Has Scotland really swallowed this crazy conspiracy?

Magnus Linklater

A remarkable thing happened at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday. Eight senior Scottish judges were accused of presiding over a major miscarriage of justice in the Lockerbie affair — and a packed Scottish audience applauded.

That trust in the judiciary should have descended to this level says much about the way that the long saga of this terrorist atrocity has evolved. A determined campaign to absolve the convicted bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, of guilt, has succeeded to the extent that not only does it appear to have swayed public opinion in his favour, it has also undermined confidence in the most important legal process Scotland has been involved in since the Second World War.

The man who lodged the accusation was Hans Köchler, the UN observer at the Lockerbie trial. He believes that the judges, both at the original trial, and the appeal, were prepared to overlook flawed evidence to ensure a conviction. His fellow panel members, Jim Swire, whose daughter died in the bombing, and the writer John Ashton, who has ghosted al-Megrahi’s own account of the affair, agreed.

They believe not only that the evidence was deliberately manipulated at the trial, but that, from the outset, there was a conspiracy to point the finger at Libya and divert attention from the real instigator, Iran.

Yet that contention has never been challenged in any detail. Because the trial judges and the Crown Office, Scotland’s prosecution service, are bound by convention to remain silent, the counter-argument has gone by default so that we have only heard one side of the case. The opportunity of a second appeal, which might have tested the allegations, was abandoned by al-Megrahi himself when he was released on compassionate grounds and returned to Libya.

But the case mounted by the pro-Megrahi campaigners is every bit as flawed as the one it seeks to dismantle. To demonstrate that Libya was framed, they have to prove that there was a calculated decision to do so. That decision would have had to lead to the planting or suppression of forensic evidence, the control of witnesses by intelligence services, the approval of senior politicians, the complicity of police officers, a prosecution team prepared to bend every rule to secure a conviction, and a set of senior Scottish judges willing to go along with that.

This last contention is perhaps the most controversial. As Brian McConnachie, a senior Scottish QC, puts it: “The idea that eight Scottish judges took part in a deliberate manipulation of evidence for political reasons is simply preposterous.”

But for the conspiracy theorists, who have excluded reason and logic, the preposterous is all that remains.