Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Saturday, 15 August 2009 17:19 UK

'Let Lockerbie case reach an end'

Lockerbie wreckage
Pan Am Flight 103 has not been far from the headlines since the bombing in 1988

Comment and analysis
By Alistair Bonnington
Formerly of Glasgow Uni Law School's Lockerbie Trial Briefing Team

It has been difficult to follow reports of the developments in the so-called Lockerbie trial over the past few days - that is, the appeal of the convicted man Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi and his possible transfer to Libya.

That difficulty has been largely due to there being hardly any facts - something which these days may not prevent the media running stories about the case.

TV and radio led their bulletins on Thursday with reports that Megrahi will be transferred to Libya next week by decision of the Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill - while MacAskill himself quite understandably says he has not reached a concluded view as yet.

So what facts do we know?

  • Megrahi has applied for compassionate release due to his suffering from terminal cancer.
  • Libya has applied to have Megrahi transferred to a Libyan jail under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement between the UK and Libya.
  • On Friday Megrahi instructed his lawyers to abandon his second appeal against conviction. His first was refused, but this appeal was to proceed because of permission from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

If Megrahi is released on compassionate grounds that decision will have been reached quite independently of his guilt or innocence - not that you would have thought that given the comments of the bereaved relatives.

It follows that there was no need for him to abandon his appeal before he can be released on that basis.

But to be released under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement, the the legal process in the country from which the transfer is requested has to have been completed. So for this to proceed in the present circumstances Megrahi must have abandoned his appeal. He has now done so.

Convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi
Megrahi has dropped his second appeal against his conviction

Megrahi's decision to tell his lawyers to stop the appeal process has led some to see some sort of plot.

I have been observing the Lockerbie trial conspiracy groupies for many years.

Unlike most who provide "expert" comment on the case I attended a good part of the trial at Zeist in Holland - on the old fashioned basis that being possessed of the facts is a prerequisite for an opinion.

In the coffee room of "The Scottish Court in the Netherlands" I found a bizarre array of conspiracy buffs who would sidle up to people and ask "Do you want to know what really happened?" You didn't of course, but they were going to tell you their crackpot theory anyway.

Their internet-fuelled madness would, in Basil's Fawlty's phrase "provide enough material for an entire psychiatric conference". These characters emerge from their sad backrooms every time the Lockerbie trial is in the news. This time is no different.

Christine Grahame - from her website
Christine Grahame has met Megrahi on a number of occasions

Joining this group is South of Scotland MSP Christine Grahame.

Ms Grahame knows that Megrahi is innocent (he told her so, you see) and she also knows the Scottish Government has plotted to force Megrahi to abandon his appeal.

My own approach is a little more cautious - again due to lack of hard facts.

I said on Thursday evening on BBC TV News that I expected Colonel Gaddafi' regime, who are funding all the legal costs, to tell Megrahi to abandon his appeal. Such an order would be made on political grounds.

It is politically astute to do this, because it allows the Libyan PR efforts to proceed on the basis that because this appeal never was completed the full truth was never known.

Utter nonsense of course, but a line the Lockerbie groupies will swallow.

There has never been a more thorough investigation of the facts of a criminal case by the Crown, by the defence, by the Review Commission and by the High Court than in Lockerbie.

Some bereaved relatives are already renewing their call for a public inquiry.

The Lockerbie Trial judges
The Lockerbie Trial was held under Scottish Law in The Netherlands

This is an outrageous, selfish and irresponsible approach to take.

Millions having been already spent on this case they want even more of the finite Scottish justice budget devoted to this one case.

Sadly today in Scotland women are raped; children abused; people murdered while others receive horrific injuries at the hands of criminals.

Are their cases and their relatives' heartache so much less important that that of the poor folk who lost loved ones when Pan Am flight 103 crashed on Lockerbie? I don't think so.

I don't value any one human life as better than another in this context.

Further huge spending on Lockerbie would simply mean there is almost no funding left for all other victims of crime in Scotland. It cannot be justified.

It is an essential element of any proper justice system that at some point the process stops.

We may be about to reach that point in the Lockerbie case. If so, let's do what those killed in that terrible crash would surely tell us to do if they were able to speak - "just move on".

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