Mar 09

Pressure piles up for independent prosecutor in Lockerbie case:

Police Scotland to submit report in weeks after probe into ‘perverting course of justice’

Scotland’s chief law officer faces growing pressure about who will decide on any prosecution for allegedly perverting the course of justice over the Lockerbie case.

Police are expected to submit a report within weeks to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Scotland’s prosecuting authority, on allegations of interference with the original investigation that led to the jailing of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. Police Scotland is investigation the allegations under ‘Operation Sandwood’.

As allegations also cover the original prosecution and include claims of perjury at al-Megrahi’s trial, campaigners say that the Crown Office has a conflict of interests over the case. Iain McKie, one of those campaigners and a former detective superintendent, said: “The Crown Office is totally unable to give an unbiased and unprejudiced assessment of this report.”

“Once it goes into the Crown Office, it will be disappearing into a black hole.”

Detective Superintendent Stuart Johnstone, who is heading what he described as a “major” investigation, confirmed in a statement to Exaro that it is in the “final stages”. He added: “A draft report is in the process of being compiled.”

The investigation began, as Exaro revealed in 2013, amid allegations that Scotland’s police and prosecuting authorities had attempted to pervert the course of justice in the original case.

Pan Am’s Flight 103, from London Heathrow to New York, crashed onto Lockerbie after a bomb in the luggage hold exploded. All 259 passengers and crew on the Boeing 747 were killed, along with 11 people on the ground.

The Justice for Megrahi campaign is planning an event later this month – set to be held at the Dynamic Earth centre, near the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh – to press demands for an independent prosecutor from outside Scotland for the case.

The Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, who is Scotland’s chief law officer and heads the Crown Office, says that he has already appointed an independent prosecutor to consider the conclusions of the police investigation. He wrote to MSPs on the Scottish Parliament justice committee last week to say that an independent senior counsel at the Scottish bar with no role in the original Lockerbie case will undertake “prosecutorial functions”.

But campaigners are unconvinced, saying that the Crown Office had failed to answer basic questions about the appointment, even including who it is.

McKie said: “We want the Lord Advocate to decide that the police report from Operation Sandwood will be considered totally independently of himself and the Crown Office.”

“No one with a background at the Crown Office should go near this report.”

He added: “When that prosecutor makes the recommendations, will the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office accept them in their entirety, without changing anything?”

Campaigners are confident that police have carried out a thorough investigation into the original case and are hopeful of a recommendation for prosecutions.

At the start of the police investigation, campaigners complained about what they regarded as prejudicial comments by Mulholland.

He had dismissed the campaigners as “conspiracy theorists” and described their allegations of a cover-up over Lockerbie as “without foundation”.

The Crown Office said at the time that it would be inappropriate to comment further because of the police investigation.

Exaro has made a series of disclosures that raise doubts that Al-Megrahi carried out the Lockerbie bombing, or that it was done on behalf of the Libyan regime of Muammar Gadaffi. Al-Megrahi died from cancer in Libya in 2012, after being released from prison on compassionate grounds.

Campaigners, including relatives of some of those killed, say that he was wrongly convicted.

Secret documents showed how US intelligence believed that Iran was behind the bombing, even after the police investigation switched focus to Libya’s alleged role.

A confidential report, revealed on Exaro, of a lengthy investigation by a former senior US prosecutor and ex-deputy head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch concluded that police were “directed off course” in the Lockerbie case.

In addition, the report suggested interference by the CIA and put Mohammed Abu Talb, an Egyptian militant, in the frame for the Lockerbie bombing.

Meanwhile, plotters behind the bombing left a false trail to “divert the blame” to Libya, according to the report.

John Davison reported from Lockerbie on the night of the attack for The Sunday Times.

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