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Lockerbie trial invalid - lawyer

Al Megrahi's appeal is expected to last five weeks
Al Megrahi's appeal is expected to last five weeks  


CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands (CNN) -- The Libyan convicted of carrying out the Lockerbie bombing was the victim of a miscarriage of justice, a court has been told on the opening day of his appeal.

William Taylor QC said his client Abdel Baset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi's conviction was not one that a "reasonable" jury could have reached in an ordinary trial if directed properly.

Al-Megrahi is currently serving a life sentence at Camp Zeist after being found guilty of mass murder last January.

The 49-year-old Libyan was ordered to serve a minimum of 20 years in jail after being convicted of the murder of 270 people in the 1988 atrocity.

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Opening the appeal on behalf of Al-Megrahi, Taylor said he would be questioning the validity of the original trial's findings and intended to bring fresh evidence that cast doubt on the conviction.

"Basically his lawyers must prove miscarriage of justice in the original trial," said CNN's Jim Bittermann.

At that trial, Al-Megrahi's co-defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, a Libyan Arab Airlines official, was acquitted of all charges.

All 259 people on board the Boeing 747, as well as 11 on the ground, were killed when Pan Am flight 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie on its way from Heathrow to New York in 1988.

If the conviction is upheld, Al-Megrahi, who has been in prison at the base since giving himself up in April 1999, will be transferred to a Scottish prison where he will serve the rest of his sentence.

Members of Al-Megrahi's family, as well as families of some of the victims, were present in court to hear the start of an appeal which is expected to last about five weeks.

The opening of the hearing, on Wednesday, marked a first in legal history by becoming the first British court proceedings to be shown live on television and the Internet.

The appeal is being heard at Camp Zeist, the Scottish court purpose built in the Netherlands for the original trial.

But the proceedings, which are being heard before a panel of five judges, ground to a halt in the afternoon when a problem with the court's technical equipment meant the hearing was unable to resume.

lockerbie
The Lockerbie bombing killed 270 people  

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said the incident was "highly regrettable" and repairs were being made to equipment that was damaged.

The spokesman added: "The computer which manages the real-time court reporting system failed because of a hardware problem. Unfortunately, this damaged other units within the audio-visual studio which will now be repaired."

During the trial 232 witnesses gave evidence for the prosecution while only three appeared for the defence.

It was Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci who identified Al-Megrahi as a man who had bought clothing at his store a few weeks before the bombing. Shreds of the same clothing were found scattered around Lockerbie as the debris of the plane was recovered. Evidence was produced to indicate the clothing had been packed around the bomb.

Defence lawyers in the trial questioned the reliability of Gauci's evidence and the panel of judges admitted he had not made an "absolutely positive" identification of Al-Megrahi, either in court or from photographs.

"The grounds of appeal state that the court erred both in accepting his identification of Mr. Megrahi and also the date on which the court suggests the clothing was purchased which was found to be contained in the suitcase with the bomb," said University of Glasgow legal expert Clare Connelly.

The appeal will also focus on the evidence of a Heathrow security guard who said he discovered a break-in at the airport on December 21, 1988 -- 17 hours before the doomed plane took off for New York.

Ray Manly said he reported the incident at the time and was interviewed by anti-terrorist officers, but his evidence was never brought to Al-Megrahi's trial.

The judges will have to decide whether to admit Manly's testimony.

Prosecutor Alan Turnbull argued the information from the security guard was "insufficient materially" to be allowed into the appeal process.

According to the prosecution's version of events, which was accepted by the three judges, the suitcase carrying the bomb that blew up the plane was loaded onto a plane in Malta.

From there it was transported via Frankfurt to Heathrow, where it was loaded onto Pan Am Flight 103.

Al-Megrahi's defence team has always insisted the bomb suitcase was more likely to have been placed aboard the plane at Heathrow and will look to Manly's evidence to support their claim.

Dr Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora died in the tragedy, said his main concern was to see the criminal proceedings concluded in order to clear the way for a full public inquiry.

He told the Press Association: "We are on the last lap of the Scottish criminal process, which is particularly important as we want to know whether this remaining accused is guilty or not.

"What we really want is an inquiry into why the intelligence warnings were ignored and why British aviation security didn't even meet the minimum standards required of it.

"Successive governments have used this process as a reason why we can't have an inquiry. Since 1991 the denial of an inquiry has been based on the fact that there is an ongoing criminal investigation and a trial which might be affected."

Speaking outside court, a leading Arab lawyer said he believed the appeal would succeed and spoke of his confidence in the Scottish justice system.

Ziyad Al-Hassawnah, deputy secretary-general of the Union of Arab Lawyers in Cairo, said: "We are optimistic that justice will be rendered and we have great faith in the justice of the Court of Appeal.

"Whatever decision is rendered, we will comply with it and respect it. Of course, we keep in mind the different ways of appeal, including the European Court of Human Rights and other high courts."

The appeal was adjourned until Thursday.

-- CNN's Jim Bittermann contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 


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