The following article has been published in the latest issue of Private Eye (no. 1357). It was prompted by Magnus Linklater’s front page article in the Scottish edition of The Times, which was published on 21 December under the headlines ‘QC breaks silence over Lockerbie bombing. Lawyer dismisses Iran conspiracy theories.’ My comments follow.
THE Scottish criminal justice system, facing a series of new claims after the25th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing that it had locked up the wrong man, has a surprising champion. Bill Taylor, the QC who originally represented Abdelbasset al-Megrahi at his trial, has, according to the Times in Scotland, “condemned” critics and campaigners, including Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the attack. Taylor and other unnamed defence lawyers are reported to have said that claims that Iran, rather than Libya, was involved in the atrocity “and other theories” were examined in detail and dismissed at the time of trial because they did not stand up to scrutiny or standards required in a court of law.
But are they speaking out now because they themselves have come under attack by the late Megrahi’s subsequent legal team, led by Maggie Scott QC, who devoted no fewer than 60 of the 340 pages of appeal to what she alleges was Megrahi’s “defective” defence? Their comments coincide with publication of a new book that claims the bomb on the ill-fated Pan-Am Flight 103 was loaded on to the plane at Heathrow, contrary to prosecution claims that it started its journey in Malta (see last Eye). Channel 4
News has also revealed new documents showing that both high-level Syrian officials and the CIA had independently stated that the Syrian-based Palestinian group, the PFLP-GC (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command), not Libya, was responsible for the atrocity. (According to declassified US intelligence documents, the group was hired by Iran.) And other newspaper and TV reports have again focused attention on the original suspects, members of the PFLP-GC group who were based in West Germany at the time.
The lawyers dismiss the claims that the bomb was smuggled through Heathrow, saying the theory “was tested to destruction” at trial and that those who back the theory offered no explanation for how clothes purchased in Malta were found inthe suitcase bomb. But the new book, Adequately Explained by Stupidity? Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies, by Dr Morag Kerr, gives a very plausible explanation: there was another connected PFLP-GC cell operating in Malta at the time the clothes were bought to stuff the bomb case.
Taylor himself gave another explanation at the trial. Referring to the dodgy identification evidence of Megrahi by the Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci and disputes about when the clothes were bought, Taylor suggested that the perpetratormay have deliberately been setting a false trail. “Having regard to the high level of risk of detection, wouldn’t one have expected him to remove the clothing labels?” he asked.
As to all other theories and in particular the involvement of the PLFP-GC being exhaustively examined, the grounds of appeal prepared by Ms Scott say the defence teams missed vital tricks. Taylor says the decision by the new Libyan administration announced ahead of the anniversary to appoint prosecutors to liaise with Scotland’sLord Advocate “in the discovery of any fresh evidence” undermined the argument that Libya was not involved. But that ignores the fact that two and a half years after the investigation was re-opened in Libya, no new evidence has emerged.
Taylor’s assertions that huge sums paid into Megrahi’s bank account by the Libyan government indicated he was not the low-level official he claimed to be may be on firmer ground. The Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC) examined his finances in detail and said it could “see the potential for further criminative inferences had the applicant been subjected to cross-examination”.
Megrahi’s new team says it has masses of documents to show the money was disposed of legitimately. But, as the Eye has long argued, and the SCCRC has concluded, that and other evidence relied on at trial was a far cry from proving that Megrahi was guilty.
As a non-lawyer, I do not feel qualified to comment upon the defective representation allegations made in Abdelbaset’s grounds of appeal. The SCCRC rejected such allegations in his SCCRC application, and Mr Taylor and the other members of the defence team vigourously countered the claims.
The documents referred to in the final paragraph were, in fact, available at the trial, but, as Abdelbaset followed the advice of his lawyers not to give evidence, were not used. Had he given evidence, the defence would have used the documents to demonstrate that he was involved in legitimate business activities. He would also have explained all the major payments in and out of his bank account.