[This is the headline over a report in today’s edition of The Times. It reads as follows:]
Alex Salmond has provoked criticism for claiming that the only man jailed for the Lockerbie bombing was wrongly convicted.
The former first minister said he believed that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi was guilty of playing a part in the terrorist attack that killed 270 people in December 1988, but that the court was wrong to convict him.
The declaration by the man who led the Scottish government at the time that Megrahi was released in 2009, on compassionate grounds, provoked surprise and condemnation.
Dick Marquise, head of the US Lockerbie task force between 1988 and 1992, told The Times that Megrahi had been “rightly convicted”.
Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the crash and who has campaigned for Megrahi’s conviction to be re-examined, asked why Mr Salmond had not spoken up earlier, when his views might have had an impact.
Mr Salmond made his comments on his television programme, The Alex Salmond Show, for RT, formerly Russia Today. [RB: The programme can be viewed here.] Mr Salmond said: “Here is my view: is it possible for someone to be guilty, yet wrongly convicted? Yes it is.”
He said that the forensic science evidence showed Libyan involvement and that Megrahi was working for Libyan intelligence at the time. He added: “His conviction was not just based on the strength of that evidence but on identification evidence which is . . . open to question.”
The former SNP leader said he was aware of issues with the identification back in 2009, the year Megrahi was released by Kenny MacAskill, who was justice secretary at the time, because he was gravely ill. He died three years later in Libya. Mr MacAskill has said that while Megrahi was probably involved, others may have played key roles.
Dr Swire said: “Just like Kenny MacAskill, it is a shame Alex Salmond waited until after he left office before revealing these doubts.”
Mr Marquise said: “Based on the preponderance of all the evidence, Megrahi was rightly convicted. For two political types who never spent one minute talking to or observing the demeanour of a witness during the trial, to make comment such as ‘his conviction was not just based on the strength of the evidence but on identification evidence’ is just stupid.
“The inference can be made from these comments that identification evidence is worthless and it is not.”
A Scottish government spokesman said: “Megrahi was convicted in a court of law – his conviction was upheld on appeal — and that is the only appropriate place for his guilt or innocence to be determined.”
Alex Salmond’s intervention in the Lockerbie saga is puzzling on several counts (Magnus Linklater writes).
First, the timing: he was aware of the grounds for a possible miscarriage of justice, explored by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, five years ago. Yet he has not hitherto voiced doubts about the safety of Megrahi’s conviction. By concluding that he was “guilty” of being a participant in the bomb plot, but wrongly convicted, he must have changed his mind, but offers no real explanation as to why. He must know that the identification issue was only a part of the prosecution case, and he must know that in the past two years the only new evidence to have emerged has gone towards confirming the guilty verdict.
It would be better if Mr Salmond produced the new evidence on which he bases his conclusion, rather than further adding to a thicket of conspiracy theories.