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Reevel Alderson, Home Affairs Correspondent
"The two accused entered not guilty pleas for the first time"
 real 28k

The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg:
"It's expected the BBC will ask another court for permission to televise the Lockerbie trial."
 real 28k

Reeval Alderson was in court
"It was unusual to hear pleas this far ahead of the trial"
 real 28k

banner Friday, 21 April, 2000, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Suspects plead not guilty
Lockerbie accused
The two accused deny the charges
Formal pleas of not guilty have been entered by the two Libyan men accused of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people died.

They were lodged at the end of a preliminary hearing dealing with administrative matters for the trial, which is due to start in the Netherlands on 3 May.

During the hearing at the High Court in Edinburgh, the judge Lord Sutherland refused to hear an approach by the BBC for permission to televise the trial. The BBC said it would seek a judicial review.
Lord Sutherland
Lord Sutherland refused to consider the BBC's approach
The accused, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, 47, and Al Ami Khalifa Fhimah, 43, have been charged with conspiracy, murder and a breach of the Aviation Security Act.

The allegations follow the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 from Heathrow to New York, which blew up in the skies over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, killing all 269 people on board and 11 people on the ground.

Entering pleas for the first time, Bill Taylor, QC, for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, said: "In the absence of my client I formally tender a plea of not guilty to the indictment."

Trial broadcast

A similar plea was tendered by Richard Keen QC, for the second accused Libyan.

Neither of the two accused was present at the hearing, where an attempt by the BBC to raise the issue of whether the Lockerbie trial should be broadcast was rejected.

Ray Martin QC, for the BBC, was told he had no formal role in the hearing and Lord Sutherland told Mr Martin it was up to him to decide what further steps the BBC should take.

"I am afraid you have no locus", he told the lawyer.
The bombing killed 270 people
Earlier, Mr Martin told the judge he had been instructed to appear at the hearing on the basis of 1992 Scottish legal guidelines which enabled a court to authorise "in certain circumstances" the televising of proceedings.

"There have been a number of instances when such televising has taken place," said Mr Martin.

Mr Martin said he was appearing now as a matter of courtesy and told the judge it might be open to the BBC to take the issue forward by another route.

Witness disguises

Earlier, Solicitor General for Scotland, Colin Boyd QC, said Mr Martin was not a party to proceedings and invited the judge to ask him to leave.

The hearing was a continuation of an earlier procedural hearing in December at Camp Zeist in Holland, which had ended with legal argument over an application by the Crown for prosecution witnesses to disguise their identities.

Colin Boyd
Colin Boyd: Agreement on witnesses' identity
The Crown expressed concern that the safety of some witnesses, including members of the East German security services, the Stasi, could be at risk.

This was resisted at the Camp Zeist hearing by the defence team, which had raised the prospect of witnesses wearing wigs.

Mr Boyd said the Crown was altering the formal request - set out in a formal document lodged with the court - so that it was no longer sought for their "true physical appearance" to be disguised.

Modifications agreed

This followed an indication from Lord Sutherland at the previous hearing that the judge was not prepared to agree to measures like wearing masks or other methods that went "far beyond what was appropriate".

The court heard the modifications had been agreed following discussions between the Crown and defence.

The Crown also revealed that it would not seek to determine where in the Camp Zeist courtroom observers appointed by the UN should sit.

And agreement was reached between the Crown and defence over non-controversial evidence, which would spare the need for "hundreds" of witnesses to be called.

The BBC said it would decide within a week whether to make a legal challenge.

It said it would argue that the trial was unique, that there was no jury, and it would be difficult for justice to be seen to be done as it was due to be held in the Netherlands.

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See also:

06 Dec 99 | Europe
Lockerbie legalities explained
18 Nov 99 | Scotland
Lockerbie judges' biographies
22 Nov 99 | World
Lockerbie defence given papers
29 Oct 99 | World
Lockerbie charges in full
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