If this book were a work of fiction, describing murder and intrigue in the Middle East around the end of the Cold War, it would rank as a masterwork along with the best of Forsyth and le Carre. Tragically everything John Ashton has written has a ring of truth and every piece of evidence is cross-referenced to an authoritative source.
John Ashton worked for many years as a researcher on the case and in that capacity he had legitimate access to the massive report from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which carried out its own enquiries for many years and concluded that there were several major reasons why the original trial decision was unsound and Mr Megrahi should be allowed a second appeal. (Incidentally, contrary to what has often been said by British and American public figures, the first appeal was limited to very technical matters so that the judges were not asked to review the actual evidence at all.) The SCCRC report remains officially secret, even the Scottish Justice Secretary saying recently that he had not seen it, so Mr Ashton's book deserves a special status as a major part of the historical record.
Devastatingly for the reputation of the Scottish justice system and its denizens the tragedy of Lockerbie continues to blot our legal landscape and will continue to do so until the name of Mr Megrahi is cleared and the victims of the disaster get the closure they all deserve. As the book shows, the first could have happened before now had the cancer-stricken appellant not withdrawn his case, apparently in the hope that it would help achieve his desire to die at home with his family. Matters had not been helped by the Crown Office delaying the process of the second appeal with various technical and ultimately unsuccessful challenges. The second, closure, can only be found if and when the true facts become clear. That will depend on much greater will on both sides of the Atlantic to open official records than presently exists.
Like many other Scots I was horrified by the original disaster and have followed events ever since. In the early years almost everything in the Press seemed to direct suspicion towards Iranian and/or Palestinian involvement with Libya hardly being mentioned. There were references to the previous shooting down of an Iranian plane carrying pilgrims to Mecca by the USS Vincennes, a horrific atrocity which resulted in the crew of the warship receiving awards. It seemed obvious that Iran would seek some revenge for this. Accordingly it was a surprise to find attention being changed to Libya some years later.
As a lawyer I followed the case in the Press and studied the trial judgement when it was published online. I was not a specialist in criminal work but it seemed that the judges had made some logical leaps to justify their verdict, there being for example nothing to suggest how Mr Megrahi was supposed to have engineered the placing of the bomb on the plane at Luqa Airport, where the judges declared the security to be exemplary. Incidentally I think most if us feel more secure flying to small provincial airports where security is invariably direct and personal rather than enormous hubs such as Frankfurt or Heathrow. I am not alone in my views and I doubt if one could find a lawyer who, having read the judgement, would argue that it was sound (outside, perhaps, government circles). Circumstantial cases can be very strong but every link must match up and a major problem with this one was that the star witness Mr Giaka was found to be in the pay of the CIA and unreliable so that his evidence had to be almost totally disregarded.
John Ashton's book describes all these events in detail and then takes us on a journey to the present. It is an important part of a story which continues to unfold and of huge importance not just to those of us who live in Scotland but to all who are concerned with the way events and their coverage are controlled in a supposedly free society.