Lockerbie Bomber Appeal Starts in Scotland

This image shows a Boeing 747-121 that crashed in Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, on December 21, 1988. (Credit: U.K. Air Accident Investigation Branch via Courthouse News)

GLASGOW, United Kingdom (AFP) — The family of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmet Al-Megrahi on Tuesday began a posthumous appeal in Scotland hoping to overturn the former Libyan intelligence officer’s conviction for downing a Pan Am flight in 1988, killing 270 people.

Lawyer Claire Mitchell told five judges in Edinburgh that “no reasonable jury, properly directed, could have returned the verdict that it did.”

The case was referred to Scotland’s highest criminal court by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) in March on grounds a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

The SCCRC said there were grounds an “unreasonable verdict” was returned in that it could not be proved Megrahi bought the suitcase containing the bomb that was loaded onto the flight.

It also highlighted “nondisclosure” of evidence to Megrahi’s defense team.

Megrahi is the only person convicted of bombing Pan Flight 103, which was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie as it flew from London to New York on December 21, 1988.

Three Scottish judges sitting at a special court in the Netherlands jailed him for life in 2001, recommending he serve at least 27 years. 

He was released from a Scottish prison on health grounds in 2009 and returned to Libya, where he maintained his innocence until his death in 2012.

A total of 270 people from 21 countries were killed, including 11 people on the ground, in what remains Britain’s worst terrorist attack.

But Megrahi’s family maintain there are widespread doubts about his conviction.

A successful appeal would vindicate their belief the U.S. and U.K. governments had “lived a monumental lie for 31 years” by imprisoning an innocent man and punishing Libya’s people, they said.

Lawyer Aamer Anwar said before the appeal began that he had spoken to Megrahi’s son, Ali, who was eight years old when his father stood trial. 

“The Megrahis regard their father as the 271st victim of Lockerbie,” he said.

“Finally there is hope that we are coming to the end of a very long journey in nearly 32 years of their struggle for truth and justice.”

Megrahi’s first appeal was dismissed in 2002 and a second abandoned after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Five judges including Scotland’s most senior jurist, Lord Justice General Colin Sutherland, are hearing the case, which is due to last until Friday with a ruling at a later date.

The family’s legal team are taking part remotely from Glasgow. 

Secrecy order

It has been widely claimed that the bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by a Syrian-based Palestinian group in retaliation for a US Navy strike on an Iranian Airbus six months earlier in which 290 people died.

Late last Friday, the High Court upheld a secrecy order signed in August by U.K. foreign secretary Dominic Raab to withhold intelligence documents related to the case on grounds of national security.

The documents are thought to allege a Jordanian intelligence agent within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) built the bomb.

The PFLP-GC has been designated a terrorist group by several countries, including Britain and the United States.

Lawyers acting for the Megrahi family believe the documents are central to their appeal, which is backed by some of the victims’ families.

They also said they would disclose “significant material about the role of individuals, nations and their politicians” at the end of the appeal.

“There can never be a time limit on justice or the truth emerging,” said Anwar.

In 2008, then-foreign secretary David Miliband also refused to release the papers before Megrahi’s second appeal.

by Stuart GRAHAM
© Agence France-Presse

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