Scottish Crown Office accused of mishandling allegations over conduct of Lockerbie case

By John Davison | 15 May 2013

“We would welcome a statement to the media by the Crown Office and the Lord Advocate withdrawing the previous defamatory remarks”
– Justice for Megrahi campaign

Scotland’s most senior law officer has been challenged to withdraw dismissive comments about allegations over the investigation and trial of the Lockerbie bombing.

Campaigners for a public inquiry to re-open the case have issued a stinging rebuke to Frank Mulholland, Lord Advocate and head of the Crown Office, Scotland’s prosecuting authority, over his handling of their allegations of criminal conduct in the case following the bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over Lockerbie.

In a report submitted to – and published by – the Scottish Parliament, the campaigners accuse Mulholland of “economising with the truth” and demand that he publicly withdraw comments that dismissed the allegations. They also want him to pledge that the allegations will be properly investigated.

They describe his conduct as “scandalous”, and say that his actions “fail to reach the standards” laid down by the International Association of Prosecutors over impartiality.

The issue will next month go before the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee, which is considering a petition by campaigners for an independent inquiry.

Exaro revealed last month that Scottish police had launched an investigation into the conduct of the original case, including allegations against authorities in Scotland of perverting the course of justice.

Pan Am’s Flight 103, flying from London Heathrow to New York, crashed in 1988 onto the small town of Lockerbie in Scotland after a bomb hidden in the luggage hold exploded. All 259 passengers and crew on the Boeing 747 were killed, together with 11 people on the ground.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was jailed in 2001 for carrying out the bombing on behalf of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan regime. He was tried under Scottish law at a disused army base in Zeist, Holland.

Al-Megrahi died of cancer in Libya last year after being released on compassionate grounds amid a storm of protest.

Campaigners say that he was wrongly convicted. They formed the Justice for Megrahi (JFM) campaign to press for an independent inquiry into what they claim was a concerted cover-up by the Scottish authorities.

However, Mulholland last December dismissed the campaigners as “conspiracy theorists” and described their allegations as “without foundation”.

In their report to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee, the campaigners detail their frustration and anger over the handling of their allegations.

They claim to have been “defamed” by Mulholland “on several counts”.

Their report recounts a meeting with Patrick Shearer, a deputy chief constable of Police Scotland, as part of the new investigation. It makes clear that they were reporting their allegations to him “under protest” because of doubts over how they would be treated.

“Given that Mr Shearer’s report would be submitted to the Crown Office/Lord Advocate, and that they would be the final arbiters in respect of our allegations, their previous public, media statements that dismissed them and defamed JFM made an impartial, objective and independent decision impossible,” says the report.

“We indicated, however, that we would welcome a statement to the media by the Crown Office and the Lord Advocate withdrawing the previous defamatory remarks levelled against JFM and stating that our allegations are legitimate and will be investigated impartially and fairly.”

Robert Forrester, secretary of the JFM campaign, said: “At the minimum, we want the justice committee to maintain the status of our petition open.”

A spokesman for the Crown Office said: “The allegations made by JFM are being considered by DCC Shearer in accordance with due process, and it would be inappropriate to offer further comment at this stage.”

The campaigners initially submitted their allegations to Kenny MacAskill, Scottish justice secretary, in September with the request that he set up an independent investigation, headed by someone from outside Scotland.

But MacAskill insisted that the allegations could only be dealt with by local police.

The campaigners point out that Scottish police officers are the subject of some of the allegations.

They say in their report: “One does not have to be involved in, or even informed on, the issues of Lockerbie/Zeist to appreciate the scandal that Messrs MacAskill and Mulholland are visiting on an already disgraced system.

“Indeed, if this is the attitude that these representatives of state find appropriate to adopt when dealing with an issue involving 270 miscarriages of justice, imagine how they might approach lesser, more contemporary cases.”

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