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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 09:19 GMT
World watches Lockerbie appeal
Reeval Alderson police graphic
BBC Scotland home affairs correspondent Reevel Alderson looks at the appeal case and the decision to allow proceedings to be shown live on the internet.

On a cold, frosty night, a small convoy drove at speed out of a former Dutch air base.

Security was at its highest. Police, armed with sub machine guns were half-hidden in the trees alongside the path.

In the people carrier in the middle of the convoy was al-Amin Khalifa Fhima, freed after being acquitted of charges arising from the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

In the prison he had just left, his Libyan co-accused, Abdelbasset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was beginning a life sentence as a convicted prisoner.

Megrahi
Megrahi: Contesting verdict
He had just been found guilty of all the charges he faced, including the murder of 259 people onboard Pan-Am Flight 103 and 11 in the Dumfriesshire town of Lockerbie.

On Wednesday 23 January, almost exactly a year later, Megrahi began his appeal against the conviction, which was returned on the unanimous verdict of the three Scottish judges who had heard the case.

If he is successful, he too will return to Libya to a hero's welcome; if he fails, he will leave Kamp van Zeist in Utrecht province to serve the rest of his life sentence in a Scottish jail.

New evidence

Before the appeal began, it was not known on what grounds he is appealing. Under Scots legal procedure the appellant need not reveal this in advance of the case.

First, the possibility of new evidence.

In March 2001, six weeks after the end of the trial, a former Pan Am employee at Heathrow Airport went to the police in Middlesex with a story of a break-in at the airline's secure baggage holding area on the night of 20 December 1988 - the night before the bombing.

Fhimah with Colonel Gaddaffi after returning to Tripoli
Local hero: Fhimah after returning to Tripoli
He alleges he told police about this at the time, but it was never properly investigated.

If this were to be allowed as new evidence that was not available to the original trial, its significance would be that Megrahi's lawyers could cast doubt on the prosecution claim that the suitcase containing the bomb was put onto the New York flight from Malta Airport where both Megrahi and Fhima had worked.

Megrahi's team argued strongly that was not what happened. They tried to show the bomb could have been introduced at either Frankfurt Airport or Heathrow.

They may well seek to suggest the newly revealed break-in at the London airport introduces sufficient doubt about the origin of the bomb that the conviction is unsafe.

Written verdict

First, they must convince the panel of five judges that the evidence is worth considering.

The other areas from which an appeal may arise are the comments of the judges themselves in their written verdict.

They said: "We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications.

Trial judges
Trial judges: "Mass of evidence"
"We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seem to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified."

Legal experts at the time remarked this was the door being left open for an appeal and it seems certain that Bill Taylor, Megrahi's QC, will argue there was in fact reasonable doubt in the case against the Libyan and that he should therefore not have been convicted.

The appeal will last up to six weeks. During that time Mr Taylor will present legal arguments aimed at convincing the five appeal judges, headed by Scotland's most senior judge, Lord Cullen, that Megrahi was wrongly accused.

Live coverage

Like most appeals, it will be a densely argued affair, of little real interest to journalists who rely on the sound bite to make their stories. They will wait for the result of the appeal.

Yet it is likely more people will follow this appeal than any other in the British courts.

Uniquely, the judges have agreed the appeal can be broadcast. It will not be shown on TV channels or on radio - but BBC News Online will stream it live.

Bill Taylor QC
Bill Taylor QC: Representing Megrahi
Viewers will see and hear the debate.

They will see the five judges in their cream and scarlet robes. And they will see Megrahi in the dock, flanked by two Scottish prison officers.

It will be an event, bringing to a close, whatever happens, an historic chapter of Scots legal procedure.

This has been the first time a Scottish criminal case has been heard outside Scotland and the first time a panel of judges heard the evidence with no jury present.

The trial has been uniquely expensive. Megrahi and Fhima were brought to Kamp van Zeist in April 1999.

Since then it has cost an estimated £2.5m each month to run the prison and court complex, which were built at a cost of about £12m.

But justice surely has no price. And, thanks to the broadcast experiment, justice in this unique case, will be seen to be done.

Lockerbie megapuff graphic

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Appeal concludes

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