LONDON (Reuters) - Lawyers for a Libyan man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing demanded access on Thursday to evidence from an unnamed foreign state which they believe could undermine the case against him.
Maggie Scott, representing former Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, made the request at the first court hearing in the case since an independent commission decided in June that he should be granted a new appeal.
She said one of the documents the defense is seeking is related to the type of timer used in the bomb, which blew up a Pan Am airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, killing 270 people including 189 Americans.
Media reports had suggested the missing document, which has never been shown to the defense, was supplied to the prosecution by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and its disclosure could help clear Megrahi, serving a life sentence in a Scottish jail.
But prosecuting counsel Ronnie Clancy said the document had not come from the United States or its agencies, although he did not disclose the country involved.
He said it had been handed to Scotland’s Crown Office, the public prosecuting authority, on the basis that it should remain confidential, and the Crown had always tried to respect this. He asked to be given six weeks to respond to the defense request.
Jim Swire, a Briton whose daughter Flora died at Lockerbie, told Reuters after attending the hearing in Edinburgh: “I’m horrified to hear of these refusals to divulge information.”
Megrahi was convicted of the bombing in 2001, but the review commission said in June it believed he may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.
A successful appeal would throw the case wide open after nearly two decades. It is unclear how Libya would respond.
The North African state has paid more than $2 billion to victims’ families on the basis that its agent Megrahi was guilty, a move that has helped its international rehabilitation after long being regarded by the West as a pariah state.
The original trial was told the bomb was triggered by a digital timer called an MST-13, manufactured by a Swiss firm. The court accepted evidence from one of the firm’s partners that he had supplied 20 sample MST-13s to Libya in 1985 and 1986.
Some victims’ relatives and observers of the case have questioned the evidence relating to the timer, which came from minute fragments discovered among the airliner’s wreckage.
Swire has long believed the timer was not an MST-13 but a pressure-triggered device of a kind used by the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), which fell under strong international suspicion in the immediate aftermath of Lockerbie.
He said the source of the missing document might be Israel, Jordan or Germany. West Germany authorities had investigated the PFLP-GC, and the feeder flight for the doomed plane had taken off from Frankfurt.