- Associated Press - Sunday, March 25, 2012

LONDON (AP) — A Scottish newspaper on Sunday published previously undisclosed files on the 1988 Pan Am bombing that killed hundreds over Lockerbie, Scotland, arguing that it is in the public interest to ignore data protection laws that have kept the documents from the public.

The Sunday Herald newspaper posted an 800-page report by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to its website. It said it had been authorized to publish the documents by Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted over the bombing that killed 270, mostly Americans, and who long has insisted he did not carry it out.

Scottish leader Alex Salmond defended their publication, saying it would help better inform the public debate over the case made against al-Megrahi.

Scottish legal authorities have said that though it is an offense to disclose the information, no one would be prosecuted over the decision to publish. Scottish Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, the country’s most senior legal officer, said he did not consider it in the public interest to prosecute.

Mr. Mulholland said the issues around al-Megrahi were “exceptional circumstances” and that justice had not been served “by selective and misleading reporting” of some excerpts of the file, meaning it was welcome that the entire document was made public.

The files offer a more detailed explanation of the decision by the commission — which investigates potential miscarriages of justice — to uphold six points of appeal put forward by al-Megrahi ahead of planned appeal hearing in 2009.

However, the document also shows how the commission dismissed many other points raised by the Libyan and offered backing to evidence considered crucial to his 2001 conviction.

Al-Megrahi dropped his plan to pursue an appeal court hearing shortly before he was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish jail in August 2009 and returned to his native Libya, where he is being treated for prostate cancer

“This report provides valuable information, from an independent body acting without fear or favor, and while we can not expect it to resolve all the issues in the Lockerbie case, it does however lay the basis for narrowing the areas of dispute and in many ways is far more comprehensive than any inquiry could ever hope to be,” Mr. Salmond said following publication of the files.

The files explain that the commission accepted some of al-Megrahi’s concerns over evidence that had not been passed to his defense team, including some classified intelligence files.

Al-Megrahi has questioned the testimony of a shopkeeper who identified him as having bought a man’s shirt in his store in Malta. Scraps of the garment were later found wrapped around a timing device discovered in the wreckage of the airliner.

In the newly published document, the commission expressed concern that evidence that the shopkeeper had seen a magazine article linking al-Megrahi to the bomb plot was not passed to defense lawyers by the prosecution.

However, the files show the commission rejected dozens of other points made by al-Megrahi and supported forensic evidence that tied the suspect to the store in Malta and to the bombing.

“While the report shows that there were six grounds on which it believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, it also rejected 45 of the 48 grounds submitted by al-Megrahi, and in particular it upheld the forensic basis of the case leading to Malta and to Libyan involvement,” said Mr. Salmond, head of Scotland’s semiautonomous government.

Scotland’s Crown Office, the country’s prosecuting authority, said that al-Megrahi’s decision to abandon his appeal means it cannot be known if a court would have ruled in his favor on any of the outstanding points.

“It does not follow that there was a miscarriage of justice, only the appeal court can decide that,” the office said in a statement.