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Wednesday, June 30, 1999 Published at 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK


Lockerbie contempt action rejected

Judges rejected the Libyans' contempt of court action

A contempt of court action brought by the two Libyan men accused of the Lockerbie bombing against the Sunday Times newspaper has failed.

Lawyers argued a front-page article and editorial printed last month, which said the men were acting on the orders of Libyan Leader Colonel Gaddafi, amounted to clear contempt ahead of their trial next year.

Joshua Rozenberg: "Judges not satisfied article amounted to contempt"
But after hearing arguments last week, three appeal judges at the High Court in Edinburgh ruled the newspaper report was not in contempt.

Lawyers for the newspaper said the report did not prejudice the men's chances of a fair trial, partly because a panel of three Scottish judges and not a jury, is due to hear their case.

[ image: Judges issued a warning]
Judges issued a warning
The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Cullen, said: "On the information before us we are not satisfied that the article and editorial complained of represents a contempt of court."

Lord Cullen, who was sitting with Lords Caplan and Coulsfield, made no order prohibiting future publication which could influence the fairness of the trial which the lawyers for the two accused men had sought.

But in what has been as a warning to the media, he said contempt rulings on any future publications may depend on the content and circumstances of publication.

He said: "As matters stand the prospects of the petitioners standing trial before a jury in Scotland appear to us to be extremely remote.

"However, in view of what was said at the hearing last week it should not be assumed that circumstances couldn't change in this or any other respect."

The judges' full reasons will be given at a later date.

Converted air base

The two accused men, Abdel Baset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi and al-Amin Khalifa Simah are awaiting trial at the converted air base, Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands.

They are accused of the 1988 bombing over the Scottish town in which 270 people died.

Lawyers for the men had sought to impress on the judges that the men should not only have, but also be seen to have, a fair trial.

They were handed over for trial in a "neutral" country under Scottish law after years of protracted negotiations amid Libyan concerns that the men would not receive justice in a UK or US-based court.

[ image: Camp Zeist, where the two accused are held]
Camp Zeist, where the two accused are held
A contempt of court order banning any repetiton of the details in the Sunday Times story was withdrawn at the end of the case.

Antony Whitaker, legal manager of Times Newspapers, said: "One is very pleased that The Sunday Times has been vindicated, the editor is also very pleased.

"We are also glad as the judge has said that contempt of court will be clarified on this side of the border on questions of contempt involved in the Lockerbie case.

"The entire British media will look forward to guidance the court will be giving in about three weeks' time as to how the Lockerbie case should be treated."

He said the newspaper had taken legal advice on its position before publishing the article.

"We recognised that there was going to be no jury trial."

The Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, was in court for the hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes.

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