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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 10:50 GMT
The end of a painful process
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James Shaw
By James Shaw
BBC Radio 5 Live

It took just a few seconds for the presiding judge, Lord Cullen, to announce the final decision of a legal process which began more than 13-years ago.

A woman was led from the court in tears, but Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi himself gave no indication of what was passing through his mind at the prospect of the long prison sentence stretching ahead of him.

The Scottish High Court in the Netherlands has now served its purpose. The Lockerbie criminal process is now over.

Camp Zeist was always a bleak and unwelcoming place, battered by North Sea wind and rain in the autumn, frozen solid in the winter.

During the year 2000, the courthouse here saw the careful dissection of a mass murder which killed 270 people.

It was a painful process.

Witnesses relived the carnage and destruction of 21 December, 1988, when a huge airliner fell from the sky onto the previously little-known Scottish town of Lockerbie.

Bill Taylor, QC, representing al-Megrahi
Bill Taylor, QC, represented al-Megrahi

Experts described how the bomb destroyed the plane. Airport staff, police, secret agents and a convicted terrorist all brought small pieces of a jigsaw which finally led to the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

From today Camp Zeist will be even more forlorn.

Its cell block, a converted bomb shelter, will be empty.

The man who has lived there for three years is looking forward to spending most of the rest of his life in a dreary succession of Scottish prisons.

The site will be officially handed back to the Dutch authorities on Friday.

Souvenir hunters

The police, prison officers and court staff who have been here since 1999 will begin a final clear-out at the start of next week.

What will be left?

Someone has already made a bid for the Royal Coat of Arms which adorns the wall behind the judges. Court officials will not take kindly to that.

Perhaps souvenir hunters will take away the signs the police put up to identify the roads around the site, such as Strathclyde Avenue and Grampian Way - one for each of the eight Scottish forces who have served here.

Al-Megrahi's personal effects would no doubt be of interest to some.

Armed police
Scottish police have been guarding the court

But there will be no guided tours of his living quarters after he has vacated them.

It would not be allowed in Scotland, so why should it happen here?

Can there be a more lasting legacy? The chances of the Scottish legal system needing to conduct a trial abroad again are small.

The live television and internet coverage of proceedings in a UK court did break new ground, although it will probably not become common practice.

The aim of the Lockerbie process was to find out who carried out the biggest mass murder in British history and to punish the guilty.

It has taken more than 13 years, cost 75m and left many unanswered questions.

But in that mammoth task, history might just conclude that it was largely successful.

Lockerbie megapuff graphic


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