IAN FERGUSON So what now for the forces of law and order in Scotland? Once the full facts of the SCCRC's 800-page statement are known, those involved in the prosecution of the case will undoubtedly come in for criticism for failing to secure a conviction which could stand up to scrutiny.

Yesterday's report had been expected to level barbs in varying degrees at the trial judges, the Crown prosecutors, the police, and not least Megrahi's original defence team, but so far the reality of the SCCRC's public statement does not quite match expectation.

Indeed, despite the numerous media allegations recently about evidence tampering and fabrication, the commission has found " no basis for concluding that evidence in the case was fabricated by the police, the Crown, forensic scientists, or any other representatives or government agencies".

Those thought to have been at the centre of criticism will be breathing a sigh of relief for now. Of course, though, Megrahi's legal team may well use many of the issues in their submission in a fresh appeal, despite the commission's findings, as they are not restricted to using the six grounds identified.

It states that, of the 48 principal grounds in the defence submission, merit was found in only three. Despite those findings, there will be many who will find it hard to swallow that, on the matter of forensics, where the commission found no merit in any of the grounds submitted, that mistakes could not have been made.

It is hard to comprehend how scientist Thomas Hayes could dissect and identify pieces of evidence found in a shirt collar in May 1989 when photographic evidence shows that the undissected material was photographed in October 1989.

Questions will be asked about the justice system in Scotland and its reputation at home and abroad. Megrahi has told this reporter on a number of occasions since his conviction: "I was never in that man's shop (run by Anthony Gauci in Malta)."

With the commission's report now casting real doubt on Megrahi as the clothes purchaser, questions will also be raised why Scottish police officers and prosecutors focused so heavily on Megrahi, when Gauci's identification of him and his recollection of the purchase dates were so weak.

Should police have continued their investigations into Abu Talb's visits to Malta and his connections and visits with a PFLP-GC cell on the Mediterranean island? What about the paper trail that still leads to Iran as the financier of this attack?

Once Megrahi's notice of appeal is lodged, we will have to wait for the Crown's response but, if it chooses to accept that the conviction is unsafe, it would have to be asked whether the Scottish police are capable of reinvestigating this case or if they have the appetite to mount a fresh investigation.

If Megrahi is successful in having his conviction overturned pressure on the Crown to reopen this case will be immense, not least from some of the UK families whose loved ones died.

And can our esteemed judges in the trial court and appeal court hold their heads up in the light of this report?

In a regular trial, we normally have only one judge, but in the trial in the Netherlands we had three of the country's most senior judges sitting with a fourth in reserve.

Speaking from Vienna yesterday, Professor Hans Koechler, who was the official UN observer at the trial and appeal, said: "I am of course relieved to see that the SCCRC has referred the case of Megrahi to the appeal court. I am, though, disappointed that they focus mostly on the evidence of Tony Gauci and the date of the purchase of the clothes.

"In giving exoneration to the police, prosecutors, and forensic staff, I think they show their lack of independence. No officials to be blamed, simply a Maltese shopkeeper. They also exonerate the original trial and appeal defence team and this also surprises me. I have doubts that the Scottish judicial system has learned anything from the Lockerbie trial." Ian Ferguson is an author and journalist on the Lockerbie bombing