Scottish appeal court reject Lockerbie bomber conviction appeal

15 January 2021, 12:00 | Updated: 15 January 2021, 12:30

The deadly bomb attack on the Boeing 747 killed 270 people, including 190 American citizens in 1988
The deadly bomb attack on the Boeing 747 killed 270 people, including 190 American citizens in 1988. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The Scottish Appeal Court has refused an appeal made by the family of Abdelbasset Al Megrahi, the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

The family of Mr Al-Megrahi, who died eight years ago from cancer, were told on Friday that the miscarriage of justice appeal they filed had been rejected and their appeal against his conviction refused.

It is the third appeal by lawyers for the family has been rejected. They have been fighting for the conviction to be overturned for the past six years.

The deadly bomb attack on the Boeing 747 killed 270 people, including 190 American citizens, in 1988.

It remains the deadliest terrorist incident ever to have taken place in the UK, and the second deadliest air attack in US history.

Former Libyan intelligence officer Mr al-Megrahi was the only person convicted of the attack, with another suspect acquitted.

Ali Al-Megrahi, the son of Mr Al-Megrahi, said his family were left heart broken by the decision of the Scottish courts.

He said he maintained his father’s innocence and is "determined to fulfil the promise he made to clear his name and that of Libya".

Scotland's Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said the investigation into the atrocity continues and there remain suspects under active investigation.

He said: "The bombing of Pan Am 103 is, to this day, the deadliest terrorist attack on UK soil and the largest homicide case Scotland's prosecutors have ever encountered in terms of scale and of complexity.

"The evidence gathered by Scottish, US and international law enforcement agencies has again been tested in the Appeal Court, and the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi stands."

The written judgment rejecting the appeal against the conviction of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing, delivered by Scotland's most senior judge, Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice General, states "the contention that the trial court reached a verdict that no reasonable court could have reached is rejected".

"On the evidence at trial, a reasonable jury, properly directed, would have been entitled to return a guilty verdict," it continues.

"The contention that the Crown failed to disclose material which would have created a real prospect of a different verdict is rejected."

The judgment concludes: "Both grounds of appeal having been rejected, the appeal against conviction is refused."

Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: "The bombing of Pan Am 103 and the terrible loss of 270 lives has had a profound impact in Lockerbie, Scotland, and internationally.

"On behalf of the Police Service of Scotland, I pay tribute to the families of the victims who have demonstrated courage and dignity for over 30 years and my thoughts remain with them today.

"Since 1988 policing in Scotland has been committed to carrying out the largest terrorist and murder investigation ever undertaken in this country.

"Police Scotland will continue to work closely on this investigation with the Crown Office, our American law enforcement colleagues and other international partners."

The Al-Megrahi family have decided to appeal to the UK Supreme Court, meaning an appeal will be lodge an application within 14 days.

The family have also demanded the release of secret evidence held by the UK Government, which they believe incriminates others in the attacks.

Scotland's Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: "My thoughts continue to be with all those who lost loved ones on that terrible evening more than 30 years ago. The strength and compassion they have shown has created a legacy of friendship and ensured that the memory of those who died lives on.

"The Scottish Government has always been clear that as Mr al-Megrahi was convicted in a court of law, that is the only appropriate forum for determining his guilt or innocence.

"The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred Mr al-Megrahi's conviction back to the Appeal Court, through established procedures, because it believed that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

"Having heard the appeal on behalf of the late Mr al-Megrahi, the Appeal Court has determined that there was no miscarriage of justice and his conviction for his part in the Lockerbie bombing stands.

"The Scottish Government does not comment on nor intervene in any criminal case. The investigation into the Lockerbie bombing remains ongoing."

Read more: US charges 'third conspirator' over Lockerbie bombing on 32nd anniversary of attack

Read more: US to unseal charges against Libyan Lockerbie bombing suspect

In December, the US charged a "third conspirator" in connection with the Lockerbie bombing, on the 32nd anniversary of the atrocity.

Former Attorney General William Barr told a press conference a "third conspirator" was identified along with two Libyan intelligence agents during the investigation in 1991 but at the time investigators could not "identify or locate" this person.

He said: "The United States has filed criminal charges against the third conspirator, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi, for his role in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103."

The US alleges that he was the bombmaker and has charged him with terrorism-related crimes.

Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi was released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009, and died three years later in Libya.

The late Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi
The late Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Picture: PA

Key dates in the three decades since the Lockerbie bombing.

1988

December 21: Pan Am flight 103 explodes over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 people - 259 on board and 11 on the ground.

2001

January 31: Following a trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is found guilty of mass murder and jailed for life.

2003

August 19: Libya accepts blame for the Lockerbie bombing and agrees to compensate victims' families.

2004

March: Then prime minister Tony Blair offers Colonel Muammar Gaddafi "the hand of friendship" following talks with the Libyan leader in a tent outside Tripoli.

The UK and Libya go on to sign a memorandum of understanding, with a commitment to negotiate a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA).

2007

May: Oil giant BP and the Libyan government sign an exploration and production sharing agreement.

June: The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) recommends Megrahi is granted a second appeal against his conviction after the first, in 2002, was refused.

December 19: It is revealed the UK Government has decided not to exclude Megrahi from the PTA.

2008

September: Megrahi is diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.

2009

May 5: The Libyan government submits an application to the Scottish Government for Megrahi's transfer under the PTA, followed by an application for release on compassionate grounds.

August 20: Then Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill announces Megrahi is to be returned to his home country on compassionate grounds and he is freed from Greenock prison and taken to Glasgow Airport for a flight to Libya.

August 21: The UK and the US condemn the "hero's welcome" given to Megrahi as he arrives in Tripoli to cheering crowds.

September 5: Then UK justice secretary Jack Straw acknowledges the prospect of trade and oil deals with Libya was "a very big part" of his decision to include Megrahi in the PTA.

2011

An uprising begins in Libya which would see Gaddafi killed by rebels by the end of the year.

February 23: Libya's former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, tells a newspaper he has proof that Gaddafi ordered the Lockerbie bombing.

April 8: Police continuing their investigation into the bombing meet former Libyan foreign minister Musa Kusa, who has apparently defected.

July 26: Megrahi appears in a televised pro-government rally in Libya and says his conviction was the result of a "conspiracy".

2012

May 20: Megrahi dies at home in Tripoli aged 60.

2013

December 22: The UK, US and Libyan governments vow to co-operate to reveal "the full facts" of the bombing.

2014

June 5: Six members of Megrahi's family join forces with 24 British relatives of those who died in the atrocity to seek another appeal against his conviction in the Scottish courts.

December 20: Scotland's top prosecutor Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland reaffirms Megrahi's guilt and pledges to track down his accomplices.

2015

July 3: Scottish judges rule relatives of the victims of the bombing should not be allowed to pursue an appeal on Megrahi's behalf.

October 15: Scottish prosecutors announce they want two Libyans they have identified as suspects to be interviewed by police.

2017

July 4: Megrahi's family lodges a new bid to appeal against his conviction, five years after his death.

2018

May 3: The SCCRC says a full review of Megrahi's case will be carried out to decide whether a fresh appeal against conviction can be made.

November 21: A police investigation finds no evidence of criminality in relation to the handling of the Lockerbie investigation and prosecution.

2019

March 21: The Crown Office reportedly questioned retired Stasi agents over the Lockerbie bombing, examining the possible role of the East German intelligence service in the 1988 bombing.

2020

March 11: The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission rules a fresh appeal is to be allowed, and refers the case to the High Court of Justiciary.

June 3: The appeal against the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is formally lodged at the High Court.

Nov 19: A crowdfunder is launched to help pay for the appeal.

Nov 24: The third appeal begins at the High Court in Edinburgh, sitting as the Court of Appeal, and lasts three days.

Dec 21: The US charges a "third conspirator" in connection with the Lockerbie bombing, on the 32nd anniversary of the atrocity.

2021

January 15: Judges reject both grounds of appeal, meaning Megrahi's conviction stands.