Sunday, September 06, 2009

Lockerbie: Shooting at the wrong target

In 1988, one week after Pan-Am flight 103 crashed into Lockerbie I drove through the town. I was en route to Oban and had no other route. Like everyone else I had been horrified at the television pictures of the pitiful wreck of Sherwood Crescent, with bewildered residents and shocked pets climbing past the mangled remains of houses and the wreckage of the plane.

Lockerbie had been long familiar as a way mark on my regular journeys between Scotland and England. From that day onwards though, I could never think of it without a shudder. As I approached the town for the first time after the disaster, the traffic from the south gradually slowed- for the plane had partly come down on the carriage way, with a crater taking a giant bite out of the tarmac. Everywhere, for several miles around the town, there were what seemed to be little pieces of paper scattered in profusion, but which were actually small pieces of the white fuselage skin and other debris. Dumfrieshire seemed to have been visited by a giant litter lout.

It was a sight I will never forget. It was a truly monstrous crime.

Eventually two men were named as having planted a device in Malta that had been traced to flight 103. Addelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Magrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah were named by the British government. Eventually after an extraordinary diplomatic deal, the two men were indicted and placed on trial . It was an extraordinary trial: held in the Hague, it was nonetheless held according to Scottish legal rules. Eventually Fhimah was acquited but Al Magrahi was nonetheless convicted.

Subsequent to the trial it has been revealed that there was a break-in at Heathrow on the night before flight 103 took off, and that it was therefore quite possible that the device might have been placed on board as a result. It was evidence that could have forced enough reasonable doubt for the prosecution to have failed. Such evidence, it now seems clear could be central for finally understanding what actually happened to flight 103 and the people killed on the ground. More and more evidence has appeared that has undermined the prosecution case, including the fact that the chief prosecution witness was paid and even according to the chief prosecution counsel was "unreliable".

One thing is quite clear, even if his conviction holds- which seems unlikely- Al Magrahi did not act alone.

Despite the assumption of responsibility for this crime that Libya has taken upon itself, many of the victims relatives, including Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter and has become a prominent figure speaking on behalf of the families, no longer believe that the conviction of Al Magrahi is safe.

Yet the release of Al Magrahi, who is said to be terminally ill, raises some fundamental questions. Firstly, the release has come after the withdrawal of his further appeal against conviction- an appeal when more evidence concerning the break-in at Heathrow was said to have been presented to the court. As more information leaks out concerning the large number of meetings between British and Libyan officials, there is substantial evidence that the release comes as part of a deal between Britain and Libya that Al Magrahi would not die in prison in Scotland. Furthermore, rumours and speculation now suggests that Britain would be set to benefit commercially from contracts in this area.

It is hard not to sympathise with the outrage of the American families. Magrahi has been released- even though his appeal has not been allowed, and he thus remains a convicted criminal. In the US, Al Magrahi would have faced the death penalty and thus "compassion" has already been shown. The fact that the release has come as the result of what appear to be commercial promises from Libya is the United Kingdom accepting blood money from Libya at the expense of the mostly American victims.

It is absolutely shameful that Britain should have acted in this manner.

What lies at the root of this national disgrace is that the full story of what lay behind the shattering scenes of horror 21 years ago has not been told- indeed has been wilfully hidden by British and American officials.

The questions that remain, amongst many others, focus on the role of Iran, the break-in at Heathrow, the chain of command to other involved agents and the willingness of Libya to front for other powers. We have not been told the full story. The conviction of Al Magrahi looks more like scapegoat than perpetrator.

In the December hills above Lockerbie and in the blasted and broken town, the shattered wreckage of Clipper Maid of the Seas made a profound impact on all who saw the horrific sight.

In the name of the 259 passengers and crew and the 11 people who died on the ground, it is time for honest answers, from both the British and the American governments.

1 comment:

Richard T said...

There is little doubt that the fingerprints of Tony Blair are all over the decision to set up a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya but the US indignation is a little rich when they were part of the negotiations and were a full party to the deal under which Megrahi and one other were handed over. In other words they knew well that he was a scape goat and they knew ell that a PTA would be set up. The Scottish government was not consulted and was angry not least because they knew exactly what Blair's game was and could see they would be caught as the fall guys. In passing the London press and commentators have displayed a complete lack of understanding of the devolution settlement let alone scottish politics.

In the event Megrahi got sent back on compassionate grounds not the PTA under Scots law and the UK government could not dictate an outcome - setting aside the political fuore it would csue with the SNP shouting to the rooftops about London interference. Now there may well have been all sorts of deals done between London and Tripoli but if edinburgh wouldn't play ball London could not deliver.

I happen to think that there was not enough to convict Megrahi - I can't see a scots jury finding for the Crown although they might have got not proven.

The US reaction as I said is hypocritical - setting aside their tolerance of the IRA fundraising and the refusal to extradite and the shooting down of the iranian plane - they are in this up to their necks which is more than shown by a refusal to release any papers at all.

My take is that the Scottish Government comes out of this - so far - with credit; the rest nowhere.