THE senior law officer who issued indictments for
the Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing is facing pressure to sign a
sworn statement after allegedly referring to the prosecution’s main witness
at the trial as being “an apple short of a picnic”.
Families of those killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded
in December 1988 have urged Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Scotland’s
former Lord Advocate, to explain himself after apparently describing a
Maltese shopkeeper who testified during the Lockerbie trial as “not quite
the full shilling”.
Tony Gauci’s testimony was crucial
in securing the conviction of Abdel Basset Ali
al-Megrahi at a Scottish court in the Netherlands in
2001. Mr Gauci sold the
clothes that were wrapped around the bomb and was the only witness to link
al-Megrahi directly to the device.
Al-Megrahi, serving his 27-year
jail term in Scotland,
is trying to mount a second appeal against his sentence. Doubts over Mr Gauci’s testimony are said
to be central to his lawyer’s case. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review
Commission (SCCRC) is expected to decide next spring whether the appeal
should be allowed.
Relatives of British victims of the bombing yesterday
described Lord Fraser’s reported comments as extraordinary and called on
him to make a sworn statement clarifying his position. As Lord Advocate, he
was ultimately responsible for the prosecution case against al-Megrahi and his co-accused, Lamine
Khalifa Fhimah, when
indictments were issued against them in Edinburgh in
November 1991. Fhimah was later acquitted.
The controversy comes amid mounting speculation that the
SCCRC is to rule that al-Megrahi suffered an
apparent miscarriage of justice and should be granted leave to appeal.
Jim Swire, whose 24-year-old
daughter was among the 270 killed in the bombing, said that Lord Fraser’s
alleged remarks to a newspaper earlier this week were “an extraordinary
Mr Swire, who
believes that Palestinian terrorists, not Libyans, carried out the bombing,
told The Times: “Because he was Lord Advocate at the time of the
indictments his opinion is of dramatic significance. Gauci
was the only person who claimed to be able to identify the buyer of the
clothes [in which the bomb was wrapped] . . . he was the key identifier of Megrahi.”
He said that Lord Fraser should be asked to give sworn
evidence to the SCCRC, stating whether his view of Mr
Gauci’s reliability had changed and, if so, what
had prompted this.
The Rev John Mosey, whose 19-year-old daughter was also
killed, said that at the very least Lord Fraser should explain himself to
families of the victims. “If he has said these things and they are his
honest thoughts, then it’s quite amazing,” he said. “But why didn’t he say
it earlier? If he’s got serious doubts, then he really ought to go on the
Lord Fraser, who served as Scotland’s
Lord Advocate from 1989 to 1992 and went on to become a Conservative
minister, allegedly described Mr Gauci as a weak point in the case against al-Megrahi and a “simple” man who might have been “easily
He reportedly said: “Gauci was
not quite the full shilling. I think even his family would say [that he]
was an apple short of a picnic . . . You do have to worry, he’s a slightly
simple chap, are you putting words in his mouth even if you don’t intend
Asked to clarify his alleged remarks, Lord Fraser told The
Times that comments attributed to him had been misleading and
selective, though he did not deny making them.
Pressed further, he said that he would “no longer engage
in discussion with the Scottish media. You are collectively regarded as a
joke in London
and with great reluctance I now understand why.”
Last night Scotland’s
top prosecutor also demanded an explanation from Lord Fraser. Colin Boyd,
the present Lord Advocate, demanded that his predecessor issue a public
statement to clarify what he said and what he meant.
Mr Boyd said several “speculative and
ill-informed” media reports had appeared in recent weeks in relation to al-Megrahi’s trial and conviction. “I have refrained from
publicly speaking about these but I do have to comment on remarks in an
article last Sunday attributed to Lord Fraser of Carmyllie,”
he said. “Lord Fraser has indicated to my officials that he did not intend
to attack the credibility or reliability of Mr Gauci and I have asked him to clarify publicly what he
has said and what he meant.”
Gerard Sinclair, chief executive of the SCCRC, refused to
say whether the body was investigating Lord Fraser’s reported remarks. “Any
investigation we carry out we seek to do so as rigorously and as thoroughly
as possible,” he said.
Robert Black, Professor Emeritus of Scots Law at the
University of Edinburgh and a Lockerbie expert, described the alleged
remarks as “an indication that various people who have been involved in the
Lockerbie prosecution are now positioning themselves in anticipation of the
SCCRC holding that there was a prima facie miscarriage of justice and
sending it back for a fresh appeal”.
The controversy also coincides with growing suggestions
that al-Megrahi may be allowed to serve the rest
of his jail term in a country in North Africa.