HC Deb 01 February 1995 vol 253 cc1056-64

2 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

My concerns about Lockerbie have been set out in Adjournment debates, foreign affairs debates and endless parliamentary questions over six years, most recently on 13 December in the Scottish Grand Committee at column 40, so I invite the Foreign Secretary to address the following questions, of which the Foreign Office has had 26 hours' notice.

Did the Scottish police request interviews with Ghadanfar and Dalkoumani? If not, why not? If so, were they denied access to the two men? Will the British Government object if Dalkoumani is released later this year? Did the British authorities ever interview Marwan Khreesat, briefly detained and then released in Neuss, Germany?

Considering two Libyans have been indicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence, would the Foreign Secretary acknowledge contrary circumstantial evidence set out in recent days by Alan Francovitch, Con Coughlin and John Arlidge, and in their seminal, if derided, book "Trail of the Octopus" by Don Goddard and Lester Coleman? In particular, is the Foreign Secretary at ease, in the light of the "File on Four" programme, in respect of the pivotal witness, Toni Gauci, clothing shopkeeper from Malta?

If the Foreign Secretary is so sure about the Malta connection, how does he explain that Air Malta won an out-of-court settlement against Granada and The Independent, neither of which could substantiate its story of Maltese involvement?

Is the Foreign Secretary any more at ease in respect of another crucial witness, Edwin Bollier? Did he not sign a statement to the effect that his timing device had been sold only to the Libyans? But does not interrogation of Bollier's Stasi control reveal that that was a lie, as he had sold the same device to the Stasi?

What is the Foreign Secretary's assessment of the report of the air intelligence unit of the United States air force that Ali Akbar Motashemi paid the Al Abas and Abu Nidal groups $10 million in cash and gold to bomb Pan Am flight 103, in retaliation for the US "shoot-down" of the Iranian airbus?

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the Crown Office received crucial American intelligence implicating Libya from Mr. Vincent Cannistraro of the CIA, who, by his own admission in the mid-1980s, ran a programme at the US National Security Council designed to destabilise and topple the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, and that one of the methods used in the campaign was the spreading of disinformation about Libya?

How can seemingly eternal United Nations sanctions against Libya be justified? Is the Foreign Secretary sure that the Crown Office "certainties" are not constructed on the quicksand of CIA disinformation?

How much reliance does the Crown Office put on the so-called testimony of Abdu Maged Jiacha, who worked at Luqa airport, who has received a $4 million reward and a new identity, and the benefits of the US federal witness protection programme? Apart from anything else, he seems to have quarrelled with the one of the two accused Libyans over a girl. That is about the level of it.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that after Lockerbie all the Drug Enforcement Agency chiefs in Europe were ordered to Washington, and told that there were DEA agents and a drug courier on flight 103, and that all DEA officers received a cable informing all agents that they were in no circumstances to talk to anyone about the DEA people on that plane, including Khalid Jaafar?

Were drugs found among the debris near Lockerbie, and were Americans involved in concealing the discovery of drugs?

Hansard records in column 522 on 21 December 1988 that at 8.30 pm I intervened on the suject of the crash. My concerns about Lockerbie became acute when a West Lothian police officer—a friend of mine and a constituent—observed to me on new year's eve, 1988 that he did not know how so many Americans could be on such a gruesome scene messing around with the evidence.

Why has the Crown Office not talked properly to Dr. David Fieldhouse, the distinguished Bradford police surgeon, especially to correlate his body count with its count?

Will the Foreign Secretary explain why the German authorities did not join their US and UK colleagues in indicting the two Libyans for a crime committed on German soil, at the Rhein-Main airport, where by any account the bomb went on board?

Is it not the case that, shortly after the Anglo-American indictment, the German public prosecutor, Volke Rath, was quoted as stating that the Federal Republic of Germany had declined to join the US and UK indictment on the ground, as he put it, "of lack of evidence"?

In the investigation of a crime, the police in Scotland act, and must act, on the directions and instructions of the procurator fiscal and the Crown Office. Have the Crown Office and the procurator fiscal given the police directions or instructions to investigate recent allegations of Iranian and Syrian involvement in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103? Again, if not, why not?

In deciding whether charges should be brought and in preparing a case for trial, it is the duty of the prosecuting authorities in Scotland to consider and investigate evidence which tends to exculpate a suspect or an accused as well as evidence which tends to incriminate the suspect. Have the prosecuting authorities complied with that duty in the case of the two Libyan suspects, and are they currently complying?

A petition charging named individuals with the Lockerbie bombing having been presented to the sheriff of Dumfries, presumably on evidence regarded by the Lord Advocate as sufficient at the time to justify that step, and arrest warrants having been granted, do the prosecuting authorities in Scotland regard their investigating functions as being at an end?

Should they not, for example, seek to interview officials of the US embassy in Nicosia who were there in 1988 to determine what they knew of the events leading up to the Lockerbie disaster? In particular, should they not seek to interview the 1988 CIA station chief and the DEA country attaché, both now retired from Government service?

Have the Crown Office and the Scottish police investigated the possibility that the terrorists responsible took advantage of an American law enforcement operation to smuggle the bomb aboard flight 103?

Do the prosecuting authorities regard themselves as being free now to close their eyes to any new leads and decline to investigate any potential evidence which go counter to the allegations narrated in the petition or which appear to cast doubt thereon?

Do the prosecuting authorities really assert that the sole responsibility for investigating any such evidence rests on those entrusted with the task of representing the relatives if and when a trial takes place?

Ending with the relatives, six long years later, they want to know exactly why US personnel were withdrawn from flight 103, and exactly what US Government officials knew which was not made available to the youngsters going to their death.

2.7 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) because, as he said, he gave notice to my office of his line of questioning. He gave me plenty of time, but he has asked many detailed questions. If there are gaps between his questions and the fullness of my answers, I shall write to him to fill the gaps. I shall certainly deal with the main points that he raised.

I thought that it was right to reply to the debate myself for three reasons: first, because of my respect for the hon. Gentleman and for his integrity in this and other matters; secondly, because of the enormity of the crime at Lockerbie and the suffering which it caused and is causing; thirdly, because I wish to deal plainly and lay to rest certain suspicions and accusations which have arisen not so much from the hon. Gentleman's speech as from what he has copiously written in newspapers.

The Lockerbie investigation has been the most extensive ever carried out into one crime in Britain. On the basis of that criminal investigation and the vast amount of evidence uncovered, my noble and learned Friend the then Lord Advocate sought and was granted warrants for the arrest of two Libyan nationals accused of having carried out the bombing.

I must stress the total independence from Government of the investigation of the Lord Advocate in his responsibility for criminal prosecutions. Neither he nor his predecessor would have brooked any attempt to influence them in exercising their independent judgment. It is not the job of Ministers or the Foreign Office to decide who should be prosecuted for a crime. It is not the job of Ministers or the Foreign Office to pronounce opinions as to who is guilty. There is no place in the matter for diplomatic or political considerations, and we have not at any time allowed such considerations any place in our actions.

Neither the Foreign Office nor any agency for which I am responsible has attempted to steer the Lockerbie investigation or to shield any individual or state who may have been responsible. There is no hidden political influence behind the investigation, and there has been no censorship by the Foreign Office. All significant information relevant to Lockerbie obtained by the intelligence agencies—or anyone else, to my knowledge—is invariably and as a matter of course provided to those who are responsible for the investigation. It is for the prosecuting authorities and, ultimately, we hope, for the courts, not the Government, to weigh the evidence; so when the hon. Gentleman asks whether I am at ease with that, or whether I am satisfied with that, those are not questions for me. It is not for me to weigh or ponder the evidence or to allow those under my control to do so.

There have been many debates on this matter, and the hon. Gentleman has asked many questions. Most recently, there was a discussion in the Scottish Grand Committee on 13 December last year. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland explained why no Minister could discuss the detail of evidence into the Lockerbie bombing or, indeed, any other criminal case, because once we began to do that, it would jeopardise the prospect of a fair criminal trial and render worthless the painstaking work of the investigators.

Of course—this is one of the hon. Gentleman's main concerns—the books can never be closed. The Dumfries and Galloway constabulary must remain, and does remain, ready to consider any new evidence that might be relevant to the case. The investigation remains open. If anyone has any new information that he or she considers relevant to the case, he or she should give it to the police without delay. Minds cannot be closed to fresh evidence, even if it were to open up new ideas on who carried out the bombing or backed the bombers.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Can my right hon. Friend say, therefore, who has been responsible for denying Mr. Bollier the right to see the evidence about the timing devices? It is a very important part of the evidence. He has been denied the right to see it, because he believes that he could decide whether it was sold to the Libyans or others. Who makes that kind of decision? Is it political, judicial or made by the police?

Mr. Hurd

It is certainly not political. It is certainly not made by me or any other Minister. Let me inquire into that aspect of the case. I shall write to my hon. Friend. It is certainly not me who would have taken any such decision, or could have done so.

The Lord Advocate—this is on a point that the hon. Member for Linlithgow raised—has always been at pains to make it clear that he is not in a position to exonerate other nations or their nationals. He simply has not seen, in his judgment, credible evidence to implicate them.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The Foreign Secretary has seen the replies to me in Hansard today from the Secretary of State for Scotland, which, briefly, say that the Crown authorities were not aware of the existence of the US air intelligence report until 23 January this year. The replies discount the report and say that it has no relevance to the inquiry. I ask a simple question: given that the Crown authorities were co-operating so closely with the American authorities, why were they not aware of the existence of that report? Can the Foreign Secretary offer an explanation?

Mr. Hurd

I shall come to that report in a minute.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow asked a number of detailed questions. I can reply to some of them. He spoke of the Palestinian terrorists who were arrested in Germany in October 1988. It is the firm policy of the Lord Advocate not to give details of what inquiries have or have not been carried out, but it is necessary to make an exception in this case. In the case of Dalkoumani and Ghadanfar, I can confirm that requests were made for both men to be interviewed, that those requests were granted and that Scottish police officers were present at the interviews.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me to acknowledge what he described as contrary circumstantial evidence put forward by various individuals. We all know that there are a host of alternative theories on the subject. It is not for me, I repeat, to assess those theories. That is and must be a matter for the prosecuting authorities and the Lord Advocate. It is clear that such theories can be based only on an incomplete knowledge and understanding of the mass of evidence that is available to the Lord Advocate, who remains in no doubt that the charges against the two Libyan accused are justified.

That covers the reliability and significance of any particular piece of evidence put before a criminal court by the prosecution, including such matters, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, as the sale of clothing in Malta, the testimony of Edwin Bollier and evidence obtained from staff at Luqa airport. Those are matters which, eventually, we hope, a jury will consider once it has heard all the evidence.

I now deal with the American document, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). It was released by the US Government under the Freedom of Information Act. It contains, as both hon. Members have said, the allegation that former Iranian Interior Minister, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, paid the sum of $10 million to have the Lockerbie bombing carried out. I make two points on the report. The document, as the hon. Member for Banfford Buchan said and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told him, was available to the Crown Office on 24 January, but the allegation in it circulated well before that as a well-publicised rumour during the early stages of the investigation. It appeared in The Sunday Times in the second half of 1989. It appeared later in a book by David Leppard, "On The Trail of Terror", published in 1991.

As anyone who follows the case knows—certainly the two hon. Members do—during the early stages of the investigation, the possibility that Palestinian extremist groups might be responsible was extensively investigated, as were reports of Iranian involvement. No credible evidence—the assessment of the prosecuting authorities—has been found to substantiate either theory.

The document is not, as is sometimes made out, a statement of the views of the American authorities. It is a report of the views of an American intelligence agency source—in fact, an Iranian defector. He or she was reporting second or third-hand information. The source was untried and its reliability could not have been assessed. During the investigation, literally thousands of pieces of raw intelligence, often contradictory, were seen. When the document in question was assessed, as a US Government spokesman made clear last week, it was discarded as a "dud".

The hon. Member for Linlithgow asked a number of questions about the US Drug Enforcement Agency. I am assured that no DEA chiefs in Europe were recalled to Washington in the wake of the Lockerbie disaster. As regards the allegation that it was running an anti-narcotics operation, which went wrong, a copy of the film by Mr. Alan Francovitch, which contains those allegations, has been sent—I think by the hon. Gentleman—to the Crown Office. The matter was considered by the US House of Representatives Committee on Government Operations, Government Information Justice and Agriculture Sub-Committee in December 1990. I am arranging for a copy of the statement to that sub-committee by the assistant administrator of the DEA to be placed in the Library of the House.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the discovery of drugs. I think that the Lord Advocate wrote to him on 3 July 1992, saying that the only discovery of drugs at the Lockerbie site was a small quantity of cannabis.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Mr. David Fieldhouse. My understanding is that he has been interviewed several times by the Scottish police and that he gave evidence at the fatal accident inquiry.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to explain why the German authorities have not indicted the two Libyan accused. That clearly is a matter for the German prosecuting judicial authorities. It is not something that I can comment on, except to make the obvious point. Given that the bulk of the evidence is in the hands of the Scottish and American authorities, it seems clear to us that the trial should take place in one of those two countries. The German Government agree, as does the Security Council.

Incidentally, I understand that the comments that the hon. Member for Linlithgow attributed to the German state prosecutor were misquoted. The state prosecutor was referring not to the case brought by the Lord Advocate and the American authorities, but to the question of proceedings in Germany based on the evidence held there. The German state prosecutor is not familiar with the full details of the prosecution case.

Let me deal with a point of principle that I consider to be at the heart of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I can confirm to him that the prosecuting authorities would take any evidence that tended to exculpate the accused just as seriously as any further evidence that tended to incriminate them. The hon. Gentleman said that that was the authorities' duty, and they see it as their duty.

The hon. Gentleman talked about American personnel being withdrawn from flight 103. I understand that one American Government employee who was booked on the flight missed it because of traffic congestion at Frankfurt, but it is true that a further 23, sadly, were victims of the disaster.

Let me return to the central question of where we stand now. The hon. Gentleman asked how the United Nations sanctions against Libya could be justified. We have asked ourselves repeatedly how best to proceed. The painstaking work of the Scottish police and the Crown Office has led to charges being brought against two Libyan individuals; the case against them stands. It is not a case constructed by me, or by the Foreign Office, and it owes nothing to diplomatic or political considerations. It was put together after the most massive investigation ever to take place in respect of any crime in Britain, and sustained by the Lord Advocate in the warrants that he issued. In his judgment, the case stands.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Is it the Government's view that one day the perpetrators of this terrible mass murder will stand trial in the High Court in Edinburgh—or a similar court elsewhere—or does the Foreign Secretary genuinely believe that they will never be brought to trial?

Mr. Hurd

I do not know the answer to that question, but I believe that it is our job to do our utmost to ensure that they do come to trial. They are outside our reach at present; we are making every effort to bring them within the reach of the court, but matters are not entirely under our control.

We and the American and French Governments—the French are currently concerned with another terrorist crime—have gone to unprecedented lengths to put diplomatic pressure on Libya to surrender the two Libyan citizens who are alleged to have carried out the bombing, and to satisfy the requirements of French justice over the bombing of flight UTA772 in September 1989.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Why do the British and French Governments set their faces so determinedly against the idea of trying the two individuals in some other place, such as The Hague, in the absence of an international criminal court?

Mr. Hurd

There are several answers to that. Primary legislation would be required in this country. I am not sure of the grounds on which a Minister would tell the House, "The instruments of justice in Scotland are inadequate for this purpose," but that would have to be the case. Nor, after all that has occurred, could we conceivably feel confident—whatever assurances were given in advance—that the Libyans would hand over those concerned to a court. We would go to the infinite trouble of constructing such a court, in the face of difficulty and controversy, when there could be no guarantee that those concerned would appear before it. We have considered the question, because—as the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) is aware—people have urged us in good faith to take such a course; but I do not think that it is a tenable answer.

Sanctions were imposed on Libya by the Security Council because of Libya's refusal to comply with resolution 731. We do not believe that they should or could be lifted until Libya has complied in full with Security Council resolutions. Let me explain the broader picture, to clear away any misunderstanding of what is involved on the part of the Libyan Government. In pursuing the sanctions and taking the view that I have just expressed, we have no hidden agenda; we are not involved in any vindictive campaign against either the Libyan people or their Government. Provided that Libya shows by concrete means that she has renounced all support for terrorism, we have no desire for sanctions to remain in force any longer than is necessary. On the contrary—I am not sure whether the House knows this—in an attempt to establish that the renunciation of terrorism is real, we have engaged in a number of meetings, at official level, with Libyan representatives to discuss their past links with the Provisional IRA. Although those discussions have not led to a fully satisfactory conclusion, they are evidence of our efforts to show that Libyan assurances in this matter are real.

Once the Libyan Government have arranged for the two Lockerbie suspects to appear for trial in Scotland or the United States and have satisfied French justice over the UTA bombing, we stand ready to see the sanctions suspended immediately. Once Libya has complied with the other requirements of the Security Council resolutions, we expect the sanctions to be lifted without delay. Those who argue that sanctions should be lifted now would do better to help us to persuade the Libyan Government to comply with the Security Council resolutions without further delay.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow asked whether I entertained any serious hope about the outcome. There have been times over the past two years when, on the basis of the information that I had, I thought that we were quite close to the possibility that the Libyans would comply with the resolution and that the two accused would come forward. I have taken great trouble to explain to various intermediaries how Scottish law functions: I have been fully briefed on that—on the safeguards, the legal precautions, the rights of representation and the nature of evidence required. We have repeatedly given those assurances to the Libyans. Although I have sometimes felt that we are close to the possibility that I have described, we have never actually reached that point; instead, there have been numerous side proposals which I fear were designed simply to prolong delay and throw dust in the eyes of all concerned.

Nevertheless, I do not think that we should despair. I should be reluctant—as, I am sure, the Lord Advocate would be—ever to say, "We give up." I repeat, however, that this is not a political or diplomatic exercise on our part: the crime committed was unique in the history of crime in this country, and our concern is that justice should be done. We shall continue to pursue that objective, and the fewer ramifications or complications are introduced into that simple story, the better will be our chances of success. There may be some points of detail that I have not picked up from the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that I have managed to deal with the gravamen of his case.

Some people are worried that there has been political interference in this case. The hon. Gentleman has been worried that the Crown Office may not be taking account of all the evidence and all the information that is available. I hope that I have dealt from my own knowledge with the first point and, from the knowledge that has been made available to me, I hope that I have dealt with the second. I thank the House.

Mr. Dalyell

The Foreign Secretary refers to points of detail. The trouble is that it is not a detail that Toni Gauci, the owner of this clothing shop in Malta, on whom the whole case rests, is an exceedingly unreliable witness. Since Scots Members of Parliament cannot get at the Lord Advocate, I do not know what more we can do. The fact remains that what the Foreign Secretary says are details brought up by Mr. Francovitch and others are absolutely crucial to any kind of respectable case, and respectable case there is none. [Interruption.]

The professor of Scots law at the university of Edinburgh has publicly said not only does he think that a jury would not convict but that a judge in Scotland might well throw the case out on the ground that there is no case to answer. That is the situation that we have reached. I do not think that senior Cabinet Ministers can pass everything to the Lord Advocate in such a case.

Dr. Godman

Or worse, pass it to Washington.

Mr. Dalyell

Nor, as my hon. Friend says, can they pass it to Washington.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his courtesy, but in a sense the gravamen of the case has not been responded to. I beg the Government to go to the Lord Advocate and ask him whether he is at ease—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, pursuant to Order [19 December].