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Lockerbie: inching closer to the truth

Today The Herald exclusively publishes details of the report of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) showing why the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing was referred for a second appeal.

Data protection restrictions have prevented both the Scottish Government and the commission itself from releasing the report, although the Scottish Government, which has said it wants publication in the interests of transparency, is seeking permission to publish from the UK Justice Secretary. However, with the release last month of Megrahi's authorised biography, some of the material which led the SCCRC to conclude the conviction was potentially unsafe began to seep into the public domain.

This newspaper has taken a close interest in the case over many years and has revealed a number of significant developments, including the facts that Megrahi intended to drop the appeal and that the Crown failed to disclose a number of documents to the defence. In consequence, we have consistently called for publication of the SCCRC report and for a public inquiry into the case. Having seen the report, we are now further convinced that publication and investigation are necessary if justice is to be served and the Scottish legal system is to retain public confidence.

It must be of serious concern that the Crown not only failed to share significant information with the defence leading up to the trial in 2000 at Camp Zeist in The Netherlands but also subsequently delayed providing the SCCRC with documents and then said it did not hold certain records.

The SCCRC report reveals that Strathclyde police officers found the brother of the Crown's key witness, the Maltese shopkeeper Anthony Gauci, anxious to gain financial advantage from their position as potential witnesses. The case hinged on Anthony Gauci identifying Megrahi as having bought clothes in his shop that were found in the suitcase containing the bomb.

There must be doubt over the quality of evidence given in return for a reward and the absence of any documentation relating to payments known to have been made deepens suspicion. This is reinforced by the additional failure to disclose that Mr Gauci had identified Megrahi from a photograph in a magazine article about the Lockerbie bombing.

It must be remembered that at the time the Crown was not required to disclose these documents (none was). However, the withholding of information from the defence has since been successfully challenged in the Supreme Court and it is clearly in the interests of all that the case should be re-examined with the benefit of all the available evidence. That remains difficult in relation to two further intelligence documents (one involving the bomb timer) because the commission cannot disclose their contents without permission from their country of origin. Even without them, it seems that if the material gathered by the SCCRC had been disclosed it is unlikely that Megrahi would have been convicted.

Such is the level of doubt over this case that it must be a matter of regret that Megrahi decided to drop his appeal although there was no requirement on him to do so because he was released on compassionate grounds and not under the prisoner transfer agreement. It is increasingly difficult to argue the report should be withheld to comply with data protection law and the Scottish Government should push for permission to publish in the interest of shedding light on a conviction that, far from closing the case on Britain's worst terrorist atrocity, has, with the passage of time and the growing volume of revelations, raised questions about the integrity of Scottish justice.

Taking account of our disclosures today and tomorrow, the case for a public inquiry has become even more compelling.

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