Below is an unpublished letter, which I wrote to The Times in response to Magnus Linklater’s article of 21 December (to which I responded at greater length in an open letter). It provoked a response from Mr Linklater, which I have included below. I shall be responding to it in due course. As yet, he has not responded to either of my open letters, the first of which can be read here.
Not for the first time, Magnus Linklater (Times Scottish edition 21 December) seriously misrepresents the position of the majority of those who believe that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi – the so-called Lockerbie bomber – was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Once again he resurrects the claim that we are conspiracy theorists and ignores the fact that our chief concerns – that the trial court judgment was unreasonable and that numerous items of exculpatory evidence were withheld from the defence lawyers – were shared by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which referred the case back to the appeal court on no fewer than six grounds. Mr Linklater praises the SCCRC’s lengthy report, yet ignores the fact its conclusions were a damning indictment of the Scottish criminal justice system.
He also attaches the conspiracy theorist label to those who suggest that Iran, rather than Libya, was to behind the bombing, while turning a blind eye to the fact that the role of Iran and its terrorist proxies, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, is confirmed by numerous declassified US intelligence documents and is spoken to by two former CIA agents Mr Robert Baer and Dr Richard Fuisz.
Most outrageously, he suggests that Mr Megrahi’s supporters have accused his original defence team of knowingly overlooking or suppressing evidence that might have helped his defence. As Mr Linklater, should know, that is not the view of the Justice for Megrahi group, nor is it mine.
Journalists who conflate fringe views with those of the mainstream and ignore facts that sit uncomfortably with their own opinions should be sent back to journalism college, not let loose on the pages of a respected newspaper.
Dear John Ashton
I don’t know if The Times will publish your letter — that is up to them.
But if you find the phrase “conspiracy theorists” insulting, then I find your suggestion that I should go back to “journalism college” offensive. I’ve been in the husiness for more than 40 years, and have learned over that time a simple principle of reporting: that good investigation requires sound proof.
I use the word conspiracy advisedly. It describes the whole gamut of the pro-Megrahi school, which runs from CIA plots to drug-smuggling, tampered evidence, conniving lawyers, and complacent judges. Your own (first) book sets so many hares running it is quite impossible to track them down. And others have done the same. Only last week the Daily Mail had Dr Swire confronting Abu Talb, whom even you know was not responsible, as the principal suspect; and on Saturday your fellow-theorist Morag Kerr alleged in a radio discussion with me that the Crown had deliberately subverted evidence to support their case. If that is not a conspiracy I don’t know what is.
I am amazed that you should be touting shadowy CIA agents like Fuisz and Baer, whose evidence would never stand up in court. The way that Baer was exposed in the SCCRC report should make you think twice about using his name again.
Yes, it is true that the SCCRC found grounds for referring the case back to appeal. They mainly centred on Gauci’s evidence. That is certainly worth examining again, and might or might not undermine the prosecution case. But it is grounds for appeal, no more, and it demonstrates what an objective and well-balanced inquiry the SCCRC was. Far from being “a damning indictment” of the Scottish justice system,” it shows the system working. Of course, Megrahi himself had the opportunity of using the appeal process to his advantage. But he chose not to.
I much prefer the meticulous way in which the SCCRC disposed of the various conspiracy theories involving Iran and the PFLP-GC by going back to first principles and invetigating them properly, rather than the wild, headline-grabbing claims that you and your coleagues deploy [sic].