Son of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi loses THIRD appeal against his father’s mass murder conviction over deaths of 270 people killed when Pan Am jet exploded over Scotland
- It was claimed Abdelbaset al-Megrahi may have suffered miscarriage of justice
- He was jailed for life in 2001 for the 1988 bombing of London to New York flight
- Judges today rejected grounds of appeal, meaning the conviction stands
- Family lawyers insist they will appeal the verdict at the UK Supreme Court
The son of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has lost an appeal against his late father’s conviction.
The bombing of Pan Am flight 103, travelling from London to New York on December 21 1988, killed 270 people in Britain’s largest terrorist atrocity.
Former Libyan intelligence officer Megrahi was found guilty in 2001 of mass murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 27 years – the only person convicted of the attack.
A third appeal against his conviction was heard in November at the High Court in Edinburgh, before a panel of five judges sitting as the Court of Appeal.
Judges have now rejected both grounds of appeal, meaning his conviction stands.
Former Libyian intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is the only person to have been convicted of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing which claimed 270 lives
Lawyer Aamer Anwar said the family have instructed him to lodge an appeal against the ruling at the UK Supreme Court
The Megrahi family statement in full
‘On Friday 15th January at 9.30am, the family of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi were advised of the opinion of the Scottish Appeal Court in the miscarriage of justice appeal for the Lockerbie bombing, this was six long years after they began the fight for an appeal, eight years after al-Megrahi died of cancer and 32 years after the bombing which saw the murder of 270 innocent people.
‘The Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland has upheld the verdict of the trial court and rejected both grounds of appeal and therefore the appeal against conviction is refused.
‘Ali Al-Megrahi, the son of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, said his family were left heart-broken by the decision of the Scottish courts, he maintained his father’s innocence and is determined to fulfil the promise he made to clear his name and that of Libya.
‘As of this morning, the Megrahi family have instructed our legal team to appeal to the UK Supreme Court, we will lodge an application within 14 days.
‘The family demand the release of secret evidence held by the UK Government, which they believe incriminates others such as Iran and the Syrian-Palestinian group, the Foreign Secretary had refused to do so, this must happen for the truth to emerge.
‘Significant material has been received by the legal team over the last several months, but especially since the announcement by Donald Trump’s former attorney general William Barr on the 21st December 2020, where he stated that the USA wished to extradite a former Libyan intelligence officer, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud for the Lockerbie bombing, 32 years later.
‘Masud’s confession to being involved in the conspiracy with al-Megrahi to blow up Pan Am Flight 103 was supposedly ‘extracted’ by a ‘Libyan law enforcement agent’ in 2012, whilst in custody in a Libyan prison. No new information appeared to be presented by attorney general Barr.
‘What was significant in the US criminal complaint against Masud was his claim that he bought the clothes to put into the Samsonite suitcase that is claimed went on to blow up Pan Am Flight 103.
‘Of course, the problem for the US Department of Justice is that the case against Megrahi is still based on the eyewitness testimony of Toni Gauci stating that Megrahi bought the clothes. How can both men be held responsible?
‘The al-Megrahi family believe that if the conviction against their father were to be overturned then the US case against Masud would be non-existent.
‘Undoubtedly there will now be huge pressure on Libya and the GNA, the Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, to extradite Abu Agila Masud to the US, but of course the American authorities will be aware that if the Megrahis were to be successful at the Supreme Court, the ‘so-called’ case against Abu Masud would crumble.
‘All the Megrahi family want for Scotland is peace and justice, but as Ali stated today their journey is not over, Libya has suffered enough, as has the family for the crime of Lockerbie, they remain determined to fight for justice.
‘They are grateful to their legal team for their unwavering commitment and also to the British families for their compassion and search for justice.
‘Ali said God willing, he will visit his father’s grave one day to tell him that justice was done and that he fulfilled his promise to clear his name and that of Libya.
‘In this appeal, the legal arguments related to two distinct challenges to the conviction. The first was that it was contended that no reasonable jury properly directed could have convicted Mr Megrahi on the evidence led, focusing in particular on the evidence of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci stating that Megrahi bought clothes from him that were ultimately planted into a suitcase containing the bomb planted on the plane.
‘The second ground was that the failure to disclose information to the defence led to the trial being unfair and thus a miscarriage of justice, these related to the reliability of Mr Gauci’s identification of Megrahi as the person who bought the clothes, as well as the content of CIA cables.
‘In relation to the second ground of appeal, the failure to disclose information to the defence, the decision of the Appeal Court is the determination of a ‘compatibility issue’ – an issue arising from a question relating to the breach of human rights, in this case Article 6 – the right to a fair trial.
‘Where the Appeal Court in Scotland determines a compatibility issue, it is competent to seek leave to appeal from the Appeal Court of the determination of that issue to the UK Supreme Court in London.
‘If leave to appeal by the Scottish courts is refused, it is competent to seek leave to appeal directly to the Supreme Court in London.’
The family of Megrahi said they are ‘heartbroken’ at the decision, and plan to appeal against it at the UK Supreme Court.
Megrahi was released from prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds while terminally ill with cancer, and died in Libya in 2012.
The latest appeal against his conviction was lodged after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred the case to the High Court in March 2020, ruling a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
Judges then granted his son, Ali al-Megrahi, permission to proceed with the appeal in relation to the argument ‘no reasonable jury’ could have returned the verdict the court did, and on the grounds of non-disclosure of documents by the Crown.
In a statement released through their lawyer Aamer Anwar after the ruling was published on Friday, the family said: ‘Ali Al-Megrahi, the son of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, said his family were left heartbroken by the decision of the Scottish courts, he maintained his father’s innocence and is determined to fulfil the promise he made to clear his name and that of Libya.
‘All the Megrahi family want for Scotland is peace and justice, but as Ali stated today their journey is not over, Libya has suffered enough, as has the family for the crime of Lockerbie, they remain determined to fight for justice.’
Megrahi’s original trial was held at a special Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.
During the appeal hearing in November, advocate depute Ronald Clancy QC, for the Crown, said trial court judges were fully entitled to infer Megrahi was involved in the Lockerbie bombing.
He said Megrahi’s use of a false passport to travel to Malta – from where the plane carrying the bomb left just before the atrocity – taken along with other evidence, combined to form a pattern that suggested his involvement.
Claire Mitchell QC, representing the Megrahi family, said evidence in relation to identification was of ‘poor quality’ and the dock identification, when shopkeeper Tony Gauci said Megrahi resembled the man who bought the clothing later found in a suitcase containing the bomb, was ‘virtually of no value’.
Mr Clancy said that ignores the ‘important point’ that the dock identification was ‘simply the last of a series of consistent resemblance identifications going back to February 1991’.
Megrahi’s first appeal against his conviction was refused by the High Court in 2002 and was referred back five years later after an SCCRC review.
He abandoned this second appeal in 2009, shortly before his release from prison on compassionate grounds.
Meanwhile, the US Justice Department charged a ‘third conspirator’ in connection with the bombing on the 32nd anniversary of the atrocity last month.
The US alleges Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi was the bombmaker and has charged him with terrorism-related crimes.
A second suspect, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, stood trial with Megrahi but was acquitted.
Scotland’s Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said the investigation into the atrocity continues and there remain suspects under active investigation.
He said: ‘The bombing of Pan Am 103 is, to this day, the deadliest terrorist attack on UK soil and the largest homicide case Scotland’s prosecutors have ever encountered in terms of scale and of complexity.
‘The evidence gathered by Scottish, US and international law enforcement agencies has again been tested in the Appeal Court, and the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi stands.’
The written judgment rejecting the appeal, delivered by Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice General, states ‘the contention that the trial court reached a verdict that no reasonable court could have reached is rejected’.
‘On the evidence at trial, a reasonable jury, properly directed, would have been entitled to return a guilty verdict,’ it continues.
‘The contention that the Crown failed to disclose material which would have created a real prospect of a different verdict is rejected.’
The judgment concludes: ‘Both grounds of appeal having been rejected, the appeal against conviction is refused.’
Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: ‘The bombing of Pan Am 103 and the terrible loss of 270 lives has had a profound impact in Lockerbie, Scotland, and internationally.
‘On behalf of the Police Service of Scotland, I pay tribute to the families of the victims who have demonstrated courage and dignity for over 30 years and my thoughts remain with them today.
‘Since 1988 policing in Scotland has been committed to carrying out the largest terrorist and murder investigation ever undertaken in this country.
‘Police Scotland will continue to work closely on this investigation with the Crown Office, our American law enforcement colleagues and other international partners.’
The damaged aircraft cockpit of Pan Am 103 that exploded killing 270 people is pictured after the bombing
Three decades of doubt: 30 years later there are still unanswered questions over Lockerbie
December 21, 1988
Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to Detroit, via London and New York, blows up over Lockerbie in Scotland. A total of 270 people died
Britain and the US accuse Libyans Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khailifa Fhimah of the bombing. However, Libyan authorities deny involvement
MPs demand an inquiry after US intelligence suggests Iran was behind the bombing, instead of Libya
Megrahi was convicted of mass murder while Fhimah is found not guilty
The UN lifts sanctions on Libya. Blame was accepted in Tripoli and the government compensates families of the victims
Megrahi is freed after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He did not die until 2012
A review of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction for the bombing is to be carried out by the Scottish Criminal Cases Commission
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission says there was no criminality in the Megrahi case
The judgment continues: ‘The critical question for the trial court was not whether Mr Megrahi had been identified beyond reasonable doubt as the purchaser of the clothes. It was whether it had been proved beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Megrahi had participated in the deliberate delivery of the bomb onto the Frankfurt flight from Luqa, with the bomb’s eventual destination being on flight PA 103 from Heathrow.
‘Mr Gauci’s identification of Mr Megrahi as resembling the purchaser was but one of several elements in that proof. In analysing the evidence, it is not appropriate to isolate that of Mr Gauci’s identification from these other 32 elements. The evidence has to be looked at overall.’
Scotland’s Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: ‘My thoughts continue to be with all those who lost loved ones on that terrible evening more than 30 years ago. The strength and compassion they have shown has created a legacy of friendship and ensured that the memory of those who died lives on.
‘The Scottish Government has always been clear that as Mr al-Megrahi was convicted in a court of law, that is the only appropriate forum for determining his guilt or innocence.
‘The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred Mr al-Megrahi’s conviction back to the Appeal Court, through established procedures, because it believed that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
‘Having heard the appeal on behalf of the late Mr al-Megrahi, the Appeal Court has determined that there was no miscarriage of justice and his conviction for his part in the Lockerbie bombing stands.
‘The Scottish Government does not comment on nor intervene in any criminal case. The investigation into the Lockerbie bombing remains ongoing.’
The legal team last year demanded access to secret Government papers – covered by a public interest immunity certificate – claiming it was ‘in the interest of justice’ that the defence got to see the two documents.
An appeal against Megrahi’s conviction was lodged after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred the case to the High Court in March, ruling a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
At a previous virtual hearing in August before the Lord President Lord Carloway, Lord Justice Clerk-Lady Dorian and Lord Menzies, Claire Mitchell QC, representing the Megrahi family, said the defence should have access to the protected documents.
She told the court: ‘Given the passage of time these documents should fall now to be disclosed.
‘As the court will understand, the public interest immunity claimed in 2008 when the proceedings were ongoing in 2008, I would respectfully submit that should not be held to apply in 2020, the reason for that primarily is the passage of time must have an effect, particularly when one is talking about the ever changing world of international relations.
‘The information contained within the undisclosed documents must relate to events or actions that occurred prior to the 21st December 1988, that is the documents must relate to events or actions that occurred at least 32 years ago and it is respectfully submitted that given such a lapse it is also in the interest of justice that disclosure is made in respect of these matters.’
In its decision published in March, the SCCRC ruled a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in his case on two of the six grounds it considered in the review – unreasonable verdict and non-disclosure, saying the Crown ought to have disclosed certain information to the defence.
Ms Mitchell also said there had been a ‘systemic failure of disclosure’ over a range of other documents.
She told the court: ‘Looked at in the round, the question is whether or not there was a miscarriage of justice because that trial wasn’t fair because the failure to disclose was just systemic.’
Advocate Depute Ronald Clancy QC said the Crown had gone out of its way to be ‘transparent’ and provide material, and that part of the problem with the systemic failure argument is that no attempt was made to define what the proper system should have been at the time.
Ian Duguid QC, representing the Advocate General, said the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs continues to assert public interest immunity over the two protected documents.
He said the Secretary of State has given consideration to the argument over the passage of time and has lodged an updated public interest immunity certificate with the clerk of court, dated August 2020.
Mr Duguid said the validity of the certificate would need to be considered at a court hearing.
Lord Carloway said the judges would issue a written decision on Friday’s proceedings in due course, while the full appeal court hearing is provisionally scheduled to start on November 23 before five judges.
Megrahi’s first appeal against his conviction was refused by the High Court in 2002 and referred back five years later following an SCCRC review.
He abandoned this appeal in 2009, shortly before his release from prison on compassionate grounds. He died in 2012.
Former Libyian intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is the only person to have been convicted of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing which claimed 270 lives.
Was jailed in 2001 for his role in the attack which brought down Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988, in what became the worst terrorist attack on British soil.
The Boeing 747 jet took off from London Heathrow airport around 30 minutes before it exploded as it cruised at 31,000 feet above the Scottish borders.
Al-Megrahi was convicted on the basis of evidence from Maltese shop owner Tony Gauci, who died in 2016 aged 75.
Mr Gauci ran a clothes shop in Swieqi, Malta, at the time of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and claimed that Megrahi bought a piece of clothing found among the debris of the aircraft.
His evidence helped to secure the 2001 conviction of the former Libyan intelligence officer for the atrocity in which 270 people died, including 11 people on the ground. But some doubts were subsequently raised about Mr Gauci’s reliability.
Megrahi was the only person to have been convicted of the bombing over the south of Scotland on December 21 1988.
He was jailed for life but an investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) led to a finding in 2007 of six grounds where it is believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, paving the way for a second appeal.
The Libyan dropped that appeal in 2009 before being released from jail on compassionate grounds due to his terminal prostate cancer. He died protesting his innocence in Libya in 2012.
The trial judgment detailed how the three judges were satisfied Megrahi had walked into Mr Gauci’s shop and bought items of clothing which ended up packed around the bomb that exploded in a suitcase on board the flight.
Al-Megrahi, pictured here following his release from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009 claimed he was innocent of the crime
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