Scottish officials meet with Flight 103 families

Appeal of guilty verdict by Libyan has little chance, they promise

March 06, 2001|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF

The Libyan intelligence agent found guilty in the 1988 bombing of PanAm Flight 103 has little chance of successfully appealing that verdict, Scottish officials told the victims' families yesterday.

In a private, daylong briefing at Baltimore's Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, East Coast family members met with Lord Advocate Colin Boyd and three of the prosecutors who won the guilty verdict against Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi in January. A second defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was found not guilty in the trial in the Netherlands.

Al-Megrahi has filed an intention to appeal but has not yet indicated on what grounds he is seeking to have the verdict overturned. A decision on his appeal is expected by this fall, Boyd said.

Boyd, the equivalent of the U.S. attorney general, was more forthcoming with the families than he was with reporters who questioned him in the foyer. The news media were barred from the meeting because of the strict rules of confidentiality and privacy that govern the Scottish judicial system.

But Robert G. Monetti, president of Victims of Pan Flight 103 Inc., an advocacy group for the families, said the briefing was optimistic: "The appeal is going to fail [because] the judges were incredibly careful during the trial."

Almost 200 relatives had signed up for the briefing, the only one to be held on the East Coast. (One was held in London last week for European families, and a third is scheduled for the West Coast.)

Fears about weather kept attendance down to 120, but those who came were familiar with the case's journey through the Scottish legal system. They have been kept apprised of developments in the investigation via a private Web site and watched the trial on closed-circuit television.

"They've kept us informed every step of the way," said George Williams of Joppatowne, whose son, Geordie, was one of the 259 victims in the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing. "I don't think there's anything I didn't know before. But they put it in a concise fashion and a more orderly fashion."

Monetti said he was pleased by the Scots' seeming modesty about their efforts. "There hasn't been a whole lot of `aren't we wonderful.' It's been pretty straightforward. But then, we've known some of these guys for 12 years."

But the families are far from feeling that the one guilty verdict has brought an end to their quest for justice.

Rosemary Wolfe, stepmother of victim Miriam Wolfe of Severna Park, said: "The trial in my mind has not given us all the answers ... it is not finished. We don't have a full measure of justice."

The families now are primarily interested in compensation, which would come through a $10 billion civil suit against the Libyan government, filed in U.S. courts. They also want to see additional indictments in the case and would like for the Libyan government to acknowledge its role in the bombing.

They have met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell this year and are lobbying to meet with Attorney General John Ashcroft.

For his part, Boyd said he was struck by the family feeling among the survivors, who have forged strong friendships over the years.

"The warmth is tremendous," he said. "It's the support they have given us [that helped to make the trial possible]. It has been enormously difficult at times, but at the difficult times ... you remember the support."

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