[This is the headline over an article by Magnus Linklater (whose views on Lockerbie are well-known) in today’s edition of The Times. It reads as follows:]
Scotland’s Lord Advocate has launched a powerful and stinging attack against “conspiracy theorists” who claim that the Lockerbie bomber was wrongly convicted.
In the most detailed rebuttal yet made to the case mounted by campaigners who argue that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi was innocent and that Libya was not involved in the terrorist bomb plot that brought Pan Am 103 down over Lockerbie 24 years ago today, Frank Mulholland, QC, calls the allegations “without foundation”.
He goes on to accuse those making them of uttering “defamatory” comments against High Court judges who are unable to respond. [RB: Justice for Megrahi has made no defamatory comments against any High Court judge. It is not defamatory of the Zeist judges to say that they were wrong in finding Megrahi guilty. Lawyers all the time say that judges got things wrong (and almost every time an appeal is allowed, other judges say so too). And in the Lockerbie case even the SCCRC concluded that, on an absolutely crucial point, no reasonable court could have reached the conclusion that the Zeist judges reached. JFM in its recent allegations of criminality was very careful not to say that then Lord Advocate (and now High Court judge) Colin Boyd had attempted to pervert the course of justice.]
Mr Mulholland, who has relaunched an investigation into what he calls an act of “state-sponsored terrorism” by the former Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, says that he has been through all the evidence and is convinced that al-Megrahi’s conviction was “safe”.
An outside counsel invited by the Lord Advocate to conduct an independent review of the evidence has also concluded that the conviction was sound. [RB: It would be interesting to know the identity of this outside counsel. Here, by contrast, is a short list of eminent lawyers who have concluded that the conviction was not sound: Benedict Birnberg, Gareth Peirce, Michael Mansfield QC, David Wolchover, Len Murray, Ian Hamilton QC, Jock Thomson QC, John Scott QC. There are many more.]
“I am hugely frustrated that there is an unfounded attack on the integrity of the judges involved in the process,” Mr Mulholland said. “I saw a report on the BBC that [claimed] a high court judge — Colin Boyd, Lord Advocate at the time — perverted the course of justice. And it frustrates me that they’re not in a position to answer these allegations, these can be made without being challenged and without any real foundation.” [RB: At least Mr Mulholland does not here make the error of accusing JFM of responsibility for the BBC’s egregious misinterpretation of the English language.]
He compared the allegations to the uncontrolled media attempts to blacken the name of Lord MacAlpine, the former Conservative Party treasurer, over child abuse.
“I deplore any of that,” he said. “The appropriate place for voicing any concerns about the evidence is before a court of law, not in the court of public opinion, or the media. I haven’t spoken to the people who are affected by this, but I would imagine that they are frustrated that their reputations can be so easily attacked, and they can’t do anything about it.”
Mr Mulholland, who has been to Libya to make contact with the new regime, is hopeful that permission will be given soon to send Scottish police officials to Tripoli to gather evidence that would not only buttress the case against al-Megrahi, but reopen the wider plot to down the US airliner.
He believes that a criminal investigation rather than a public inquiry is the best way to resolve the 1988 Lockerbie case.
“I take the view that the calls for a public inquiry are essentially to set up a vehicle which would be a surrogate criminal court, he said. “I believe that the guilt or innocence of al-Megrahi is entirely a matter for the courts.”
He issued a challenge to the al-Megrahi apologists: “If you don’t like the set-up of the justice system, then what you do is you change it, through the democratic vehicle of parliament. You change the law.”
Mr Mulholland says he has studied all the claims advanced in the book Megrahi: You are my Jury by the writer John Ashton, and finds no evidence to support them. He urged those arguing that al-Megrahi was innocent to put any additional evidence to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.
“Mr Megrahi stood trial before a Scottish court and was convicted by three judges unanimously, then an appeal, where five judges unanimously upheld the conviction, hearing additional evidence about the Heathrow break-in [the claim that the bomb went aboard there],” he said. “Having heard all the arguments presented to them, they upheld the conviction. Part of our justice system is the [commission] for which I have the highest regard. Anyone who is concerned about a conviction can make an application to the commission.”
He added: “The commission had access to all the Crown’s papers, and they took the view that in relation to a very limited number of grounds, the case should be referred back to the appeal court, which they did. The defence were entitled to expand the appeal beyond the grounds of referral, and they included a number of grounds which had been rejected by the commission, and the court was in the process of hearing that appeal when al-Megrahi abandoned his appeal.
“Now, whatever you think, and everyone is entitled to their view as to whether he is guilty or not, the courts took the view that following a trial and an appeal and a subsequent appeal, which was abandoned, al-Megrahi’s conviction still stands and that is the application of the rule of law.”
Mr Mulholland believes the evidence shows that the previous Libyan regime under Colonel Gaddafi was involved in “an act of state-sponsored terrorism”.
He is working with the FBI, the US Attorney-General and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to pursue investigations. “We are applying the rule of law,” he said. “If you follow the evidence, it leads to Libya.”