Friday 27 May 2016

Lockerbie: Government still trying to suppress evidence

[In today's edition of Scotland's The Herald:]

It would have been an action unheard of in the Scottish press - the UK Government pulling an entire edition of a newspaper in a bid to suppress a secret document.
But that's exactly what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) threatened to do to The Herald in 2012 when it sought to publish details of a report implicating a Palestinian terror group in the Lockerbie bombing.
"Verdict Unsafe: New Inquiry necessary".
The full details of what happened were published yesterday in Kenny MacAskill's new book on the atrocity - and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is again taking action.
The government department has said it is "considering the contents" of the book, The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice, amid claims it may breach of Official Secrets Act.
[PB NOTE: Mr MacAskill has stated in an interview with BBC Scotland that the Lockerbie verdict appears to him "unsafe" and that a new inquiry is necessary]

He reveals that at the time the Herald was seeking to publish the information, he took a call from Tory MP Alistair Burt, who was working with the FCO.
"He threatened not just to pull The Herald's story, but to pull the whole edition
Burt: Enforced closure
of British and Scottish newspaper?
of the newspaper," he said.
"I was incredulous. I told him that the people of Scotland would definitely notice if there was no Herald the next day.
"It really showed the extremes the UK Government was prepared to go to to stop the publication of something fundamental to Scotland's leading criminal case."
The document was subject to Public Interest Immunity, which prevented its release to the defence in the trial of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the bombing.
After taking legal advice, The Herald ran the story detailing the main points of
Jibril-led Palestinian group.
Paid by Iran.
the document, including that it came from Jordan and implicated the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in the December 1988 attack.
Certain information was not available to The Herald at that time, however it has all now been revealed in Mr MacAskill's book.
It is understood that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office requested a copy of the book on Sunday ahead of
Philip Hammond:
Threatened injunction
to prevent book publication.
Thursday's publication, but were not provided with one as officials refused to rule out seeking an injunction.
The PFLP-GC were the original suspects in the investigation into Lockerbie, however by 1991 police and prosecutors were entirely focused on Libya.
This document naming the terror group was repeatedly suppressed at a high-level, despite sources claiming it presented little risk to national security.
In 2012, a source told The Herald: "The contents are very important but what makes them so much more significant is the lengths the UK Government and others have gone to in order to prevent anyone from seeing the document.
"This is the most remarkable piece of evidence. It does not rule out the Libyans but it does indicate that others were involved."
Mr MacAskill, who claimed the suppression of the document had more to with keeping the Jordanians happy so that radical cleric Abu Qatada could be deported from the UK, admits in his book that he believes the PFLP-GC were involved in the plot which killed 270 people.
The former politician, who made the controversial decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009, also raises doubts over the identification of Megrahi buying clothes from a shop in Malta that were found wrapped around the bomb.
However, he is now facing claims it is "dumbfounding" and "hypocritical" for a former justice minister to make such assertions that the case against Megrahi was flawed.
Robert Black QC, one of the architects behind Megrahi's trial who now heads up the Justice for Megrahi campaign, said: "Many of the things that Kenny is saying are the things that we've been saying for years.
"He said on the radio that there should be a new inquiry into Lockerbie - we've been asking for that for years, and it was him we were asking.
"It's only now that he doesn't actually have any power to do something that he's agreeing with us."
Mr Black added that it could be open to the FCO to try to secure a prosecution against Mr MacAskill for breaching the Officials Secrets Act, but he believes it would be highly unlikely.
He said: "Given that The Herald already published much of the detail in 2012, and they got away with it, I can't see how a case could be brought against him."