New legal papers to be released soon, says Megrahi lawyer

Dying Libyan convicted of bombing to defy criticism by Scots prosecutor and present more evidence
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The Independent Online

The lawyer acting for the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi yesterday defended his client's decision to publish hundreds of legal documents relating to his abandoned appeal.

The move, which will see further detailed legal papers published this week, was criticised by Scotland's top law officer, who accused Megrahi of "selective publication" of documents favourable to his case, despite having chosen to drop his appeal.

Yesterday, Megrahi's Scottish solicitor, Tony Kelly, said: "The Lord Advocate is correct in that the appropriate forum for this to be aired is the court. However, my client has been freed and still asserts his innocence and he is doing what he can in furtherance of this and he has taken the decision to publish these documents on a website."

Megrahi's move will fuel the row surrounding his release. He was serving a life sentence with a minimum term of 27 years after being convicted in 2001 of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988, killing 270 people.

His release by Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill triggered an international controversy, sparking outrage among the relatives of US victims. Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, was freed early on compassionate grounds last month from Greenock prison. Before his release, he dropped his second appeal against conviction.

On Friday, hundreds of pages of documents relating to Megrahi's abandoned appeal were published on a website. "I will do everything in my power to persuade the public, and in particular the Scottish public, of my innocence," he said in a statement.

The publication was condemned by Scotland's top law officer, Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini, who said she "deplored" his attempt to challenge his conviction though "selective publication of his view of the evidence in the media" after he abandoned his appeal.

Mr Kelly said yesterday his client had respected the legal procedures throughout his ordeal. "My client has been most respectful of the court processes during the entire period. There has never ever been a suggestion of him behaving improperly in any way and he has acted responsibly throughout."

"The only appropriate forum for the determination of guilt or innocence is the criminal court," said Ms Angiolini, who is responsible for prosecutions in Scotland. She said Megrahi was convicted by three senior judges following trial and his conviction was upheld unanimously by five judges in an Appeal Court presided over by the Lord Justice General, Scotland's most senior judge. "Mr Megrahi remains convicted of the worst terrorist atrocity in UK history," she said.

The Crown had been "ready, willing and able" to argue the case for his conviction in the appeal which Megrahi had abandoned. "As he and his legal team have made clear, the decision to discontinue the appeal proceedings was taken voluntarily by Mr Megrahi himself. Having done so, he now seeks to retry his case in the media and criticise the evidence against him," she said. She added the Libyan had also been silent at his trial, where the only evidence heard by the judges was a TV interview Megrahi had given.

The release of the documents will spur the long-running campaign, supported by some British relatives of victims, to have his conviction overturned. In today's Independent on Sunday, the civil rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, who has successfully represented clients including the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Tipton Three, says that Megrahi's conviction was a miscarriage of justice and calls for an inquiry to be set up.

She says there has been a lack of an independent, effective and transparent investigation. "In the absence of this, a number of the bereaved Lockerbie families have of necessity themselves become investigators, asking probing questions for two decades without receiving answers; they have learnt sufficient forensic science to make sense of what was being presented at al-Megrahi's trial and make up their own minds whether the prosecution of two Libyans at Camp Zeist near Utrecht was in fact a three-card trick put together for political ends."

The most important aspects of prosecution case against Megrahi were "hijacked" from the Scottish police investigating the bombing, Ms Peirce argues. The crime scene was violated she says, in part "because outsiders were conducting a desperate search for wreckage that it was important for them to find and spirit away".