South Scotland

Crown Office 'threatened with legal action over Lockerbie documents delay'

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi
Image caption Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison suffering from cancer

The Crown Office was threatened with legal action over delays in handing over key documents about the Lockerbie bombing, it has been claimed.

The Herald newspaper says the warning came from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) during its investigation into a possible miscarriage of justice in the case.

The Crown Office, which is responsible for preparing prosecutions in Scots courts, said the SCCRC had noted that its responses were often detailed and helpful.

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, 59, was convicted in January 2001 of carrying out the bombing, which killed 270 people.

He was returned to Libya on compassionate grounds in August 2009 after serving 10 years of a life sentence.

The SCCRC took four years to consider the Lockerbie case, before producing an 821-page document which referred Megrahi's conviction back to the Appeal Court.

Legal action

The document - called a statement of reasons - has never been published, even though Megrahi abandoned his appeal shortly before he was allowed to return home.

The Scottish government said it wanted to publish the SCCRC report, but was being prevented by data protection rules.

The Herald articlesuggests that the commission faced a struggle to obtain documentation from the Crown Office during its investigation.

It is understood that one request for papers was not answered for more than a year, and that the SCCRC warned the Crown Office it would take legal action.

The author of a recently-published book about the Lockerbie case, John Ashton, said the revelations would cause embarrassment for the Crown Office.

"This is the first time the extent to which the Crown Office has held back evidence has been revealed," he told BBC Radio Scotland.

"Here we have a detailed account of what the Crown told the commission when the commission was trying to get an explanation for why documents were being withheld from Megrahi's defence."

He said the Crown had a duty to disclose these documents - and claimed that if they had done so, Megrahi would have walked free.

Image caption The bombing claimed the lives of 270 people

"This is really a scandal, and the Crown must be held accountable for it," he said.

Mr Ashton was asked about claims that payments were made to the key prosecution witness, Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who identified Megrahi as a man who bought clothes which were later found in the suitcase which had contained the bomb.

These payments were not made until after the conclusion of Megrahi's first appeal in Kamp van Zeist in the Netherlands in 2002.

Mr Ashton said: "Mr Gauci, the witness in question, knew that rewards were on offer. He'd asked the police about them and he was under the influence of his brother, who was nagging the police, it seems, regularly about this."

He said that was just one of seven pieces of evidence which were not disclosed to the defence team.

"I'm clear that if that evidence had been disclosed to Mr Megrahi's lawyers, it's very unlikely that he would have been convicted," he said.

The Crown Office said inquiry into the bombing generated about 15,600 statements, as well as thousands of witnesses and documents.

"At the end of the review conducted by the SCCRC, it was accepted that the Crown's response to the commission's requests were often detailed and helpful and that the provision of information to the commission helped it greatly in completing its work," said a spokesperson.

The Crown Office added that the commission had rejected the vast majority of the grounds of appeal.

The case had been referred back to the Appeal Court on six grounds - many of which were interrelated.

It added: "In preparing for the second appeal, the Crown considered all the information in the statement of reasons and had every confidence that it would successfully defend the conviction in the Appeal Court."

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