Lockerbie bombing: victim's father to sue
The leading campaigner for justice over the Lockerbie tragedy, Dr Jim Swire, is planning a ground-beaking legal action more than 20 years after the terrorist attack that claimed 270 lives.
Andrew Alderson, Chief Reporter
15 Aug 2009
Dr Swire, whose daughter Flora, 24, died in the attack, is preparing to sue the Scottish prosecution service because he is convinced it deliberately blocked attempts to bring his daughter's "real" killers to court.
He is planning the action under human rights legislation just three days after it was disclosed that the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing is likely to be released later this month.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, 57, who has terminal prostate cancer and is expected to be freed on compassionate grounds, has always protested his innocence.
Dr Swire, 73, a spokesman for the relatives of the victims, is convinced that Megrahi was wrongly convicted.
His supporters claim that international politics prevented the truth from being uncovered during the investigation into the mid-air explosion which caused the deaths of 259 people on board Pan Am Flight 103 and a further 11 on the ground.
Dr Swire has told of his determination to bring his daughter's killers to justice in a letter sent to Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, in which he is critical of the Crown Office, which is responsible for criminal prosecutions in Scotland.
In the letter, he highlights the fact that evidence from a Heathrow security guard was suppressed for more than 12 years and did not figure at Megrahi's trial in 2000 and 2001.
The guard revealed that Pan Am's baggage area at Heathrow was broken into 17 hours before Flight 103 took off from the airport for New York.
Dr Swire believes that this was probably when the bomb was planted, not much earlier on a flight from Malta.
In his letter, sent on Aug 10, Dr Swire says that he is now "reluctantly" looking at two projects:
- "To take action against the Crown Office under Human Rights legislation, since I now believe that the Crown Office has deliberately obstructed my rights to know who killed my daughter and why she was not protected, and continues to do so," and
- "To seek annulment of the findings of the Lockerbie Fatal Accident Inquiry [of 1990] on grounds of withholding of evidence about Heathrow, and then to seek a new FAI or legitimate equivalent in its place."
Critics of Megrahi's conviction have long believed that the Libyan was the victim of a US-led conspiracy to "frame" the country and its ruler, Col Muammar Gaddafi, for the bombing on Dec 21, 1988, when the plane exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie less than 40 minutes after take-off.
Many, including Dr Swire, now believe that the most likely to group to have carried out the bombing was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC).
At the time, the group was headed by Ahmed Jibril, a former Syrian Army captain, who was based in Damascus and funded by Iran.
Dr Swire suspects Iran was seeking revenge for the shooting-down of Iran Air Flight 655, with the loss of 290 lives, by the USS Vincennes in July 1988 – just five months before Lockerbie. Iran did not accept the US's claim that the incident was a mistake.
Dr Swire believes the families of the victims have been "pawns in a political scenario that had nothing to do with truth".
He added: "The Heathrow break-in would have been the perfect scenario for the Syrian-backed PFLP-GC to put one of its bombs on the aircraft."
The grieving father also suspects that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, now the anti-Western president of Iran but then reportedly an ambitious figure in Iran's Republican Guard, may have been involved in Lockerbie.
Another suspect is Abu Talb, a Palestinian later arrested and jailed in Sweden for terrorist bombings: he had circled the date of December 21 1988 in a calendar found at his flat.
Other relatives, particularly those in the US seeking "closure" over the tragedy, still think the right man was convicted and want Megrahi to die in jail.
The Libyan was convicted by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands. Another suspect was acquitted.
Critics say the evidence against Megrahi was, at best, circumstantial, and, at worst, flimsy. His lawyers have dismissed the evidence of Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper and the key prosecution witness.
He said he had sold clothes to Megrahi which had supposedly been in the suitcase that contained the bomb.
But it later emerged that Mr Gauci had seen a photograph of the suspect in a magazine linking him to the bombing. Other witnesses, it is alleged, were paid or offered money to give damaging evidence against the Libyan.
Professor Robert Black QC, the architect of the original trial and a leading academic lawyer, also believes that Megrahi was convicted on "very, very weak circumstantial" evidence.
Pierre Salinger, the former ABC News correspondent and a press spokesman for President Kennedy, believed, until his death in 2004, that Iran and Syria carried out the atrocity. He alleged a cover-up by the United States and Britain.
In 2003, Ahmed Own, Libya's ambassador to the United Nations, submitted a letter to the Security Council in which Libya accepted "responsibility for the actions of its officials" regarding the bombing.
Yet the following year, Sukri Ghanem, the Libyan Prime Minister, insisted the compensation payment was the "price of peace" with the West and was simply designed to remove sanctions
Lawyers for Megrahi had launched a second appeal over his conviction – the first was unsuccessful – but it was revealed on Friday that the convicted killer has now applied to abandon this action.
His supporters are optimistic he will be freed within days because of his serious illness. The Crown Office insists the conviction is safe and that no decision on his release has yet been taken by the Scottish Justice Secretary.
Paul McBride, a QC who advises the Tory party on law and order, said the Scottish Justice Secretary should resign over his handling of the case.
Mr McBride insisted that Mr MacAskill should have recalled Parliament to discuss the matter. The QC described the manner in which Megrahi’s possible release was being discussed as “beyond shameful”.