British family rejects American deal for civil trial against Libya
date:    19 .April 1998


From THE JOURNAL

British local newspaper from North England

THE family of a Lockerbie bombing victim told yesterday why they have turned down a chance to join a multi-million pound legal claim, in order to see alleged killers brought to court.

On the eve of a landmark meeting between a Lockerbie families' representative and leading Arab figures, Jean Berkley spoke of her fears that action by American lawyers could jeopardise a criminal case against two Libyans accused of killing her son Alistair.

Mrs Berkley and her husband Barrie, who have played leading roles among victims' families, are among relatives to receive letters from New York lawyers offering to proceed with damages claims against the Libyan Government on a no-win, no-fee basis. A civil action could see millions of pounds of frozen Libyan assets released in damages to relatives.

But the Berkleys fear that if families take up unsolicited offers from the US lawyers to sue Libya on their behalf, the bombers may go unpunished. Law lecturer Alistair, 29, was among 270 people killed when Pan Am flight 103 exploded in mid air more than nine years ago. The Berkleys, who live near Corbridge, Northumberland, share their concerns over civil action with Dr Jim Swire, the father of another British victim.

He flies to Cairo today to meet Arab League members to discuss the deadlock over bringing the two Libyan suspects to trial. Dr Swire spoke with the Berkleys on Sunday to discuss how a trial could be held in a neutral country under Scottish law.

Mrs Berkley said yesterday: "We are not involved in the civil case. We decided it would be a diversion. It would be a one-sided presentation of the case without the Libyans being there, and the main problem is that it would jeopardise a criminal case. "We believe our energy should be going into having a criminal trial. We're not so interested in a civil case, because we feel it's all about money."

Lawyers Speiser, Krause, Nolan and Granito are understood to have told families they intend to proceed towards a civil action on their behalf, unless specifically instructed not to do so. The relatives' fear is that disclosure of evidence in a civil trial could weaken the prosecution's case in a criminal action, that Libya may refuse to put suspects forward for trial following a damages action against it, and that a civil case could be seen as a conclusion of legal action.

Dr Swire said yesterday of his Cairo visit: "We have a rising tide towards a civil case in America which would almost certainly mean a lot of money would be paid out to relatives, but it would also mean that justice would not be done, nor would it be seen to be done."

Any successful civil action would rely on the release of evidence against the two suspects by the Crown Office but last year it refused to release evidence to two US relatives and Dr Swire says he is now seeking assurances the situation has not changed. Professor Colin Warbrick, a Durham University expert in international law, said a civil case would not necessarily prejudice a criminal trial but if civil action, with a lower level of proof required than in a criminal case, were to fail, it would bode badly for any future prosecution. No-one at Speiser, Krause, Nolan and Granito was available for comment yesterday.


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