Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to review Pan Am Flight 103 conviction

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lockerbie air disaster memorial

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), an organisation that investigates alleged miscarriages of justice, is to complete a review on June 28, 2007 of the conviction on January 31, 2001 of Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi for the December 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. All 259 passengers and crew of the Boeing 747, and eleven people on the ground, were killed when a bomb destroyed the aircraft over the town of Lockerbie in Scotland. Megrahi was convicted on 270 counts of murder, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. It is expected that the SCCRC will refer Megrahi's case back to the court of appeal. A summary of the Commission's findings will be published, but the main report will not.

Today's Scotsman reported that documents leaked from Megrahi's legal team include allegations that evidence used to convict him 'was subject to deliberate destruction and manipulation for political reasons'. Officials in both the United States and the United Kingdom are accused of "a co-ordinated effort to mislead the court" in order to divert attention from other suspects with links to Iran or Syria, whose support was needed at the time of the first Gulf War.

During its three-year review, the SCCRC has been shown hundreds of documents and photographs which are alleged to show that evidence was invented, manipulated or ignored by the British police on the one hand and the CIA and FBI on the other. Veteran politician Tam Dalyell, who has campaigned against the conviction for years, has now said that the full report by the SCCRC should be made public, adding "The Crown Office has a moral obligation to hold a public inquiry. If it embarrasses the Scottish judiciary, so be it. We're in danger of becoming the laughing stock of Europe." He also said “I have no doubt that evidence was planted, and I have said so repeatedly in the Commons. Only a full, public and nonadversarial inquiry can finally settle this matter.” Meanwhile, defence lawyers said that if Megrahi is granted an appeal or retrial they will attempt to convince authorities to release him until the case comes to court.

The credibility of several key parts of the prosecution's case is seriously questioned in the evidence submitted to the SCCRC, with rescue workers describing items as intact when they were discovered, but which were presented in fragmentary form at the Lockerbie bombing trial. The evidence of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci is also challenged. Although Gauci testified that Megrahi bought clothes from him that were later found to have been in the suitcase containing the bomb, in reality he apparently gave a number of inconsistent and substantially different accounts of who bought the clothes, failed to pick out Megrahi at an identity parade, and even linked the clothes' purchase to convicted Egyptian terrorist Mohammed Abu Talb, from the Iran-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Defence lawyers also alleged that two early statements by Gauci are missing altogether.

One investigator also claims that evidence was fabricated, while there was insufficient investigation into claims by a baggage handler at Heathrow International Airport that the suitcase containing the bomb was only added to the flight at the last minute.

The SCCRC refused to comment, saying: "It is not for Scottish ministers to comment or preempt the outcome of this review." Further it said: "It is the strong view of the Scottish Government that due process of law will be followed and seen to be followed in all matters pertaining to this case."

The SCCRC will issue it's report on Thursday June 28, 2007.