Evidence used against Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, was subject to deliberate destruction and manipulation for political reasons, according to leaked documents from his defence team.
The allegations suggest authorities on both sides of the Atlantic attempted to mislead the original inquiry into the 1988 disaster to divert attention away from the original Iranian-backed suspects to Libya, with evidence apparently tampered with, destroyed and overlooked.
In a decision that could send shockwaves through the Scottish legal system, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is expected to conclude this week that the conviction of Megrahi – jailed in 2001 for his part in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 which killed 270 people – is unsafe.
Amid claims from his defence team of a “co-ordinated effort to mislead the court”, tantamount to a perversion of the course of justice, the SCCRC is studying hundreds of documents and photographs that suggest evidence was deliberately fabricated, manipulated or ignored by police and CIA operatives.
Should Megrahi’s case be referred back to the appeal court, his legal team intends to lodge an application for him to be freed while the court decides whether to quash his conviction or order a retrial.
Megrahi’s team believes the evidence was manipulated to avoid antagonising Iran at the time of the first Gulf War.
Tam Dalyell, a long-term Lockerbie campaigner, last night said the SCCRC report should be made public, followed by a public inquiry.
The array of documents question the credibility of key prosecution claims, including evidence from Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who sold Megrahi clothes, and the only individual to directly link the Libyan to the atrocity.
The garments, found around the Dumfriesshire countryside, were traced back to Mr Gauci’s store. However, Megrahi’s defence papers show that Mr Gauci twice identified Mohammed Abu Talb, a convicted Egyptian terrorist with links with the Iranian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and gave statements claiming no knowledge of selling shirts to Megrahi.
Although he did, six months later, recall selling the clothes, Mr Gauci never fully confirmed Megrahi at an identification parade.
He gave contradictory descriptions of the man who bought the clothes. Two early witness statements made by Mr Gauci are also believed to missing.
Other claims put forward by the defence relate to apparent inconsistencies in the state of key items of evidence from their point of discovery and presentation in court. The shirt apparently sold to Megrahi, his defence believes, was tampered with during the inquiry, while a child’s babygro said to have been wrapped around the bomb and shown to the court as fragments was recovered intact, according to a statement from a member of the search team.
A manual for the Toshiba radio containing the bomb was also intact, according to statements from mountain rescuers.
That item, presented in court as shredded, was key to Megrahi’s conviction, as it provided a link to a piece of the bomb’s mechanism to which he was associated.
Mr Dalyell said: “The Crown Office has a moral obligation to hold a public inquiry. If it embarrasses the Scottish judiciary, so be it. We’re in danger of becoming the laughing stock of Europe.”
The commission is due to issue its report on Thursday