Friday 20 January 2012

Jim Swire and al-Megrahi

(The following report appeared in the Daily Mail on 19th January 2012. Space does not permit the full report which you can read here

Speaking in the run up to the 23rd anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing in which 270 were killed, the former Libyan intelligence officer appealed to his supporters to fight on to clear his name.
His head supported by a special pillow as he lay in bed at the family home in Tripoli, the 59-year-old asked that he be left alone to die from the ravages caused by prostate cancer. Megrahi revealed that he was recently visited by Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the bombing of Pan Am Fight 103, and had confided in him details of dramatic new discoveries made by investigators working to clear his name.

Pivotal to these, it is understood, are new forensic studies of fragments of a circuit board alleged to have been a piece of the bomb that was the single most crucial piece of evidence linking the bombing to Libya. Dr Swire, who is convinced Megrahi is innocent and has repeatedly spoken out on his behalf, refused to comment on the new discoveries last night.

The images of the frail bomber are the first to be seen of him in more than six weeks and appear to show a marked deterioration in his condition. Propped on pillows and covered by a thick floral blanket, he spoke slowly and falteringly, sometimes closing his deeply-sunken eyes as he considered answers.

He accuses the Scottish police and Crown authorities of deliberately withholding investigation interviews with a key prosecution witness from his lawyers for more than a decade.

That witness was Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, who identified the Libyan as resembling the man who purchased clothes which were subsequently found in the remains of the suitcase containing the bomb.

Despite his weakness, Megrahi became angry at the mention of Gauci. He said his lawyers had not been able to secure all the 55, sometimes allegedly conflicting, statements made by the shopkeeper and added: ‘Where is the justice?

He condemns two retired Scottish detectives as the main architects of the ‘fabricated case’ against him. He is pinning great hope, he said, on a book to be published early next year he has co-written with journalist and investigator John Ashton.

‘I want people to read the book and use their brain not hearts and make judgment,’ he said, ‘Information is not from me, not from lawyers, not from the media, but experts who deal with criminal law and science. It will clear my name.’

Jim Swire visited Libya in December 2011 and spoke in complete confidence with Al-Megrahi. His visit was filmed by ITV and shown on 19th January.

Another Megrahi interview was conducted on December 15 by George Thomson, a former police officer, who is now a criminal defence investigator. It is due to be used in a TV documentary to be broadcast in February.  The pair became close after Mr Thompson joined the defence team in January 2003 looking into the case. Mr Thompson said: ‘It saddens me that if justice is ever done in this case, Al-Megrahi won’t be there to see it done.’

20th January 2012


[This is the headline over a report (behind the paywall) in the 20th January 2012 edition of The Times. It reads in part as follows:]

Jim Swire said he was convinced that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice, despite the belief of the new Libyan governement that al-Megrahi is guilty of the mass murder of the 270 passengers.

Dr Swire was speaking last night after an ITV documentary in which he was shown visiting al-Megrahi, who is dying of cancer. He also consulted representatives of the Libyan leadership that toppled the dictatorship of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi last year.

In one exchange Ashour Shamis, an adviser to Abdurrahim al-Keib, the Libyan Prime Minister, told Dr Swire: “As far as the Libyans are concerned, the Gaddafi regime, Gaddafi personally, are involved in planning and executing the atrocity. There is no doubt about it. They are involved, the regime are involved.”

Mr Shamis added that al-Megrahi was involved in the bombing, if “only a small player”. He went on: “Megrahi is an employee of Libyan security there is no doubt about it — of Libyan security. And if he was told to do something, he would have done it.”

 Dr Swire said he had not accepted that argument. Mr Shamis, along with the rest of new government, had simply not had time to consider the case with any thoroughness.

“I found Tripoli percolated with the desire to pin everything imaginable under the sun on the defunct Gaddafi regime, because the people are so delighted to have got rid of him,” said Dr Swire. “Mr Shamis certainly believes al-Megrahi was guilty. I tried to make plain that if you look at the evidence that it is not at all likely.”

Dr Swire added that he hoped the documentary would re-awaken interest in al-Megrahi’s conviction, in a Scottish court at Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands, in 2001. The Libyan was released from Greenock prison on compassionate grounds in 2009 because he is suffering from terminal cancer.

 “The verdict is vulnerable and would be repealed if there were a full inquiry into it,” said Dr Swire. “The Scottish public should understand what’s going on in their name: the support of an unsupportable verdict.”

A petition calling for a review of the al-Megrahi case has been lodged with Holyrood’s Justice Committee and will be debated in the Scottish Parliament next month.

20th January 2012

[This is the headline over a report in the 20th January 2012 edition of The Daily Telegraph. It reads in part:]

Even without the events of December 21, 1988, they would be the most unlikely of friends. Jim Swire, an Eton and Cambridge-educated doctor from Bromsgrove, and Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, a former member of the Libyan security services who was convicted of murdering 270 people when a bomb exploded on Pan Am Flight 103 as it flew over Lockerbie. Swire’s daughter, Flora, was one of the passengers. She would have turned 24 the next day.

Last month, Flora’s father travelled to Tripoli for a meeting with the terminally ill Megrahi, who was released from a Scottish prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds. It was a remarkable journey for a 75-year-old man to make, not least because Swire undertook it in order to bid farewell to the man he now describes as his friend.

The pair have met on a number of occasions – once in prison in Scotland and twice in Libya – but Swire is sure their encounter in December was their last. “It was, a privilege to be allowed, essentially, to say goodbye to him,” Swire told an ITV camera crew who filmed part of his visit to Libya. He tells me he is “proud” to have known the man he calls Basset, the man so many others know as the Lockerbie bomber. “Megrahi is dying, and as a doctor I wanted to find out whether he has got the necessary painkillers.” He has, but Swire cannot say how long the convicted terrorist might live. “He is a very sick man. He only talks in short sentences with pauses to get his breath back. He is looking death in the face, and he knows it.”

Swire speaks affectionately of the Libyan’s wife, Aisha, always by her husband’s side, holding his hand; he is almost jovial when speaking about Megrahi’s love of football. “I think that was the thing that endeared him to the other prisoners. He was popular prisoner and, although he lived a different sort of life from his fellow inmates, he did muck in with them.”

At the end of his meeting Swire, a Christian, was so moved he found one of only two churches in Tripoli, where he prayed for Megrahi.

Such gentle compassion for the man convicted of murdering his daughter is incredible, and Swire is aware that many might find it astonishing. But the simple fact of the matter in this most complex of cases is this: Swire does not believe Megrahi is guilty. Indeed, if anyone feels guilt then it is Swire himself, who once met Gaddafi to pressure the late Libyan leader into handing over Megrahi to stand trial. (...)

Swire does not seem to have the same sense of mercy towards Gaddafi, who went to his grave with his secrets. “I am totally satisfied, that he [Megrahi] had nothing to do with it. But that is very different to saying that Gaddafi had nothing to do with it.”

It was during the 2001 trial that Swire started to doubt Megrahi’s guilt. While Libya and Syria may have been involved, he believes Iran was ultimately responsible for Lockerbie, as revenge for the shooting down of an Iranair flight by the Americans.

It was in the early hours of Flora’s 24th birthday that the Swires received a phone call confirming their daughter was dead. “It never occurred to me that I would be trying to get justice for Flora 23 years later. I thought there would be an international investigation and the truth would come out in a year or two,” Swire says. He has lobbied five Prime Ministers for a public inquiry, all of whom seem to have fobbed the families off; and at least two of whom, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were pictured cosying up to Gaddafi.

The Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission found in 2007 the Lockerbie verdict may have been a miscarriage of justice; Jim Swire still hopes for a proper inquiry.

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