Sunday, 20 May 2012

Al Megrahi

In the late Nineteen-nineties, I was sitting at my desk, getting on with my day to day job, when I was surprised to receive a phone call from the senior partner of a large litigation based firm in Glasgow. He was somebody I knew but hardly a regular correspondent.

The usual pleasantries were exchanged until he eventually got to the point. The word was, he observed, that two Libyans might be about to voluntarily submit to the jurisdiction of the Scottish Courts. They would need a lawyer. They were Arabs and thus would presumably be seeking advice as to who they might instruct. And the only Scottish person they would be likely to know would be George Galloway, who was known to be a pal of mine. So, did I know anything about this and might I be asked to make a recommendation?

The smell of fees was in the air.

I replied with complete sincerity that I knew nothing at all before gently pointing out that my interlocutor seemed somewhat confused between George, who was indeed, at least then, one of my comrades and Ron Brown, the one-time Gaddafiaite MP for Leith, a man I had barely met.

And, professionally, that is as close as I have ever been to the Lockerbie bombing trial(s).

But, of course, I do know almost all of the leading players: Alistair Duff, who was the solicitor originally instructed, together with the initial senior counsel in the case, Donald Macaulay, later to find fame as a distinguished Sheriff and Gordon Brown's father in law respectively; to a greater or lesser degree, all of the Law Officers involved in prosecuting the case and then maintaining the safety of the conviction; the Chief Executive of the Criminal Case Review Commission, who once held the exalted position of my trainee; Tony Kelly, Megrahi's most recent solicitor, who practised beside me at the Airdrie Bar and who remains a drinking companion; Kenny McAskill who I knew both as a practising solicitor and later in his more elevated role; even many of the Judges who sat at various stages in deliberation.

I don't say any of that to blow my own trumpet. Scotland is a small jurisdiction and many, many others would be able to claim equal familiarity with those involved.

But, I can guarantee you this. If I somehow could assemble those of my acquaintance in my front room tonight, and promise them absolute confidentiality for their opinions, there would be no consensus among them as to Megrahi's guilt or innocence.

And trying to get to grip with the case needs to start from that acceptance. Those who maintain his guilt are not perverting their professionalism in service to some CIA/Thatcherite/Blairite/McAskillite conspiracy and those equally convinced of his innocence are not green ink conspiracy theorists. There is evidence both ways, as both sides, in their calmer moments, would concede. 

But, all crimes, even the most terrible crimes, perhaps particularly the most terrible crimes, need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And my own view has always been that in respect of this accused, for this particular crime, there is that reasonable doubt. That does not mean that I would be prepared to have signed off his ultimate acquittal, as was done for the obvious Irish miscarriages of an early era, on the basis that he would leave the court "without any stain on his character". For the avoidance of any doubt, even by his own admission, Megrahi was never some ingenue "fitted up" randomly from the  back streets of Tripoli, but rather an intelligence officer voluntarily serving a brutal and despotic regime.

But, oddly, I start where I finish. Long before Megrahi was arrested my own view was, with, I should emphasise, no reflection on either of the individuals named, that it seemed to me that those truly responsible for the Lockerbie bombing would have been more likely to have heard of George Galloway than of Ron Brown.

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