know that I have done no such thing.
Like the majority of Mr Linklater’s fellow audience members on Saturday, I have not swallowed a crazy conspiracy theory about Mr Megrahi’s conviction. Rather I have noted, among other things, that the Crown failed to disclose to Mr Megrahi’s defence team at least seven key items of exculpatory evidence; that two of the most important Crown witnesses were secretly paid millions of dollars by the US Government; and that the trial court’s judgment was, according to no less an authority than the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, unreasonable. All these facts Mr Linklater’s article omits to mention.
If Megrahi was framed – a big ‘if’, but not inconceivable given their extraordinary antics in the 1980s – it would almost certainly have been done by one of the US intelligence services, without the knowledge of the other protagonists listed by Mr Linklater. It is a matter of public record that during the Eighties the US National Security Council and CIA waged a massive covert campaign against Libya, which involved, among other things, spreading disinformation. During the same decade the same organisations made secret deals with the original prime suspect in the bombing, Iran. One of the Crown’s most important witnesses was revealed to be a CIA informant and prior to Lockerbie the CIA had at least one of the Swiss timing devices that the Libyans were alleged to have used to detonate the bomb. As my book revealed, new forensic evidence proves that the famous fragment of circuit board found within the bomb debris could not have been from one of the timers that, according to the undisputed Crown case, had been supplied to Libya. We don’t know the origin of the fragment, but it is by no means crazy to suggest that it was a plant. According to the head of the FBI’s Lockerbie investigation, Richard Marquise, his opposite number in the Swiss police believed this to be the case. Indeed, Marquise admitted that this possibility also crossed his mind.
Whatever the truth about the fragment, in my view Mr Megrahi was convicted, not because of a grand conspiracy, but, primarily, because the police, Crown and judges, while no doubt all acting in good faith, failed to pursue the truth objectively. It’s a flaw to which newspaper columnists are equally vulnerable.
Yours sincerely …