Edinburgh Book Festival: Kenny MacAskill: Unlocking Lockerbie, Review

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For some people their careers are defined by a single issue, so said Ruth Wishart who was chairing the session with Kenny MacAskill, the former Scottish Justice Secretary, who was discussing his book, 'The Lockerbie Bombing - The Search for Justice'. For MacAskill it was possibly the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi who was the only man ever convicted of the bombing of the PanAm flight 103. He was released by MacAskill on compassionate grounds as al-Megrahi was suffering from terminal postate cancer. The flight exploded above the town of Lockerbie killing all two hundred and seventy passengers and crew together with eleven people on the ground.

But this was no ordinary event as one questioner said, MacAskill by his rapid fire speech and by his body language seemed to imply that he was not confident about the book. The questioner asked if the whole aim of the book was to show that 'poor little Scotland was helpless to all that was going on' and it was only the big commercial interests and the international powers that called the tune on Lockerbie and the release of al-Megrahi.

MacAskill replied that it was quite clearly an international affair. He said that Colonel Gaddafi was the man to blame and he maintained that this had been mentioned several times by members of the Libyan Government and had never been refuted. MacAskill claimed that it was a big international stitch-up with Scotland being left to "carry the can" for everyone.

He talked about President Obama controlling all this with a lot of American involvement, particularly with the decisions about Libyan oil and their other resources. He also said that Clinton and Jack Straw for the British Government were deeply involved with the decisions that were taken to release al-Megrahi and it all therefore came back to international politics and where Scotland got nothing from the release at all.

MacAskill also talked about the doubts that surrounded al-Megrahi and buying clothes in Malta which was one of the main points in the trial. If, as the MacAskill book says, “clothes in the suitcase that carried the bomb were acquired in Malta, though not by Megrahi", then he certainly was not involved. It raises a question mark over the verdict that was reached at the trial. If the clothes were not bought at Gauci's shop, as MacAskill claims - although the actual evidence seems sketchy - then al-Megrahi should not have been convicted.

If MacAskill has evidence that was not disclosed at the trial than this should be handed to the police forthwith. Both the book and MacAskill in questioning left the audience wondering what the evidence was and where it was?

The audience were left with some doubts about why the book was written - was it an opportunity for MacAskill to clear his name and simply give his own version of events? Or did MacAskill see this as an opportunity to set matters right? In which case any evidence should have been passed to the authorities.

In his book, MacAskill maintains that the lawyers and the police all acted in good faith and that they did what they could with the evidence available to them. That everyone behaved correctly is not disputed, but it does seem that MacAskill is trying to exonerate the Scottish police from any blame. One accepts that, as MacAskill said it is important to, "cut some slack" to those who are trying their best to produce evidence under difficult circumstances.

All in all this was not a very satisfactory or a convincing showing by Kenny MacAskill who I have heard speak much more convincingly on other occasions.

The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice (May 2016) by Kenny MacAskill is published by Biteback Publishing.