Hurd stance on Lockerbie trial `a betrayal'

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Indy Politics
Relatives of people who died in the Lockerbie disaster yesterday accused the Government of betrayal after Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, ruled out a trial in an international court of the two Libyans accused of the terrorist bombing. Mr Hurd repeated the Government's insistence that the Libyans should stand trial in Scotland. Ministers would not approve a hearing in a neutral country because, he said, there was no guarantee that the suspects would agree to appear.

In the Commons, Mr Hurd dismissed new evidence implicating Iran and Syrian-backed Palestinian terrorists in the bombing as "rumours" and insisted that all the available evidence pointed towards Tripoli. He said he could not discuss recent revelations indicating that the case against the Libyans is fundamentally flawed. Politicians could not "weigh and ponder evidence" before a trial.

He said: "During the early stages of the investigation, the possibility that Palestinian extremist groups might be responsible was extensively investigated and so were reports of Iranian involvement. No credible evidence has been found to substantiate either theory." The "most massive criminal investigation ever to take place in Britain" had led to charges against the two alleged Libyan agents, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah and Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, and "the case against them stands".

Mr Hurd said he had taken the rare step of replying to the adjournment debate brought by the Labour backbencher, Tam Dalyell, "because of the enormity of the crime and the suffering which it caused and causes" to the relatives of the 270 people who died when Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed in December 1988.

His comments were dismissed by the 40 relatives who had travelled to the Commons to hear the debate. Led by their new legal adviser, Michael Mansfield QC, the families called for a judicial inquiry similar to the Scott inquiry into the arms-to-Iraq affair. They also plan to urge the European Commission to make a full statement on the Lockerbie investigation.

Dr Jim Swire, spokesman for the British relatives, described the Government's decision to rule out an international court as "a betrayal of the relatives and an insult to the memory of our lost loved ones". Dr Swire pointed out that although the Libyan suspects had refused to surrender for trial in Britain or America, they had offered to appear before a UN tribunal in The Hague - a proposal supported by the Libyan foreign ministry.

Dr Swire acknowledged Mr Hurd's concerns that the two suspects might refuse to appear at the last minute, but, he said: "Now is the time to call their bluff and open talks with their defence lawyers to find a mutually acceptable venue. It is clear that there is no prospect of a trial in Scotland or the US. The Libyans have made an offer to break the deadlock. Ministers should take them up on it.

"We relatives have one simple demand. We want to find out why our children, our husbands and our wives died. By ruling out a trial in a neutral country, the Government is blocking the main avenue of progress."