Brian McConnachie: ‘impossible’ for Lord Advocate to make decisions on police findings

By John Davison | 16 March 2016

“It is… impossible for any decision of the Lord Advocate that arises out of the allegations to be seen to be impartial” – Brian McConnachie, advocate and former senior prosecutor

One of Scotland’s former top prosecutors today backs calls for an independent advocate to decide on any charges over allegations about the original Lockerbie investigation.

Brian McConnachie, who used to lead the team that prosecutes the most serious crimes in the High Court in Scotland as Principal Advocate Depute, is due to speak at an event in Edinburgh this afternoon to press for an independent prosecutor over allegations of perverting the course of justice in the case.

Police have been investigating the case that resulted in the jailing of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.

The issue is expected to come to a head within weeks when police submit a report on their investigation to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Scotland’s prosecuting authority.

The Justice for Megrahi (JFM) campaign wants Frank Mulholland, Lord Advocate and head of the Crown Office, to distance himself completely from the new investigation.

McConnachie, who was Principal Advocate Depute from 2004 to 2006 and worked as counsel to the Crown Office for seven years in all, is expected to say this afternoon: “It is, in my opinion, impossible for any decision of the Lord Advocate that arises out of the allegations to be seen to be impartial, objective or unbiased.”

He will be among legal and political figures at this afternoon’s JFM event at the Dynamic Earth centre, near the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, who will endorse JFM’s demands for a prosecutor independent of the Crown Office to decide on any charges.

Alan Page, professor of public law at Dundee university, will say: “Public confidence in the administration of criminal justice requires there to be no doubt that decisions whether or not to institute criminal proceedings are taken free from political or any other form of bias.”

Two members of the Scottish Parliament are also due to speak at the event: Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, and John Finnie, an independent MSP.

The allegations relate to the original investigation into, as well as the prosecution and trial of, the Lockerbie case. As a result, campaigners believe that the Crown Office has a conflict of interests and so should have no part in decision-making on the new police investigation.

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.

Campaigners, including relatives of some of those killed, say that al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted.

According to the original investigation, al-Megrahi carried out the Lockerbie bombing 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 – amid a storm of protests.

Mulholland says that he has appointed an independent prosecutor to consider the conclusions of the police investigation.

But campaigners complain that the Crown Office has failed to answer basic questions about the appointment, even including who it is.

Exaro revealed a fortnight ago how Mulholland, as Scotland’s chief law officer, faced growing pressure over the issue.

Police Scotland is investigating nine specific allegations raised by campaigners over the original case under ‘Operation Sandwood’.

And the force told Exaro in a statement that it had appointed a barrister to assess its findings “to provide independent direction and advice.”

Exaro revealed the start of the investigation in 2013, before a re-organisation of police authorities in Scotland.

Also in 2013, Mulholland provoked controversy by dismissing those who campaigned for the new investigation as “conspiracy theorists”, describing their allegations of a cover-up over Lockerbie as “without foundation”.

McConnachie will say this afternoon that these comments show why Mulholland should be making no decisions in the case.

Operation Sandwood is understood to have been based at the police station in Dalgety Bay, a small coastal town in Fife across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.

Campaigners are hopeful that it will recommend prosecutions, which is why they are so determined that Mulholland and the Crown Office should have nothing to do with charging decisions.

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

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