I woke up on Monday morning to the exciting headline on the BBC:
Lockerbie bomber Megrahi 'visited Malta for sex'
It has taken 23 years for sex and Lockerbie to become strange bedfellows. We have had the deaths of 270 people, the life sentence imposed on the families of the victims (grief, without parole), the trial in the Netherlands, the disputed conviction, the visit of Kenny MacAskill to Greenock prison, compassionate release, the long campaign to prove Megrahi's innocence, Jim Swire's heroic stoicism, Megrahi's refusal to die. Heaven sakes, the story has everything – except sex. But now it's got that too.
Lockerbie bomber Megrahi 'visited Malta for sex'
What was anyone supposed to make of this? Before reading the text, I assumed that Megrahi must have gone there in search of prostitutes. It is conceivable that Malta runs to one or two.
It wasn't like this. It seems that Megrahi had an extra-marital relationship with a woman on the island, a woman whom the BBC describes as his mistress. How does BBC Scotland know about all this? Ah. It has now 'seen previously secret documents' – a reference to the 800-page unpublished report of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission in which Megrahi makes a frank confession of his infidelity by way of explanation for his visits to Malta.
But just how secret are these documents? They are all over the place. Indeed they form the basis of John Ashton's book, 'Megrahi: You Are My Jury'. In response to a comment in this column, Mr Ashton has written to me to clarify how he acquired access to the SCCRC report: 'I got to see it with Megrahi’s approval, when I worked alongside his legal team. He allowed me to keep it and gave me his authority to present its contents in the book'. Well, that's clear enough. The only remaining question is how BBC Scotland also acquired access to these secret documents, which haven't been all that secret for at least a fortnight.
I need hardly add – but I do, anyway – that the BBC fails to reveal the source of its report about Megrahi's sex life. But we can take it for granted that it wasn't Megrahi. It does not require the forensic abilities of Sarah Lund (or, for that matter, Inspector Clouseau) to work out that the inspiration was somebody (or perhaps some body) hostile to the defence, sufficiently stung by last week's revelations to exact a terrible revenge. Megrahi in bed with a woman who wasn't his wife – 'for sex': that's what we call in Scotland a terrible revenge. The Sunday Post lives.
Mr Ashton himself confesses to be mystified by the lack of interest. But the Scottish media still can't see past the terms of the compassionate release
and the role of the fall guy, Scotland's justice secretary.
The author of the story, Reevel Alderson, is BBC Scotland's home affairs correspondent (although he seems to have strayed into foreign affairs here). He has done a lot of good work; he is highly respected. But, in the same spirit as I invited John Ashton to name his source, I invite Reevel Alderson to name his. Mr Ashton responded at once; I hope Mr Alderson does likewise. I'm not holding my breath.
Of course there is a bit more innuendo to the story than Baset in bed. There is the suggestion that, since he was allowed to visit the island without a passport, a fact previously known to students of the case, he could have been slipping in and out, able to visit Tony Gauci's shop on any number of occasions to buy the clothes to wrap round the explosive device to blow up the aircraft. On the other hand – always a hand worth inspecting in the Lockerbie case – it could be argued that the existence of the mistress removes any hint of a dark ulterior motive for Megrahi's visits to Malta.
The recent pattern of events has been fascinating. Mr Ashton's book reveals a huge evidential base pointing to Megrahi's innocence. SR then publishes an article by Mr Ashton disclosing for the first time the heavy involvement of the Scottish police in negotiating three million dollar payouts to Gauci and his brother, negotiations with which the Crown Office was familiar but chose to do nothing about. I wouldn't have called it implicit approval of the deals, but it came close. The Scottish media fail to pick up on Mr Ashton's story. Mr Ashton himself confesses to be mystified by the lack of interest. But the Scottish media still can't see past the terms of the compassionate release and the role of the fall guy, Scotland's justice secretary. The huge evidential base is anyway too boring to examine in detail. Let's just have another go at Kenny. Oh, and here's Megrahi in bed with a woman. Fabulous.
It is now clear that the selective unofficial publication of the SCCRC report is taking this case nowhere. It is a dreadful way for any mature democracy, far less one making such grand claims for the future as Scotland's, to conduct itself. The report must be published in full and be available for scrutiny by fair-minded people of all instincts and persuasions so that an intelligent judgement can be formed. The alternative is the present recriprocal bad-mouthing.
Is this really how we want Scottish justice to be conducted – by leak and smear?
Kenneth Roy is editor of the Scottish Review