Monday, 24 July 2017

Compassionate release application

What follows is an item posted on this blog just before noon on this date in 2009.

Application for compassionate release

I understand from an impeccable source that an application on behalf of Abdelbaset Megrahi for compassionate release has this morning been received by the Scottish Government Justice Department. As with the case of prisoner transfer, the decision rests with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill. Unlike prisoner transfer, compassionate release does not require the prisoner to abandon any ongoing legal proceedings.

Confirmation came in the form of an e-mail sent this afternoon by the Crown Office to relatives of those killed on Pan Am 103.

[RB: The Scottish Government’s website describes the process as follows:]
Section 3 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 gives the Scottish Ministers the power to release prisoners on licence on compassionate grounds. This process is akin to the system of medical parole that exists in many other jurisdictions.
The Act requires that Ministers are satisfied that there are compassionate grounds justifying the release of a person serving a sentence of imprisonment. Although the Act does not specify what the grounds for compassionate release are, generally it encompasses:
  • those suffering from a terminal illness and death is likely to occur soon. There are no fixed time limits but life expectancy of less than three months may be considered an appropriate period;
  • where the prisoner is severely incapacitated; or
  • where continued imprisonment would, in light of the conditions in which the prisoner is being held, endanger or shorten his or her life expectancy.

Application from Mr Al-Megrahi

An application from Mr Al-Megrahi requesting compassionate release was received by the Scottish Ministers on 24 July.
In accordance with normal procedure, the application was forwarded to the Scottish Prison Service, where the Prison Governor, Social Work, and medical staff provide advice on the application. Each report supported that Mr Al-Megrahi was suitable for compassionate release.
The Act requires that the Parole Board is also consulted. The Parole Board advised that Mr Al-Megrahi was suitable for compassionate release.
If compassionate release is granted, the prisoner is released on licence. The licence sets out a range of conditions, including conditions on residence.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was a farce

[The following are letters published in The Guardian on this date in 2010:]

I support President Obama's call for "all the facts to be laid out" regarding the Lockerbie affair (Cameron tells Obama he will release Lockerbie files, 21 July). He should be reminded that the Montreal convention of 1971, enacted under the UN-linked International Civil Aviation Organisation, was the proper legal instrument to address the terrorist bombing of flight PA 103 over Lockerbie.

The US, resenting the convention provision that the two suspects could be tried in Libya, orchestrated UN sanctions in an attempt to force their surrender to an American or British court. The sanctions caused the deaths of most of 15,750 Libyans suffering from serious medical conditions because they could not be evacuated by air for treatment abroad. In addition, more than 780 Libyans died in ambulances en route to neighbouring countries. It was judged that there had been 1,135 stillbirths and 514 maternal deaths caused by the shortage of medicines, serums and vaccines blocked by the sanctions. A UN report in 1998 confirmed the impact of sanctions on Libya.

The conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was a farce. Even Lord Sutherland, presiding over the arbitrarily contrived Scottish court in Holland, emphasised the "uncertainties and qualifications" in the case, referred to parts of the "conflicting" evidence "which might not fit" and to a conclusion "which is not really justified". The US ignored international law, imposed sanctions on Libya which resulted in 16,000 deaths, and orchestrated a blatant miscarriage of justice.

As politicians in both Britain and the US queue up to comment on the release of Megrahi, they remain silent about the need for an inquiry into the atrocity itself. To deny the families of the 270 victims of Lockerbie an investigation into this gross act of terrorism is an international disgrace, and the failure to seek to identify those responsible encourages more acts of terrorism.

I have a personal concern about the failure to hold an inquiry as I was with Bernt Carlsson, the UN assistant secretary general, shortly before he checked in on Pan Am Flight 103. As president of the development committee of the European parliament I had invited him to Brussels, where he spoke about his hopes for an independent Namibia and the end of apartheid to a packed meeting of MEPs.

David Cameron should call for an independent inquiry led by the UN to find out the truth about Pan Am Flight 103.
Former MEP for Leeds (1984-99)

In all the hype about releasing Megrahi, one crucial fact seems to have got submerged. He was about to appeal with new evidence, and very likely win, when "persuaded" to abandon the appeal and be sent home "on compassionate grounds". Cynics might think this was to avoid the embarrassment of the court deciding that all along they had the wrong man. A case where two wrongs make a right?

Saturday, 22 July 2017

US jury awards damages against Pan Am over Lockerbie

[This is the headline over a report published on the website of The Independent on this date in 1992. It reads as follows:]

In the first of what could be scores of damages trials stemming from the Lockerbie bombing, a US jury yesterday awarded $9.23m (£4.8m) to the family of a Pepsi-co executive.

The award, reached after a trial in Brooklyn federal court, was less than the $25m sought by the family of Robert Pagnucco. The family won the liability portion of the civil suits on 10 July with a verdict that Pan Am committed 'wilful misconduct' by failing to detect a bomb on Flight 103.

Friday, 21 July 2017

First parliamentary hints of neutral venue Lockerbie trial

[What follows is taken from House of Commons Hansard (columns 893-894) on this date in 1998:]
Mr Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) Pursuant to his answer of 6 July—Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 6 July 1998; c 6—what assessment he made of the implications of his description of the Libyan suspects in respect of the Lockerbie bombing as the perpetrators of that bombing for the conduct of any court proceedings in Scotland. [49914]
The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr Henry McLeish) On 10 July, I wrote to my hon. Friend explaining that that was merely a slip of the tongue on my part in failing to refer to the two Libyan accused as the "alleged perpetrators". The Government are committed to a fair trial for the two Libyan suspects.
Mr Dalyell I have no supplementary question as I have an Adjournment debate on the subject tonight.
Mr James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) Can the Minister comment on today's reports that the Government are about to change their policy on the locus of any trial? As a lawyer, I have reservations about such a precedent, but does he agree that it is in the interests of the victims' families that the accused should be brought to trial and that that may overcome concern about where that trial should be held?
Mr McLeish We are dealing with an act of mass murder. The Government are determined to bring those responsible to justice, and that has always been our objective. It remains our view that a Scottish or a United States court is the place for the trial. We do not accept criticism of the Scottish judicial system and its procedures, in which we have every confidence. However, we are willing to explore any option that will bring justice for the families, and discussions on such options have taken place from time to time.
Dr Liam Fox (Woodspring) May I ask for clarification of that answer? Is today's story inThe Guardian true? Have the Foreign Secretary and the American Secretary of State discussed the matter, and is a statement forthcoming shortly? If so, when will the Lord Advocate—the independent prosecutor—make a statement in the House of Lords, to which he is responsible, as he promised to do on 25 June?
Mr McLeish It is no secret that my right hon Friend the Foreign Secretary is in close contact with his American counterpart on issues of mutual interest, of which Lockerbie is a major one. Options are always being explored, and nothing has ever been ruled out. I am sure that the hon Gentleman would not wish me to speculate on this morning's press comment.
Dr Fox Given the Government's record of leaking and speculating to the press before coming to the House, we have an absolute right to know that the Government are not considering a change of policy. I asked the Minister a simple question. Is the essence of the story in The Guardian this morning true, or is it not true?
Mr McLeish The House will accept that this is a serious issue. Let me repeat that discussions have taken place—and are taking place—about important subjects, of which this is one. No prudent Government would wish to rule out any option. We are dealing with an act of mass murder, and we owe it to the families to bring those responsible to justice. That is our key objective, and I hope that the House can unite around it. It would be foolish to speculate on press comment. All options are being considered, and the House should have confidence in my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who will do his best for the families and for justice.
Dr Fox As we approach the summer recess, is it reasonable to assume that there will be no change in policy while hon Members will be unable to ask appropriate questions of Ministers? Will the Minister continue to defend the principle—defended by the Government and their predecessors—that there will be no caving in to political expediency? We must not open up the possibility of years of litigation in a foreign court rather than the achievement of the swift resolution of the Lockerbie case that the relatives, Members of the House and the people of Scotland all want.
Mr McLeish The hon Gentleman is simply not listening. I said in my opening comments that our view remains that a Scottish or United States court is the place for this trial. We do not accept criticisms of the system, and we continue to have every confidence in the Scottish judicial system and procedures.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

“Libya has always viewed him as a political hostage”

[What follows is excerpted from a report published on the website of The Guardian on this date in 2010:]

Libya's relations with Britain have been flourishing across the board since the controversy over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, one of Muammar Gaddafi's senior ministers said today.

Libya was "delighted" at Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's return home from a Scottish prison last August and still insists he is innocent of the murder of 270 people on Pan Am 103, said Abdel-Fatah Yunis al-Obeidi, the Libyan secretary general for public security.

Obeidi, whose rank is that of a cabinet minister, hinted that David Cameron's comment that Megrahi's release had been a "mistake" — fuelling the domestic and international row about the circumstances of the decision — was made under US pressure. In an exclusive interview on a visit to London, Obeidi said he was certain the former intelligence agent was innocent.

"Libya is delighted by his return and has always viewed him as a political hostage and never acknowledged him as a prisoner," he said. "Libya had no connection with the Lockerbie affair. The international community was led to believe that Libya was behind the incident but history will prove the truth. I am convinced that Megrahi was innocent and was a victim of a huge international conspiracy."

Libya agreed to pay billions of dollars in compensation to families of the victims because of demands from the UN, not because it admitted guilt over the worst act of terrorism in British history. It portrays Megrahi's release as a purely humanitarian issue involving a man suffering from terminal prostate cancer who supposedly had just weeks left to live.

"Megrahi is in the hands of God," said Obeidi. "He was in a Scottish prison. Those who made the three-month prognosis were British doctors. The fact that he is still alive is divine will and has nothing to do with Libya. If you have a direct line to Heaven you can check up there."

Renewed US interest in the affair is linked to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and anger among families of the 189 US victims of the Pan Am bombing.

"The British government should disregard the views of others," Obeidi said. "We and you know who those others are. They are those who do not want Britain to look after its own economic interests and wants it to be subjugated to them for ever."

Obeidi's busy UK schedule underlines the warmth and intensity of bilateral relations since Tony Blair met Gaddafi in 2004. (...)

"Relations are excellent and getting better every day," he said. "The problem before was the absence of trust. Now we have restored confidence and there is much greater cooperation."

Libyan officials do not normally relish discussing Lockerbie, wishing to draw a line under it after the payment of compensation, the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US and UK and a wider sense that the country has shed its pariah status as western companies, backed by their governments, queue up to do business. But Libya lobbied hard for Megrahi's release — finding a willing partner in the Labour government — and the only man convicted of the 1988 atrocity was escorted home personally by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the leader's son and presumed heir. During a recent lecture in London the younger Gaddafi responded monosyllabically to a question about Megrahi, focusing instead on the "new" Libya and opportunities it presented.

Libya does not expect any adverse effect on its booming relations with the UK. "The Libyans won't really care," predicted Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Tripoli. "It's yesterday's problem. The worry now is Megrahi's state of health. There's no question of him being sent back to Scotland or of Libya having to pay any price. They will see it as Cameron being in the pocket of the Americans."

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Scottish Government would support UK or UN inquiry

What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2010.

Salmond: Ask Blair about Megrahi

Alex Salmond told US senators they should direct questions about a prisoner transfer agreement for the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing at former prime minister Tony Blair.

The First Minister has also accused a Tory MP of calling for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi to be used as a foreign policy bargaining chip. His comments followed a weekend of renewed questions in the US and London about the decision to return Megrahi to Libya. Salmond said a Senate hearing should call the former prime minister to give evidence about the “deal in the desert” which paved the way for BP to invest £450 million in exploring Libya’s oil reserves.

Almost a year after Megrahi, who is suffering from prostate cancer, was freed on compassionate grounds by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, a group of Democratic senators is demanding an inquiry into claims the oil giant lobbied for his release to smooth a deal. An influential Senate committee is also to examine the case.

A spokesman for Salmond said: “If the US Senate wants to get the truth about the deal in the desert by the UK and Libyan governments in 2007, they should call Tony Blair to give evidence. Blair was its architect – he would be the one who knows about an oil deal.”

Salmond’s spokesman dismissed a call for a UK Government inquiry by Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski, chairman of Westminster’s all-party group on Libya. He has written to David Cameron asking how the Scottish Government can be held to account and asking for more information on UK Government involvement.

Salmond’s spokesman said: “As far as Daniel Kawczynski is concerned, he wrote to the Justice Secretary in August last year saying that al-Megrahi should be used as a foreign policy bargaining chip, which is as extraordinary as it is inappropriate in relation to determining applications for prisoner transfer or compassionate release.”

The issue threatens to overshadow David Cameron’s first visit to Washington as Prime Minister tomorrow.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegations of BP involvement in the Scottish Executive’s decision to release Megrahi.”

But Hague also said that the release was “a mistake”.

MacAskill said he would “support a wider UK public inquiry or United Nations investigation capable of examining all of the issues related to the Lockerbie atrocity, which go well beyond Scotland’s jurisdiction”.

[From an article in today's edition of The Herald by Political Editor Brian Currie.]

[RB: The article no longer seems to feature on The Herald’s website.]

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Lockerbie accused flew to Malta day before Pan Am 103 destroyed

[What follows is excerpted from a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2000:]

The Lockerbie trial has heard that the two Libyans suspected of planting the bomb flew to Malta the day before the airliner blew up.

The bomb is alleged to have been in a suitcase which was loaded onto a flight from Malta to Frankfurt, where Pan Am 103 began its journey to New York.

The Scottish Court in the Netherlands was told that the two men reached the Mediterranean island on 20 December, 1988.

They returned to Tripoli, Libya, on a Libyan Arab Airlines flight on the 21st, the day the bomb blasted a hole in the luggage compartment of the Boeing 747 after leaving London to cross the Atlantic.

Air Malta official Martin Baron confirmed the authenticity of the immigration cards registering the arrival and departure of defendant Lamen Khalifa Fhimah and a man by the name of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad.

The latter name is alleged to have been an alias used by co-defendant Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.

According to the indictment, the men planted the bomb on Air Malta flight KM 180 to Frankfurt with tags routing it through London onto the Pan Am jet.

Prosecutors say the men worked for the Libyan state airline in Malta and were agents of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's intelligence apparatus.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Shrouded in a cloud of anomalies

[What follows is the text of an article by John Ashton published in the Sunday Herald on this date in 2011:]

New doubts over crucial evidence in Lockerbie trial

A prosecution expert misled judges at the Lockerbie trial about key evidence, according to a classified police memo obtained by the Sunday Herald.

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the Scottish border town on December 21, 1988, killing 270 people.

The trial of the two Libyan men accused of the bombing began in May 2000, in front of a Scottish court set up in the Netherlands. During the trial, Dr Thomas Hayes, an expert witness for the prosecution, testified that a fragment allegedly from the bomb’s timer had not been tested for explosive residues.

However, according to the memo, tests were in fact carried out – and proved negative.

The revelation comes as the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee prepares to consider calls for a public inquiry into the conviction in 2001 of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Campaigners believe he was wrongly convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, and accuse the police and Crown Office of concealing evidence that might have cleared him.

Forensic evidence suggested that the fragment, known as PT/35, was part of a timer supplied to Libyan intelligence by the Swiss company Mebo. Mebo’s offices were shared by a company co-owned by Megrahi.

According to the prosecution, the timer and the explosive were hidden in a Toshiba radio-cassette player which Megrahi packed into a suitcase along with clothing.

Hayes was employed by the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE), linked to the UK Ministry of Defence. Scientists from the RARDE were involved in examining material found at the Lockerbie crash scene.

Hayes told the trial in June 2000 that he did not test PT/35, or a fragment of Toshiba circuit board, for explosive residues because it was clear from their appearance that they were bomb-damaged.

He added that the chances of finding residues were “vanishingly small”, but acknowledged that residues had been found on pieces of aircraft debris, and that test results for other items were not disclosed.

A previously secret memo, dated April 3, 1990, describes a visit to the Lockerbie investigation by French police officers examining the 1989 bombing of a French airliner in Niger. The memo states that Detective Superintendent Stuart Henderson, senior investigating officer, told the French delegation “that the piece of PCB [printed circuit board] from the Toshiba [cassette player] bore no trace of explosive contamination and that this was due to the total consummation of the explosive material. Similarly with PT/35, the item was negative in regard to explosive traces”.

It is not known whether Hayes knew of the tests alluded to in the memo, and there is no suggestion that he deliberately misled the court. Henderson did not testify at the trial, and there is no suggestion that he acted improperly.

Christine Grahame, SNP MSP and convener of the Justice Committee, said yesterday: “This adds to the growing body of evidence that Megrahi’s conviction, if it was placed before the appeal court today, would not stand the test of being proven beyond reasonable doubt.”

Calls for a public enquiry have been led by the campaign group Justice for Megrahi. Group member Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the Lockerbie bombing, said yesterday: “At the end of Megrahi’s trial, PT/35 stood out for me as being shrouded in a cloud of anomalies. Everything that I’ve learned since then has added to my suspicion that there was something very wrong.”

The trial court heard that Hayes found the fragment in May 1989 in the collar of a blast-damaged shirt. However, his laboratory notes and the collar’s police evidence label were inexplicably altered, and other official documents gave the date of discovery as January 1990.

Hayes’s employer, the RARDE, was involved in a string of miscarriages of justice in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1990, Hayes and senior colleagues were criticised by former appeal court judge Sir John May in his report on the Maguire Seven case, in which individuals had been charged with handling explosives linked to the IRA. Sir John said they knew of evidence pointing to the innocence of the accused yet failed to inform the court.

After seeing PT/35, Mebo’s owner, Edwin Bollier, said it was from a prototype circuit board that was never part of a functioning timer.

The police memo was one of hundreds of documents appended to the 800-page report into Megrahi’s conviction produced by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. However, its potential significance was apparently overlooked.

The Crown Office would not comment directly on the memo. In a joint statement with Dumfries and Galloway Police, which led the Lockerbie investigation, it said: “The only appropriate forum for the determination of guilt or innocence is the criminal court. Mr Megrahi was convicted unanimously … following trial and his conviction was upheld unanimously by five judges in an appeal court.”

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The prosecution’s case was farcical

[What follows is a post by John Ashmore on The Staggers, the New Statesman's rolling blog, from this date in 2010:]

The Lockerbie bomber? A likely story . . .

In all the furore over Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, we have lost sight of one important fact.

So, the British ambassador to the US says that the government "deeply regrets" the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie atrocity. Meanwhile, US senators are calling for an inquiry into allegations that BP lobbied the British government to let Megrahi go in order to protect their interests in Libya.

News of his release on compassionate grounds a year ago prompted a similar wave of indignation. The papers bleated about Megrahi showing no compassion to his victims, that this was not "justice", and that the government was ignoring the victims of the bombing. (...)

What is rarely mentioned amid all the outrage is that there is considerable doubt over Megrahi's guilt.

As the late Paul Foot pointed out, having sat through the whole of Megrahi's trial at [Zeist] in 2001, the prosecution's case was farcical.

That Megrahi felt the need to write 300 pages about his innocence is odd -- one ought to have sufficed.

To summarise, Megrahi is meant to have planted a bomb on a plane in Malta, which then travelled on to Frankfurt, and then on again to Heathrow, before finally exploding on Pan Am Flight 103 in the sky above Lockerbie. We are supposed to believe, then, that the bomb got on to three planes in a row without being detected. It seems a lot more likely that the bomb was planted at London than anywhere else.

In their judgment, the three judges at the [Zeist] trial also pointed out that there was nothing that proved Megrahi had put a bomb on the plane in Malta. They noted: "The absence of any explanation of the method by which the primary suitcase might have been placed on board KM180 [Air Malta] is a major difficulty for the Crown case."

What's more, Megrahi was apparently aided by a conspirator, yet his co-accused at the Hague trial was unanimously acquitted.

The prosecution's star witness was Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, who claimed to remember Megrahi buying clothes from his shop. These clothes apparently found their way into the case in which the bomb was concealed.

Gauci also said, however, that he remembered it raining on the day Megrahi came in, yet meteorological records show this was not the case. This does not discount Gauci's testimony, but it must give pause for thought.

His claim to be able to remember and identify a single customer many months after he apparently entered his shop is much more difficult to sustain. Again, the court expressed its reservations, saying that "Mr Gauci's initial description to DCI Bell would not in a number of respects fit the first accused" (Megrahi).

Perhaps those calling for an inquiry into the circumstances of this man's release should dig a little deeper into how he was convicted in the first place.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

BP lobbied UK Government to speed up prisoner transfer agreement

[What follows is excerpted from a report published in The Evening Standard on this date in 2010:]

BP admitted today that it put pressure on the British Government to speed up talks on a deal that led directly to the early release of the Lockerbie bomber.

In a statement the oil giant said that in "late 2007" it told ministers that "we were concerned about the slow progress that was being made in concluding a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Libya".
The agreement was a key piece of the complex diplomatic jigsaw that ended in the dramatic return of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi to Tripoli on compassionate grounds last August. The lobbying came after BP signed a $900 million exploration agreement with Libya in May 2007.
BP said it was aware that any delay in signing the agreement "could have a negative impact on UK commercial interests, including the ratification by the Libyan government of BP's exploration agreement".
However, the company insisted that it did not get involved in the detail of al-Megrahi's release.
It said: "The decision to release Mr al- Megrahi in August 2009 was taken by the Scottish government. It's not for BP to comment on the decision of the Scottish government. BP was not involved in any discussions with the UK Government or the Scottish government about the release of Mr al-Megrahi."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would look at requests from US Senators to investigate the role BP played in the release.
Yesterday, Mrs Clinton confirmed she had received the letter from Democratic Senators Robert Menendez, Frank Lautenberg, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer "and we will obviously look into it".