Convicted Lockerbie bomber’s ill-health was convenient for everyone with ‘something to hide’, author tells book festival
The cancer diagnosis of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing was a “gift from God” to the Libyan, British and Scottish governments, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s biographer has said.
John Ashton, who recently published a book on the former Libyan intelligence officer, told the Edinburgh international book festival: “Megrahi’s cancer was a gift from God for everybody involved that had something to hide.
“It allowed his release, it allowed the final stages of the rapprochement between the UK and Libya, and it allowed the Scottish government to allow him out of prison on a legal basis that wasn’t one laid down by the hated government in Westminster. It was a tragedy for Megrahi but I think everybody else was punching the air.”
Ashton was joined at the talk on the Lockerbie bombing by other high-profile critics of the case. Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, and Dr Hans Kochler, the United Nations observer at Megrahi’s trial in the Netherlands, also took part before a capacity crowd.
Megrahi was sentenced to life for the bombing, which killed 270 in the aircraft and on the ground around Lockerbie. He was released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he died in May this year.
The course of events was a “political fix”, Ashton told the audience. But he denied the trial was a “grand conspiracy” involving a range of security services and leading all the way to heads of state.
“What I say is, first and foremost, that the judges got it wrong, for whatever reason, and the Crown Office withheld evidence,” he said. “I’m sure they did so in good faith but their behaviour was utterly incompetent and shameful.”
The three men highlighted areas of evidence that they said undermine the case against Megrahi, including a break-in at Heathrow airport and discrepancies over his identification in a shop in Malta.
Kochler said he could not understand why Megrahi was found guilty but his alleged co-conspirator was not. “If such an argument, if such an opinion of court, was presented by a student in a seminar, he would not have passed because it is full of contradictions,” he said. “They got it wrong. But the question is: why?”
Swire believes that a bomb was taken on board at London. “During the whole trial we did not know that Heathrow airport had been broken into 16 hours before Lockerbie happened, it seemed to me very likely that was the technology that had been used,” he said. “The whole concept that the thing came from Malta via Megrahi’s luggage or anyone else’s seemed to me far-fetched.”
The panel’s comments underlined the gulf between those who believe in Megrahi’s guilt and those who feel he was innocent or the victim of a miscarriage of justice. US relatives in particular were angered by the Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill’s decision to free Megrahi because of his terminal cancer.