The failure of Scots Law

A few months before the Lockerbie atrocity in 1998, the renegade US battlecruiser ‘Vincennes’ shot down an Iranian passenger jet over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people. The US government refused to apologise and the Pentagon even went into full cover-up mode, decorating the warship’s crew. Nonetheless, the Lockerbie bombing was fairly quickly attributed to the Syrian-based radical Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, as a revenge attack commissioned by the Iranian government.

By 1990 it seemed as if the crime had effectively been solved but then the political background changed as a result of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The US and the UK now needed to court countries such as Syria and Iran so an alternative theory suddenly emerged in which Libya became the suspect. After much towing and froing, the case against the Libyans Abdel Al-Megrahi and Khalifa Fhimah, was finally heard in the Netherlands in 2001 before three Scottish law lords.

It might have been anticipated that only the most reputable forensic scientists would be used but in fact the Crown employed the services of three men whose credentials were a disgrace. Dr Thomas Hayes was later publicly humiliated by Sir John May’s inquiry which slated him for ‘knowingly placing a false and distorted scientific picture before the jury’. Allan Fereday was later condemned by the Lord Chief Justice saying that he “should under no circumstances be considered an expert witness in explosives cases.” Then there was the American Tom Thurman, who was later sacked by the FBI for ‘routinely altering reports in the explosives unit’ to support the prosecution case.

Fhimah was acquitted but Al-Megrahi was unaccountably convicted on the basis that he had placed the bomb on board a feeder flight in Malta. Not only was there no evidence that the bomb had been put on board in Malta, but Air Malta had won a libel action in 1993 establishing that it was not! No matter, the trial led inexorably to the wrongful conviction of Al-Megrahi and the final betrayal of the bereaved families.

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