Latest entry 1st August 2008

JUNE 21st 2007
The cause of most miscarriages of justice in the past 5 decades has been the need to identify and punish a criminal at all costs. In any high profile case that has come to public attention through the media, the police and the courts are under pressure to prove that crime does not pay, that murderers get caught, that seriously unacceptable behaviour will incur retribution. Our society finds this necessary. When individuals call for 'justice' they mean at worst revenge or at the very least the evidence they do not have to take the law into their own hands or look to their own resources to deter attack or abuse from others. Crimes against children give rise to especially strong calls for punishment. The power of deterrence has to be upheld. The social contract is valid only when enforced by the sovereign power.

So when a notable and admired BBC programme presenter was shot on her doorstep the pressure on our services of law and order to prove that this could not be done and got away with was considerable. But there were no leads and no traces. Eventually, the closest they could get to a possible suspect was then subjected to every possible examination and pressure to fit the frame but even then no proof at all could be found. But through a process of inuendo and the exposure of the admittedly less than attractive life history of the suspect he gradually became a figure that no jury would find difficulty in finding guilty should any trace of tangible evidence connecting him to the victim be found. At that point, efforts redoubled to find such evidence, however minute, and though what was found at last was so minuscule as to be almost meaningless, it was enough for a judge, a jury and a public desperate for reassurance that even if we were not always 100% safe on our front doorsteps, no gunman is safe from the long arm of the law.

The Birmingham Six, The Maguire Seven, The Guildford Four were all victims of the same need to prove that the arm of the law was long, strong and inexorable in its operation. Some were guilty, but not of the crime at issue. Some no doubt were content to keep the law off the backs of the real perpetrators and believed that being innocent they would never be convicted and were surprised when they were. All were eventually exonerated. As far as I can remember the actual perpetrators were never identified publicly or brought to trial.

The hope is that we are now moving to a new stage in the development of forensic science where the possibilities of reliably tracing the physical connection between people, places, times and events is very much greater, while a realisation of the errors and corruption that can still bedevil attempts to arrive at absolute certainty is also growing and better understood. The combination should bode well. Technology in wise hands is the way humanity has made great advances in the past. The combination of modern techniques should enable the police to step away from the need, when under pressure to find the culprit, to take a single science to its ultimate and possibly absurd limit. Even more important, it should enable them to abandon completely their efforts to force pictures of a puzzle into spaces they do not fit.in order to prove their ability to track down the guilty when the pressure is really on.

JUNE 28th 2007  -  LOCKERBIE
Here is a very special case, but it is partly the same root cause. There comes a point when the high-level, costly detective work has to be drawn to a close. At the same time the community wants a result and will not accept a non-conclusive end. In the case of the Lockerbie Bomber a complex web of connecting evidence was put before a court sitting in Holland under Scottish law and a man was convicted. Now it seems the UK and US governments may have acquiesced in this result because to find those really responsible was both too difficult to prove and practically impossible at the time due to critical international political developments. It looks as though an individual may have paid with his liberty to solve an intractable political problem. There are many who believe that the airliner was brought down by Iranian operatives as revenge for the shooting down in error of an Irania airliner by the US Navy.

Iran Air Flight 655 (IR655) was a commercial flight operated by Iran Air that flew from Bandar Abbas, Iran to Dubai, UAE. Towards the end of the Iran Iraq War, On Sunday July 3, 1988, the aircraft flying IR655 was shot down by the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes between Bandar Abbas and Dubai, killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard, including 38 non-Iranians and 66 children. The Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters at the time of the shoot-down.

According to the U.S. government, the Iranian airbus was mistakenly identified as an attacking military fighter. The Iranian government, however, maintains that the Vincennes knowingly shot down a civilian aircraft.

There is no way the Vincennes would have deliberately shot down a civilian plane, but it is time to re-examine the evidence against Megrahi even if Lybians were responsible. Here's a summary from ITN to remind you of the broad details

IITN - Thursday, June 28 07:21 am

A review of the conviction of the Lockerbie bomber, which could lead to a new appeal, is set to be published.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is to reveal if it is to refer the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi to the Court of Appeal.

The Libyan was convicted in 2001 of the murder of 270 people after the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.

It is possible that the SCCRC will decide that an appeal can be made on the grounds that a miscarriage of justice may have taken place.

All 259 people aboard Pan Am Flight 103 died when the aircraft exploded above Lockerbie. The wreckage then killed 11 residents of the Scottish town when it fell to the ground.

Al Megrahi was found guilty of mass murder at Camp Zeist in Holland in 2001 and was later told he must serve at least 27 years in jail.

A previous appeal by Al Megrahi, currently being held at Greenock prison, was thrown out in 2002.

JULY 21st  2007
The truly terrifying truth which is now coming to light is this: if we did not have a CPS that is independent of the police, the police WOULD HAVE GONE AHEAD WITH A PROSECUTION IN THE 'CASH FOR HONOURS' CASE just to prove they had a case which needed investigating and justify the expense and their methods. This in turn would have involved millions more in costs. At the end, the pressure to get a result is the sort of pressure that has led in the past to a miscarriage of justice.  The importance of an independent CPS has never been so clearly demonstrated. The police, instead of accepting the CPS decision, have allowed senior policemen to publicly question the result. This is truly disgusting. Whatever the truth, no 'crime' has been committed worthy of the name.

NOVEMBER 15th 2007
As expected Barry George's appeal has today been allowed and there will be a re-trial. That is the right decision and the right procedure. The original result was a typical result, in the case of a miscarriage, of the adversarial system, the impressionablity and ignorance of juries, and the public need for a result.

AUGUST 1st 2008
Barry George has of course been found not guilty this time. The prosecution still put its absurd case, pretending it was fair and logical, and the police spokeman afterwards expressed (unbelievably) "regrets" that the origina verdict had been overturned. How many other 'Barry Georges' are there in prison? Perhaps the police could use sone retrospective DNA technology to get them out! Not likely though, is it?