One of the side bars of this blog over the last couple of years has been my interest in the Lockerbie Bombing, and the subsequent wrongful imprisonment of Magrahi. Due to the involvement of so many Americans as victims, the fact that the plane’s flag was American and the political interest (or interference) of American politicians in the matter beginning with the initial search right through to trial and sentence, it is a matter of both concern and importance to readers on both sides of the pond.
In Scotland it has become a legal cause célèbre.
Both countries have officially been at considerable pains to press the case that Abdel Al Megrahi was solely responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. A lone bomber, as you will, in the long American tradition of lone assassins
It is my opinion that the Scottish Bar broke under pressure from the Americans for a quick fix, a conviction, indeed any conviction. And so they took undigested or not fully considered, the line of evidence offered them as both complete and trustworthy. They did not properly consider whether undue pressure may have been put on witnesses to make statements, or the possibility that payments were made to witnesses to testify the way they did. Worse it is alleged the prosecution withheld evidence from the defence.
Today a report into the whole matter by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has finally been published. Published neither by the courts you understand, nor the politicians either, but by the Herald, a Glasgow newspaper. I recommend that you read it.
By way of a quick reminder.
The essentials are that on 21st December 1988 an American aircraft, Pam Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie, a small town in the Scottish borders, killing 270. Investigation led to the suspicion that this was an act of international terrorism and that the Libyan government and Al-Megrahi were involved. As this happened on Scottish soil, the Scottish Judicial system was the relevant one to conduct the trial.
It’s not well known that Scots law is quite different from English law. It has its own system of Courts and ruling bodies. It is a separate jurisdiction. It is a hybrid system, like that of Louisiana. In fact that’s an idea, keep thinking along the lines of Louisiana and you won’t go far astray. It is, as Professor Patterson of Strathclyde famously said, “a simple law for a poor people”. Lockerbie was to test it to destruction.
The Scottish Bar – being those who serve as solicitors (council or attorneys in US terminology), advocates, judges etc is a very small affair. Its numbers are few, making the Scottish legal community even smaller than the Bars of many US cities. It is socially restricted, being essentially middle class with many having come from the same few private schools for generations. Many are of legal families, much intermarried, with generations having practised. It is cosy to the point of being in-bred. It is small, parochial, narrow, inexperienced, self satisfied, dull and sleepy. One case years ago propelled it to the world stage, and ever after it arrogantly believes itself an example to the world!
Forced that mid winters night, startled and blinking into the glare of world wide scrutiny, it was just not prepared for the media storm that enveloped it. Its deficiencies from the initial Police investigation to judicial stage fast became apparent.
The case was called in a specially convened Court in the Netherlands, made Scottish soil especially for the case and there sweating through a summer in the white heat of a live world audience, the participants failed their bar, their law, their country, and worst, they failed justice.
They, the establishment in Scotland, the lawyers, judiciary, bar and politicians of all parties (for political Scotland is also small and clannish) then set about systematically ensuring that this embarrassment would never come out. Far better the establishment felt that Megrahi rot in jail than their deficiencies be exposed.
Luckily not everyone felt that way and through campaigning journalist and luminary legal experts such as Professor Bob Black, whose blog is the fount of all sense in this case, the pressure was maintained.
Megrahi appealed against the sentence and then took his case to the SCCRC who produced a report that no one could seemingly make public. The report showed there was a basis for a fresh appeal. The establishment, fearing an innocent man would die in prison before his appeal concluded, panicked and in a surprise move released Megrahi on grounds of “compassion”. Compassion may be trait in Scots Law but it is a hellishly well hidden one.
Since then pressure has built up to release the contents of the report.
Today, finally, the dam has burst with the Herald a leading newspaper in Scotland publishing the report in full, and available online. All 800 pages are available here at the Statement of Reason. Yes its long, yes it’s dense and full of dry legal language, and yes I do suggest that you read it. It is damning.
The Crown Office (Scotland’s Prosecution Service) has previously said it ”was very concerned about drip feeding of selective leaks and partial reporting”. They should be delighted with today’s announcements.
Somehow I think they won’t be.
Copyright David Macadam 2012