Libyan to get high court appeal on Lockerbie

Scotland’s high court must hear a new appeal by Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Al Megrahi against his conviction for the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing, an independent review body said on Thursday.The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) said it was referring Megrahi’s case to the High Court, a step it takes in cases where it believes there may have been a miscarriage of justice.

“The comission has identified six grounds where it believes that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred and that it is in the interests of justice to refer the matter to the court of appeal,” the review board said in a statement.

Megrahi was found guilty in 2001 of the bombing of a Pan Am flight over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, which killed 270 people. He is serving a life sentence in a prison near Glasgow.

He took his case to the review commission in September 2003 after his original appeal in 2002 was turned down. The SCCRC announced Thursday’s decision in a press release.

Recent history suggests Megrahi’s appeal will have a good chance of success —25 out of 39 cases, or 64 per cent of those settled after being referred by the commission to the High Court, have ended with appeals being granted.

Some victims’ relatives and independent observers have long harboured doubts about Megrahi’s conviction. These focus on the reliability of prosecution witnesses and forensic evidence.

The commission’s doubts relate mainly to evidence that Megrahi bought clothes in a shop in Malta on December 7, 1988, some of which were placed inside a suitcase containing the bomb.

It said there was “no reasonable basis” to conclude the purchase took place on December 7.

Additional evidence suggested that the items were brought before December 6 at a time when there was no evidence Megrahi was in Malta.

The commission said the Maltese shopkeeper who picked out Megrahi at an identification parade as being the purchaser had four days earlier been shown a photograph of him in a magazine article linking him to the bombing.

This undermined the reliability of his identification.

Libya, seeking international rehabilitation after Washington had branded it for years a rogue state, paid more than $2 billion in compensation to victims’ relatives since telling the United Nations in 2003 it “accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials”.

Lawyers and analysts say that carefully worded formula could enable Libya to deny any role if Megrahi’s conviction were eventually quashed. Some believe it may even demand compensation from the United States and Britain.

At the original trial, three Scottish judges accepted evidence that the bomb was placed aboard a plane in Malta and transferred to a Pan Am “feeder” flight at Frankfurt before ending up on Flight 103 from London’s Heathrow to New York on December 21, 1988.

They acknowledged, however, that there were “a number of uncertainties and qualifications” regarding the evidence.

Ever since the bombing, alternative theories have focused on the possible involvement of an Arab militant group, the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine —  General Command, acting at the behest of Iran.

Five months before Lockerbie, the US navy mistakenly shot down an Iranian Airbus in the Gulf, killing 290 people.

“Iran had the most potent motive of anybody for destroying an American airliner,” said Jim Swire, a Briton whose daughter Flora was killed on Flight 103 and who speaks on behalf of victims’ relatives.

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