Lawyers for the only person convicted of the Pan Am Boeing 747-100 bombing over Scotland in 1988 have lost a long-running bid to appeal the judgement.
Libyan citizen Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi was imprisoned for his role in the bombing of flight PA103, which resulted in 270 fatalities as it came down in the town of Lockerbie, although he served only a few years of the sentence before being freed on compassionate grounds before his death in 2012.
His co-accused, Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, was acquitted.
Al-Megrahi’s posthumous appeal had focused on two grounds. The first was that the verdict was not one which a reasonable jury could have returned, owing to strong doubts relating to a shopkeeper’s identification of Al-Megrahi as the purchaser of clothing subsequently found to have been packed in the same suitcase as a radio-cassette player containing the bomb.
The second was a contention that prosecutors had failed to disclose certain specific documents to the defence, such as police statements and reports, mainly relating to the reliability of the shopkeeper’s identification.
But the Scottish appeal court of the High Court of Justiciary has conducted a detailed examination of the shopkeeper’s evidence and the reasons for the verdict and, after applying a legal test, rejected the first ground.
“On the evidence at trial, a reasonable jury, properly directed, would have been entitled to return a guilty verdict,” it has ruled in a decision disclosed on 15 January.
Among the various considerations of the second ground had been whether undisclosed documents would have shown that the shopkeeper’s testimony was influenced by the prospect of a financial reward.
But the ruling says the documents “do not indicate” any such motive. “Quite the contrary,” it states. “They portray a person with a reserved and introverted personality but with a strong sense of honesty and decency.”
It adds that the documents show there were discussions between the police and US investigators about a possible reward, but there is “nothing substantial” to suggest the shopkeeper had been offered one.
After reviewing other aspects of the appeal regarding the documentation, the ruling states: “The contention that the [prosecutors] failed to disclose material which would have created a real prospect of a different verdict is rejected.”
Given the rejection of both grounds of appeal, it concludes, the appeal against conviction “is refused”.
Al-Megrahi’s case had recently been separately undermined by the US government’s revelation that it was charging a third Libyan individual, Abu Agela Masud, with the bombing.
This followed an interview conducted with Masud, while in Libyan custody in 2012, during which – according to a US government affidavit – he offered a voluntary confession that he had taken part in the bombing.
Masud’s confession describes his taking the suitcase bomb to Malta’s Luqa airport and meeting there with Al-Megrahi and Fhimah, connecting all three to the alleged conspiracy to destroy the aircraft. Masud’s name, says the affidavit, had been raised by the original investigation, which failed to identify him at the time.