The worst terrorist attack on British soil is being reviewed by Scottish detectives as they continue to try to determine who else might have acted with the only person convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, police and prosecutors said Sunday.
After Abdel Baset al-Megrahi dropped an appeal against his conviction earlier this year, a review of the evidence was undertaken, the head of the Dumfries and Galloway Police said in a statement.
"Now that Mr. (al-Megrahi) has decided to abandon his appeal against conviction, a further review of the case is under way in respect of others who acted with him in the murder of 270 people," the statement said. Chief Constable Patrick Shearer said that detectives have previously looked at the evidence to try and find new leads in the December, 1988 attack, and this review is the latest in a series "which have formed part of an investigative strategy in keeping with our determination to pursue every possible lead."
The statement came after a Sunday newspaper reported that British relatives of the victims on Pan Am Flight 103 were told in an e-mail that officers were considering several potential lines of inquiry, including a review of the forensic evidence.
The Sunday Telegraph quoted the e-mail as saying further elaboration would be inappropriate, "but please be assured that this is not simply paying lip service to the idea of an 'open' case."
A statement from the Crown Office — Scotland's prosecuting authority — said the review does not include the question of al-Megrahi's involvement.
"There is no question of reopening the case against (al-Megrahi)," the statement said. "The open case concerns only the involvement of others with (al-Megrahi) in the murder of 270 people and the Crown will continue to pursue such lines of inquiry that become available."
Another man acquitted
Al-Megrahi was indicted in 1991 alongside another man, Amin Khalifa Fhimah, with murder and conspiracy to murder. Fhimah was acquitted, but prosecutors at the trial said the pair could not have acted alone.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the BBC that the investigation into the December, 1988 attack — which killed 259 people, mostly Americans, in the air and another 11 on the ground — had never been formally closed, and said it was "wholly appropriate" for police to move forward if there were grounds.
Victims' relatives group UK Families Flight 103 have asked British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for a full, independent, public inquiry into the attack. A Downing Street spokeswoman said they have received a letter from the group and will reply soon.
But Miliband said any inquiry would be a decision for Scottish government.
"This was something that happened over Scottish soil and it was investigated by Scottish authorities," he said. "It is right that they pursue the investigation on a criminal basis and if there is any suggestion of an inquiry, that should be a matter for the Scots."
‘Damage limitation exercise’
The Rev. John Mosey, whose 19-year-old daughter Helga died on Flight 103, did not receive an e-mail from prosecutors. Mosey welcomed the review of the case — though he was concerned that the government had chosen an investigation over a full, independent inquiry.
"I think this is a damage limitation exercise by the government," he said. "A criminal investigation is too narrow a remit as we want answers to bigger questions, such as why were 15 warnings of an impending attack not heeded?"
Al-Megrahi was freed by Scottish authorities in August on compassionate grounds after doctors said he had terminal cancer. He returned to a hero's welcome in Tripoli, which outraged some victims' families and sparked protests by U.S. officials.
Regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are responsible for local issues, while the central government in London retains power over Britain's foreign policy.