Judge at Lockerbie trial

Died: February 28, 2016;

Born: April 24, 1934

JOHN Taylor Cameron, Lord Coulsfield, who has died aged 81, was one of the three judges who picked through the evidential wreckage of Pan Am flight 103, blown up by terrorists over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, with the total loss of 270 people on the plane and in the quiet Scottish border town.

As a Scot, a friend of the United States and a humanitarian in general, Lord Coulsfield had to bury his own pain to do his objective job – to determine what exactly had happened, who had carried out the atrocity and bring judgement down upon them. He played a major and historic part in trying to do so, even though questions still remain and possibly always will over the tragedy.

At the time of the disaster, still grieving, it was hard for all of us, both here and in the U.S, to understand the legal labyrinth the case entailed, why it moved from Scotland to the Netherlands for example. Despite the protests of the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, it was decided to hold the case in a neutral country rather than Scotland or the US – where most of the victims came from. The fact that the trial was held in a disused former US Air Force base, Camp Zeist near Utrecht, added to the poignancy since the camp was a Nazi transport centre for Jews, taken over during the Cold War by the Americans.

For the trial, Camp Zeist was declared Scottish soil, beholden to Scots Law. That law was broken in September 2000 when Lord Coulsfield's bicycle was stolen despite tight security around the Camp Zeist judges.

In January 1991, after a nine-month trial, Lord Coulsfield and his two fellow Scottish judges found the Libyan agent Abdelbaset al-Megrahi guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment for murder. A second Libyan, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted.

Al-Megrahi was jailed in Scotland until, after various defence appeals which said he had prostate cancer, he was freed by the Scottish government "on compassionate grounds" and put on a flight to Libya. On his arrival home, a pro-Gaddafi Libyan rent-a-mob waved a giant Scottish flag as he stepped from his aircraft in Tripoli. To foreign news services such as CNN, it seemed to apply some sort of Scottish collusion, which was most certainly not the case.

Edinburgh and Oxford-educated Lord Coulsfield was chosen as one of three Scottish judges – along with presiding judge Lord Sutherland and Lord MacLean, with Lord Abernethy as a non-voting associate judge – to peruse the intricate, complex evidence and rule on the case. Scots Law remaining historically distinct from its English equivalent, a specially-convened Scottish Court was set up at the disused Camp Zeist. That court would become a world news focus for nine months until Lord Coulsfield and his two colleagues found al-Megrahi guilty of murder by organising the downing of PanAm 103.

John Taylor Cameron was born in Edinburgh on April 24, 1934, and attended Fettes College. He studied at the University of Oxford (BA, Corpus Christi College) and the University of Edinburgh (LLB) before being admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1960.

From 1960-64, he lectured in Public Law at Edinburgh. He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1973 and became a judge in 1987, little knowing that his life would be changed for ever by the Lockerbie tragedy the following year.

Before Lockerbie, Lord Coulsfield was a leading judge in Scotland, making many headlines in The Herald, but little known down south. He presided over Scotland's first-ever case of a drug dealer being charged with culpable homicide over the death of one of his users. Lord Coulsfield controversially acquitted the dealer, saying he could not be responsible for the death since the victim had sought the drugs and decided how much to take. The Appeals Court, however, overturned the judgement.

Lord Coulsfield also hit the Scottish headlines as part of a judges' tribunal judging a case in which one of Scotland's top criminal lawyers, Donald Findlay QC, was charged with professional misconduct by offending Roman Catholics by telling jokes about nuns and the Pope at a Rangers' supporters club. Lord Coulsfield and the tribunal cleared Mr Findlay.

"If I had to sum John up in one word, it would be integrity," said Lord McCluskey, a retired Scottish High Court judge, former Solicitor-General for Scotland and friend. "And then you would have to add very clever and extremely objective. Hence his being chosen to rule on a tragic case in which, understandably, objectivity was hard to find among human beings the world over."

Lord Coulsfield married Bridget Sloan in 1964. They had no children. He retired in 2002, admitting his life had never been the same after Lockerbie. He died after a short illness.