Evidence against Lockerbie bomber ‘virtually of no value,’ lawyer tells court

Posthumous defense team claims key testimony linking Libyan found guilty of 1988 attack that killed 270 was collected in a ‘highly prejudicial’ way that led to false identification

British lawyer Aamer Anwar (C) arrives with members of his team to take part on the opening day of a posthumous appeal against the conviction of Libyan Abdelbaset Mohmet al-Megrahi for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie. (Andy Buchanan / AFP)
British lawyer Aamer Anwar (C) arrives with members of his team to take part on the opening day of a posthumous appeal against the conviction of Libyan Abdelbaset Mohmet al-Megrahi for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie. (Andy Buchanan / AFP)

GLASGOW, United Kingdom — The identification of the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing was “highly prejudicial” as a key witness saw a photograph linking him to the crime shortly before the trial, a Scottish appeals court was told on Wednesday.

The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, killed 270 people in Britain’s largest terrorist atrocity.

Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset Mohmet Al-Megrahi, who died in 2012, was convicted of mass murder by three judges at a special Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands in 2001 and was jailed for life.

His family’s lawyer said shopkeeper Tony Gauci’s original testimony that Megrahi bought clothing in his shop in Malta that was later found in a suitcase containing the bomb was “virtually of no value.”

“The circumstances in which that dock identification was made was highly prejudicial,” Claire Mitchell told five judges at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh.

“The identification was made shortly after he [Gauci] had seen a photograph which he had of course seen before, of an article suggesting that Mr Megrahi may have been the bomber… I think the wording of it is ‘who planted the Lockerbie bomb?’ and underneath there is a photograph of the appellant (Megrahi),” Mitchell said.

Identification of a defendant in such a manner was “something no court could have placed any weight on,” she added.

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi at a hospital in Tripoli, September 9, 2009. (Mahmud Turkia/AFP)

Megrahi was released from prison on health grounds in 2009 and died in Tripoli three years later aged 60.

His family won an appeal to Scotland’s highest criminal court after an independent case review body said earlier this year that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

Central to the original prosecution case was that Megrahi was responsible for buying the brown Samsonite suitcase used to plant the bomb in the ill-fated Boeing 747’s cargo hold.

But Mitchell maintains they had not proved that Megrahi was the person who bought the clothing found in the suitcase at a shop in Malta on December 7, 1988.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) in March referred the case to the High Court of Justiciary on the grounds that an “unreasonable verdict” was returned.

It also highlighted “non-disclosure” of evidence to Megrahi’s defense team.

Hours after the event, policemen stand near the wreckage of the 747 Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988. (Roy Letkey/AFP)

It has been widely claimed that the bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by a Syrian-based Palestinian group in retaliation for a US Navy strike on an Iranian Airbus six months earlier in which 290 people died.

Late last Friday, the High Court upheld a secrecy order signed in August by UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to withhold intelligence documents related to the case on grounds of national security.

In 2008, then-foreign secretary David Miliband also refused to release the papers before Megrahi’s second appeal.

The documents are thought to allege a Jordanian intelligence agent within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) built the bomb.

The PFLP-GC has been designated a terrorist group by several countries, including Britain and the United States.

The Megrahi family lawyers believe the documents are central to their appeal.

Megrahi’s first appeal was dismissed in 2002 and a second abandoned after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The judges, including Scotland’s most senior jurist, Lord Justice General Colin Sutherland, are hearing the current case, which is due to last until Friday.

The Megrahi family’s legal team is taking part remotely from Glasgow. A ruling is expected at a later date.

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