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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 21:05 GMT
Emotions high at sombre Camp Zeist
Al-Megrahi (right) listens to defence lawyer William Taylor
Proceedings were halted by a faulty computer
By the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason, at Camp Zeist

In this temporary piece of Scotland, the winter gloom and the rain-filled sky were not calculated to raise the spirits of either party as the appeal got under way.

But outside the court built specially to hear the Lockerbie case, the family and supporters of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi were expressing optimism.

Khaled Megrahi
Al-Megrahi's son protested his father's innocence
Al-Megrahi's son, Khaled, said he was confident his father was innocent.

Arab lawyers watching the case criticised the conduct of the original trial at which al-Megrahi was convicted a year ago of mass murder, but said they had faith that the appeal court would see justice done.

Relatives of some of the Americans killed when Pan-Am Flight 103 blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie might share that last sentiment.

But they were convinced of al-Megrahi's guilt; the problem for them was that justice did not extend far enough, since, in their eyes the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, was guilty too.

Precautions

Security was, if anything, even more pervasive than for the trial, perhaps influenced by the suicide hijackings of 11 September.

Police guard a piece of debris
270 people died when Flight 103 crashed onto Lockerbie

They were, of course, much greater in scale than the Lockerbie attack, and their aftermath has been totally different.

The scenes with the Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are a far cry from the quiet atmosphere inside the Lockerbie court room.

For much of the first day's proceedings, al-Megrahi's advocate, Bill Taylor, in his wig and starched collar, ploughed his way through innumerable legal precedents.

He cited cases from the Scottish courts and the European Court of Human Rights - the thrust of his argument being that the appeal court had wide powers in judging whether there had been a miscarriage of justice.

Al-Megrahi sat impassively listening to the simultaneous Arabic translation.

He was dressed in a white robe and a red hat, his chin resting on his hand.

On the bench, the five Scottish judges in their own red and white robes listened carefully, now and then hauling a new legal tome out of the trolleys beside them.

Their interventions and questions to Mr Taylor have so far been scant.

There is no sign that the unprecedented live coverage on radio, television and the internet has led to the lawyers becoming less sober or acting up to the cameras.

London link

The defence wants to call new witnesses to bolster their argument that the Lockerbie bomb could have been put on board the Pan-Am airliner in London rather than Malta.

Lamen Khalifa Fhimah
Al-Megrahi's co-defendant Lamen Khalifa Fhimah was acquitted

The prosecution says the new evidence is not substantial enough to be worth admitting.

But even if the judges allow new witnesses, they will not be seen or heard by the public.

The court's permission for broadcasting covered only the legal argument.

The atmosphere of meticulous efficiency was spoilt soon after lunch when a computer system crashed.

The computer is used to produce a rapid word-for-word transcript of the proceedings; without it, the session was brought to a halt for the day.

Fate in the balance

In a matter of weeks, the little piece of Scottish legal territory will cease to exist.

For the last year, the fortified prison built near the court has held only one prisoner.

The other Libyan accused was acquitted.

Now, either al-Megrahi will have his conviction overturned and he will be free to return home; or the verdict will be upheld and he will be transferred to begin his life sentence in Barlinnie prison in Glasgow.

The recommendation is that he serve at least 20 years.

Lockerbie megapuff graphic

AUDIO VIDEO

Appeal concludes

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