Lockerbie Bomber: relatives of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi launch fresh bid to clear his name
They are today lodging an application with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), the body which reviews alleged miscarriages of justice in criminal cases and has the power to refer a case back to the High Court.
Megrahi was the sole person found guilty of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland on December 21 1988, in which 270 people were killed.
The Libyan abandoned a second appeal against conviction in 2009 after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.
He was later released from jail by the Scottish Government on compassionate grounds and died protesting his innocence in May 2012.
Solicitor Aamer Anwar said that, more than a quarter of a century after the atrocity, “the truth remains elusive”.
Speaking in Glasgow, he said: “The case being lodged this morning seeks to overturn the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for murder.”
The solicitor said the three volumes of papers which form the basis of the new application will be delivered to the SCCRC later today.
He has been instructed by 24 British relatives of victims and “six immediate family members” of Megrahi who, for safety reasons, are not being identified.
Over the 25 years since the bombing and Megrahi’s subsequent conviction, there have been many legal twists and turns in the case which have brought his family to this point.
Megrahi Appeal- is it possible?
Some of the victims’ families believe Megrahi was rightly found guilty, and prosecutors at the Crown Office in Scotland insist they do not fear scrutiny of the conviction and would “rigorously” defend it.
But others, including a group of campaigning British relatives, argue that the Libyan was wrongly put behind bars and that the truth about who murdered their loved ones remains elusive.
Megrahi was found guilty of mass murder following a trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in 2001 and jailed for life with a minimum term of 27 years behind bars. He lost his first appeal in 2002.
The following year, he applied to the SCCRC for a review of his conviction. A £1.1 million investigation by the body led to a finding in June 2007 of six grounds where it believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
This decision opened the door to Megrahi’s second appeal against his conviction. Although a number of hearings had already been held before senior appeal judges, he dropped his appeal two days before being released from prison in August 2009.
Despite the guilty verdict and Megrahi’s decision to drop the appeal, campaigners and families of victims are still dealing with the impact and it has been known for some time that a number of them were considering another appeal.
Last month, it emerged that a new application for the conviction to be looked at again was soon to be handed to the SCCRC by campaigner Jim Swire, representing more than 20 British relatives of bombing victims.
Dr Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora died in the bombing, has long held the view that Megrahi was not guilty of the atrocity.
The fact that Megrahi’s own family have now chosen to take forward a fresh appeal bid could boost its chances of getting back to court.
Dr Swire has previously said Megrahi’s family could be risking their lives if they raise the prospect of launching a fresh appeal against conviction.
Dr Swire said he wrote to those families whose addresses he still held and asked whether they wished to support the application, with 23 responding positively.
Mr Anwar said: “The number is growing on a daily basis. Each name will be added to the application to the SCCRC.”
The solicitor said he expected to meet with the board and it would be several months before the body made a decision on whether it will accept the case.
When a convicted person has died, rules allow the High Court to consider an appeal where it considers the person taking the case forward has ”legitimate interest” in the issue.
Megrahi Appeal Can it Restart after abandonment?
In considering whether to accept the new review application, the SCCRC will also have to address whether it is in the interests of justice to do so. The body will also consider the fact that Megrahi abandoned his appeal following a referral from the commission and that neither he nor any member of his family lodged an application for a further review of his conviction prior to his death in May 2012.
The Lockerbie case remains a live investigation, with Scotland’s criminal justice authorities making it clear that they will rigorously pursue any new lines of inquiry.
In December, the Libyan attorney general announced he had appointed two prosecutors to work on the case.
They have met Scottish and US investigators who are trying to establish whether there are other individuals in Libya who could be brought to trial for involvement in the attack.
Megrahi Appeal- Is it still possible?
Asked how confident he was that an appeal will ultimately be heard before judges in Edinburgh, Mr Anwar said: “I have confidence that the family members are not going to give up and will continue to fight.
“They will not give up the fight for justice.
“We have confidence in the SCCRC – they did a tremendous job on the last occasion.
“There were six significant grounds of referral back to the appeal court.
“We have a real basis and foundation for this case to be referred back to the appeal court.”
Dr Swire said: “Over the years, I still believe that Scottish justice will be delivered and that the justice system has the capacity and the will to see that that is done.”
Asked why the families feel they have the required “legitimate interest” for the SCCRC to take on the case, he said: “If you had a daughter aged 23 who was both beautiful and highly intelligent, and she was brutally murdered in a situation where it’s clear that the national protection security services had abysmally failed, do you not think that even 25 years later you might want to feel that you had a status in discovering the truth about who murdered her and why she was not protected?
“I think you would find that you would have that need, as I do, and as many relatives still do.”
Mr Anwar said it is the first time in UK legal history that relatives of murdered victims have united with the relatives of a convicted deceased to seek justice by means of a referral to the appeal court.
Quoting Megrahi’s relatives, he said: “‘We the family of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi will keep fighting for justice to find out who was responsible for 271 victims of the Lockerbie disaster’.
“They of course include Mr Megrahi as its 271st victim.”
Mr Anwar said the commission will be asked to “reconfirm” the six grounds of appeal it cited in 2007.
The body will also be asked to refer the case to the High Court on the ground of evidence surrounding the location of the bomb suitcase and of the Crown’s alleged non-disclosure to the defence of evidence surrounding a crucial circuit board fragment.
“Put simply, the timer claimed by the Crown to be responsible for the bombing cannot be possible,” Mr Anwar said.
He went on: “The case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has been described as the worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history.
“A reversal of the verdict would mean that the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom would stand exposed as having lived a monumental lie for 25 years and having imprisoned a man they knew to be innocent for 10 years.”
The legal team will also ask the SCCRC to consider the circumstances that led to Megrahi abandoning his second appeal.
Mr Anwar said: “To date both the British Government and Scottish Government have claimed that they played no role in pressurising Mr Megrahi into dropping his appeal as a condition of his immediate release. However the evidence submitted to the commission today claims that this is fundamentally untrue.”
Megrahi Appeal -New Evidence?
Some of the main points at the heart of the application are expected to focus on:
– Evidence it was impossible for Megrahi to have bought clothes that were found in the wreckage of the aircraft.
– Claims he was convicted on the word of a Maltese shop owner who “gave a false description” of him in statements and failed to recognise him in court.
– New evidence which claims the fragment of the circuit board and bomb timer discovered in the Scottish countryside could not have been responsible for the bombing.
– Claims it was “impossible” for the bomb to begin its journey in Malta before being transferred through two airports.
– Serious “question marks” over material evidence and allegations of the Crown’s non-disclosure of evidence.
– Documents claiming that police and FBI agents had discussed as early as September 1989 “an offer of unlimited money” to the shopkeeper.
“If it is unacceptable to offer bribes, inducements or rewards to any witness in a routine murder trial in Glasgow, then it should have been unacceptable to have done it in the biggest case of mass murder ever carried out in Europe,” Mr Anwar said.
Megrahi Appeal- What does it mean for Scottish Justice?
He went on: “The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, has said that ‘Scotland’s criminal justice system is a cornerstone of our society, and it is paramount that there is total public confidence in it’.
“Fine words indeed but the reputation of the Scottish criminal justice system has suffered badly both at home and internationally because of widespread doubts about the justifiability of the conviction of Mr al-Megrahi.
“It is in the interests of justice and of restoring confidence in our criminal justice system and its administration that these doubts be addressed.”
Dr Swire said: “As relatives, we want to know all that is known about who was responsible for murdering our lovely families all those years ago.
“Who did it, and why wasn’t the aircraft protected?
“Why am I and other relatives still desperately seeking to get to the truth 25 years after our families were murdered?”
(Megrahi Appeal- the SCCRC is expected to take up to a year to decide if the case will be referred back to the Appeal Court)