The full report of the legal grounds for the Lockerbie bomber’s second appeal has been published online by a newspaper which could prove Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi is innocent – a link to the report is at the bottom of this post.
The Sunday Herald today posted the 800-page Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) document on its website, the first time the report has been in the public domain.
The document, known as a statement of reasons, sets out the full details of the grounds for referral back to the appeal court in 2007 in the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
The six grounds for referral were previously published by the SCCRC – the body which investigates potential miscarriages of justice – in summary.
Megrahi dropped his second appeal shortly before he was released from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2009 by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.
The Scottish Government had brought forward legislation to bring about the publication of the full report but data protection rules, reserved to Westminster, barred its formal publication.
The Herald, which earlier this month published extracts of the report, said it had made the entire report available because it was in the public interest. The newspaper said Megrahi himself had sent a copy to Mr MacAskill.
Gerard Sinclair, the SCCRC’s chief executive, said: “We are aware of the document which has now been published on the Herald website. Whilst we have not yet been able to fully check through every page I can confirm that our first impression is that this does appear to be a copy of our statement of reasons.
“The Commission has always been willing to publish this document, subject to the appropriate protection of individuals’ rights, and to that end has been working for some time with the relevant parties, including the Crown Office and both the Scottish and UK Governments, to allow for publication of the outcome of our inquiries into Mr Megrahi’s conviction.”
The Crown Office released a statement today stating that “unauthorised publication” did not “deal with any of these (data protection and confidentiality) issues which rightly constrain all public authorities by law”.
It said: “We have become very concerned at the drip feeding of selective leaks and partial reporting from parts of the statement of reasons over the last few weeks in an attempt to sensationalise aspects of the contents out of context.
“Persons referred to in the statement of reasons have been asked to respond to these reports without having access to the statement of reasons and this is to be deplored.
“Further allegations of serious misconduct have been made in the media against a number of individuals for which the Commission found no evidence. This is also to be deplored.
“In fact the Commission found no basis for concluding that evidence in the case was fabricated by the police, the Crown, forensic scientists or any other representatives of official bodies or government agencies.”
In preparing for Megrahi’s second appeal, the Crown Office said it had considered all the information in the statement of reasons and had “every confidence in successfully defending the conviction”.
The Crown Office stressed that while it was the SCCRC’s role to determine whether a miscarriage of justice may have taken place, “it does not follow that there was a miscarriage of justice, only the Appeal Court can decide that”.
Megrahi was the only person convicted of the atrocity which killed 270 people when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie in 1988.
He was convicted by Scottish judges in 2001, unsuccessfully appealing against the verdict the same year.
He launched a second appeal, which was referred back to the courts in 2007.
Four of the grounds for referral back to the appeal court outlined in the SCCRC report refer to undisclosed evidence from the Crown to Megrahi’s defence team.
Those grounds cover evidence about a positive identification of Megrahi by Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who said he sold clothes to a Libyan man.
The clothes were linked to a suitcase loaded on to the plane, which was then linked to the bomb and eventually to Megrahi.
The SCCRC raised concerns that evidence suggesting Mr Gauci had seen a magazine article linking Megrahi to the bomb was not passed to the defence. Contradictions about the day Megrahi was said to have bought the clothes were also highlighted.
Also of concern to the SCCRC was undisclosed evidence about Mr Gauci’s interest in rewards.
A fifth reason covered “secret” intelligence documents not seen by Megrahi’s legal team while the sixth referred to new evidence on the date of clothes purchased in Malta.
Commenting on the publication, First Minister Alex Salmond said: “I welcome the publication in full of this report, which is something that the Scottish Government has been doing everything in our powers to facilitate.
“I especially welcome the fact that it offers a full account of the SCCRC’s deliberations rather than the partial accounts which have appeared in the media in recent weeks.
“While the report shows that there were six grounds on which it believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, it also rejected 45 of the 48 grounds submitted by Megrahi, and in particular it upheld the forensic basis of the case leading to Malta and to Libyan involvement.”
He added: “This report provides valuable information, from an independent body acting without fear or favour, and while we can not expect it to resolve all the issues in the Lockerbie case, it does however lay the basis for narrowing the areas of dispute and in many ways is far more comprehensive than any inquiry could ever hope to be.
“The Lockerbie case of course remains an open criminal investigation, and while the only place to determine guilt or innocence is in a court of law, the SCCRC is a valuable body which is itself part of the Scottish criminal justice system.”
Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Politics programme, Christine Grahame, convenor of Holyrood’s Justice Committee, called for an inquiry into the Crown Office.
She said the publication of the report was “highly significant”.
“The question now is where to go from here, and I would suggest there are routes to take,” she said.
“There are allegations in the report that the Crown Office withheld crucial evidence that might have been substantive evidence to assist the defence, and I think there is a question about how the Crown Office acted.”
She added: “With regard to the Crown Office, we can’t have rebuttals within the press, what we require is an inquiry.
“Colin Boyd was Lord Advocate at the time, if he’s correct (in his rebuttals) then there is no problem, he should have nothing to hide, nor should his office.”
On the appeal against Megrahi’s conviction, Ms Grahame said it would be “quite possible” for his family, after his death, to “step into the dead man’s shoes and resuscitate the appeal with the leave of the court”.
“The appeal process is not finished. There is the appeal process to deal with the conviction, but there is the very serious allegation here against the Crown,” she said.
“I have never known anything like this before. And I think where we have an allegation, I would wish the Crown to be able to establish that this is unfounded.”
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes MSP said: “I welcome the publication of this full and detailed account of the events surrounding the Lockerbie case.
“Sunshine is the best disinfectant. It is vital for Scotland that our justice system is open and transparent.
“If mistakes have been made, it is vital that we learn the lessons so that justice can be served.”