Lockerbie bomber is granted leave to appeal

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The Libyan intelligence officer found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing has been granted leave to appeal against his conviction.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, serving a life sentence for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in which 270 people died, will have his appeal heard at Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands, where the original trial was held.

A preliminary hearing will take place on October 15, where the dates will be set for proceedings early next year in front of five fresh judges.

The conviction of Al Megrahi, 49, at the end of the Lockerbie trial proved to be highly controversial, with many of the bereaved families expressing doubts about the verdict and the decision of the three Scottish judges – Lords Sutherland, Coulsfield and MacLean – coming under criticism from a number of legal experts.

His co-defendant, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted and returned to Libya to a hero's welcome led by the country's leader, Colonel Gaddafi.

The decision to grant leave to appeal was made by a judge sitting alone.The grounds for it were not disclosed by the High Court of Justiciary, in Edinburgh. Al Megrahi had lodged notice of his intention to appeal against the conviction in February, and his lawyers lodged the full grounds of the appeal several months ago.

Al Megrahi's legal team has been bolstered since his conviction by two high-profile lawyers, the British barrister Michael Mansfield and the Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz.

The pair are likely to challenge evidence that came from Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, who identified Al Megrahi as a man who bought clothing from his store shortly before the bombing. Remnants of that clothing were found scattered around Lockerbie after the atrocity and there was evidence that the clothes were packed around the bomb that blew up the aircraft. The reliability of Mr Gauci's evidence was intensely questioned during the trial.

The Lockerbie trial had widespread diplomatic as well as legal ramifications. The handing over of the two suspects to the British and US authorities led to United Nations sanctions against Libya being suspended.