Miscarriages of Justice — The Stunning Similarities of Oscar Slater & Abdelbaset Megrahi Trials

“Since 31 January 2001 — the day the guilty verdict against Abdelbaset Megrahi was announced by the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist — I have made no secret of my belief in his innocence. His conviction, on the evidence led at the trial, was nothing short of astonishing. It constitutes, in my view, the worst miscarriage of justice perpetrated by a Scottish criminal court since the conviction of Oscar Slater in 1909 for the murder of Marion Gilchrist.”

Professor Robert Black — October 26 2008

“I regard the Lockerbie verdict against Megrahi as a ‘Grand Monument to Human Stupidity’.  Indeed, the written opinion of the Lockerbie judges is a remarkable document that claims an ‘honoured place in the history of British miscarriages of justice.’ If the [SCCRC] Commission accepts the application for a full review, the infamous Zeist verdict doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving.”

Dr Ludwig De Braeckeleer — July 5 2017

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

Amateur criminologist William Roughead published his Trial of Oscar Slater, highlighting flaws in the prosecution. The book convinced many influential people included Sir Edward Marshall Hall, Ramsay MacDonald, Viscount Buckmaster; and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1912, Conan Doyle published The Case of Oscar Slater, a plea for a full pardon for Slater. Following years of campaigning and investigating from Conan Doyle, the Secretary of State for Scotland authorised Slater’s release on November 8, 1927

In her new book (Conan Doyle for the Defence), New York Times senior writer Margalit Fox  brings to life a forgotten cause célèbre of how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle helped exonerate Oscar Slater, a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder.  Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

RELATED POST: UK — National Archives Release Prime Ministerial 1993 Papers, Withhold Lockerbie File

RELATED POST: One Year Ago — LOCKERBIE : SCCRC Press Release on Megrahi Application

RELATED POST: Lockerbie — The Eyewitness Evidence Against Megrahi : Exclusive Q&A with Professor Tim Valentine

Professor Black has long-held the view that the guilty verdict against Abdelbaset Megrahi was the worst miscarriage of justice perpetrated by a Scottish criminal court since the conviction of Oscar Slater. I would like to point out that the similarities between the two cases are stunning.

The date of the crimes

Miss Marion Gilchrist was murdered shortly after 7pm on 21st December 1908.

On 21st December 1988 — at 7.03 pm — Pan Am flight 103 fell out of the sky. All 259 passengers and crew members died. Eleven residents of Lockerbie were killed.

The age of the suspects

Born on January 8 1872, Oscar Slater was 36 in December 1908.

Born on April 1, 1952, Megrahi was 36 in late 1988.

Suspicious travels under False Identities & Women

On Christmas Day, Slater signed in at the North Western Hotel in Liverpool with a female companion, before boarding the ocean liner the Lusitania, bound for New York, the next day. Tickets for the crossing had been booked with Cunard Line through Thos. Cook & Son in Glasgow on 23rd December in the name of Mr & Mrs Oscar Slater but, curiously, they were issued in the name of Mr & Mrs Otto Sando.

The night before the bomb was placed on the plane, Megrahi checked into Malta Crowne Plaza hotel, using the false name Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad and a coded passport. Megrahi had a mistress in Malta. Although, he did not need to use a passport to enter the island, there was some ‘little advantages’ to do so. The use of a coded passport allowed access to a linked bank account.

Voluntary Trials

Glasgow police applied for his extradition from the US, but Slater returned to Scotland voluntarily, hoping to clear his name, only to be charged with murder upon his return.

Megrahi voluntarily travelled to Zeist to face the Lockerbie Court. He provided his coded passport to the Lockerbie investigators.

Dubious Eyewitnesses

Margalit Fox argues the true killer’s identity was lost with the death of Miss Gilchrist’s maid, Helen Lambie, in 1960. “If I had to ask her one question it would be who she saw that night. The evidence suggests she recognised the man who left the flat. Helen told Miss Gilchrist’s niece that she saw the man and that it was a highly-placed member of Glasgow society.”

On Sept. 13, 1989, during a photofit session, key witness Tony Gauci stated that the suspect was about 50 years old. Born on April 1, 1952, Megrahi was 36 in late 1988. Gauci told DCI Bell that the mysterious buyer was 6 feet tall or more. Megrahi is 5 feet 8, a significant discrepancy considering that it comes from a man who sells clothes for a living.

Evidence Withheld from the Court

In 1914 John Thompson Trench, one of the detectives involved in the original investigation, disclosed information implicating one of Miss Gilchrist’s relatives, which he alleged had been concealed by the police in 1909. Trench released documents which showed his colleagues had doctored evidence and suppressed the name of the suspect, thought to be a doctor, from witness statements. Trench was dismissed from the police force following this disclosure.

RARDE scientist Allen Feraday KNEW that the crucial piece of evidence at the Lockerbie trial — PT/35(b) — was obviously NOT similar to the boards used in the MST-13 timers delivered to Libya. Yet, Allen Feraday testified that PT/35(b) was “similar in all respects” to the THURING boards of the MEBO MST-13 timer which proved the crucial link to Libya and Megrahi.

Nationalism & Geopolitics

As a German Jew, Slater fell into two suspect categories. The German part was problematic at a time of increasingly noisy nationalism, but the Jewish part spoke to older, deeper fears about what happens when national identities shake loose.

As a Libyan alleged to be a high-ranking member of his country Intelligence Agency, Megrahi was twice guilty before the trial ever began. The Zeist judges ignored every single piece of evidence pointing to his innocence. As the SCCRC concluded, no jury properly instructed should have reached a guilty verdict.


In 1993 Thomas Toughill published ‘Oscar Slater, The Mystery Solved’, based on newly-released files in the Scottish Record Office (now National Records of Scotland). He argued that there was knowledge at the highest level of what Trench had alleged in 1914, that the referral to the Court of Criminal Appeal was arranged to cover up the fact that Slater had been framed, and that Slater was innocent of the murder for which he was convicted.

Margaret Thatcher knew full well that Libya was not responsible for the Lockerbie tragedy. In 1993, she wrote in her memoirs: “[The 1986 Operation El Dorado Canyon] turned out to be a more decisive blow against Libyan-sponsored terrorism than I could ever have imagined. … There were revenge killings of British hostages organized by Libya, which I bitterly regretted. But the much-vaunted Libyan counter attack did not and could not take place … There was a marked decline in Libyan-sponsored terrorism in succeeding years.”

Verdict Quashed on Appeal

The publication of ‘The Truth about Oscar Slater’ by a Glasgow journalist, William Park, in 1927 raised fresh doubts about the reliability of the verdict, and towards the end of that year Slater was released on licence, but not granted a pardon.  Not content with his release on licence, and still asserting his innocence, in March 1928 he petitioned the Secretary of State for Scotland for an appeal hearing before the recently-constituted Court of Criminal Appeal. However, the appeal did not have the outcome he hoped for, because his conviction was quashed on the ground that the trial judge had misdirected the jury.

In May 2018, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) announced that it will review the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. In June 2007, the SCCRC published a summary of its findings indicating that there were six grounds upon which it had concluded that a miscarriage of justice might have occurred. I suspect that a new appeal will quash the verdict on some technicalities. The truth will NEVER come out.

Hans Köchler, a United Nations observer, called the Lockerbie trial ‘a spectacular miscarriage of justice,’ words echoed by Mr. Mandela. Many legal experts and investigative journalists have challenged the evidence, calling Mr. Megrahi a scapegoat for a Libyan government long identified with terrorism.

After meeting Megrahi in prison, Professor Black issued the following statement: “I am satisfied that not only was there a wrongful conviction, but the victim of it was an innocent man. Lawyers, and I hope others, will appreciate this distinction.”

We agree. But we also believe that the Lockerbie verdict was not a mere miscarriage of justice. Libya was framed to fit the geopolitical agenda of Western powers.

The lessons of the Slater miscarriage were considered as late as 1976 by the Devlin Committee review on the limitations of identity parades. I am afraid that the consequences of the Lockerbie trial will be felt for a long time to come.


The Curious Case of Oscar Slater


100th anniversary of a notorious Glasgow murder — National Archives of Scotland

Oscar Slater — Wikipedia

Letter From the Architect of the Lockerbie Trial — OhmyNews (27 October 2008)


Miscarriages of Justice — The Stunning Similarities of Oscar Slater & Abdelbaset Megrahi Trials

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