Scottish review body refers Lockerbie bomber case for appeal

Glasgow (AFP) –


A Scottish body responsible for investigating possible miscarriages of justices said on Wednesday it had referred the case of the man jailed for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing for appeal.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, who died in 2012, was the only person convicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 243 passengers and 16 crew as it travelled from London to New York on December 21, 1988.

Eleven people on the ground in the Scottish town of Lockerbie also lost their lives in what was the biggest terrorist attack on British soil.

Libyan national Megrahi, who denied involvement, was jailed for life for mass murder by three Scottish judges at a special court sitting in the Netherlands in 2001.

His family asked the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission's (SCCRC) to review the case again after his death from prostate cancer.

Commission chairman Bill Matthews said it was the second time it had carried out a review of the conviction and the latest was based on "further information" that had come to light.

SCCRC chief executive Gerard Sinclair said its 419-page decision had been sent to the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh, and Megrahi's family and legal team had been informed.

"It is now a matter for those representing the Crown and the defence to decide how to proceed at any future appeal," he said.

"Thereafter, it will be for the appeal court to decide whether there has been a miscarriage of justice."

- New referral -

Megrahi appealed his initial conviction in 2002 but Scottish appeal court judges refused his application.

The following year, he asked the SCCRC to review the conviction. In 2007, the body referred the case to court for a ruling but in August 2009, Megrahi abandoned his appeal.

Scottish government ministers approved his release from prison on compassionate grounds in the same month and he returned to Libya, where he later died.

Megrahi's widow and family again asked the SCCRC to review his conviction in 2017, arguing there were "valid and compelling" reasons for a new referral.

In its statement, the SCCRC said it "now believes that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in Mr Megrahi's case", citing an "unreasonable verdict" and "non-disclosure" in the handling of the case.

On the matter of unreasonable verdict, the body said on the evidence submitted -- that Megrahi bought items inside the suitcase in which the bomb was hidden at a shop in Malta -- was not proved beyond reasonable doubt.

On non-disclosure, it said prosecutors should have disclosed to the defence a statement and police report casting doubt on Megrahi being the purchaser that could have weakened their case.

"The Commission considers that the Crown's failure to disclose the information in question deprived Mr Megrahi a real chance of an acquittal," it added.

Similarly, it said failure to disclose information about a US State Department reward to the owner of the shop where the items were bought "bolsters its conclusion that Mr Megrahi was denied a fair trial".

- 'Robust appeal' -

At a news conference in Glasgow, lawyer Aamer Anwar said the family of Megrahi welcomed the ruling and that they had 21 days to lodge an appeal.

"We think we have a robust appeal," he told reporters but said a decision to allow the case to go forward was only for the court to decide.

Should it do so, initial hearings could start before the end of this year, with a full hearing next year, he added.

Anwar said "the finger of blame" had long pointed at Iran for the bombing and that Megrahi was wrongly convicted of the atrocity.

Tehran has denied claims it contracted Syria-based Palestinian militants to carry out the attack in revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes in July 1988.

That attack killed 290 people.

The Megrahi family's case to the SCCRC was supported by the families of some of the victims, including former doctor Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was on board Pan Am 103.

Swire, now in his eighties, lobbied for a retrial and release of Megrahi, and highlighted continued issues over airline security.

Anwar said the reputation of Scottish justice had "suffered badly... over the conviction of Mr al-Megrahi".

"There is finally hope on what has been a long journey... but there can never be a time limit on justice," he added.