Bygones 47

Sometimes an ethical dilemma can arise between justice in an individual case, and the wider needs of society.  In general, pursuing individual justice should be the priority; the law should indeed be blind.  One of the greatest abuses of power in the UK in my lifetime was Tony Blair’s intervention to halt the prosecution of BAE executives for massive corruption, on the basis that revealing corruption among Saudi sheikhs, and damaging our great manufacturer of instruments of death, was against the “wider national interest”.

The long term consequences of such exceptionalism are a license for government abuse.  However, in the question of the guarantees given to wanted paramilitaries from Northern Ireland that they would not be prosecuted, I believe the correct thing was done, and the coming inquiry is not helpful – it is like sticking a knife into a wound to check how it is healing.

I grappled with these questions in a still more extreme form as UK representative at the Sierra Leone peace talks.  The only way to end long-running violent conflicts is to talk and reason with the parties, and seek to redress the underlying causes of conflict.  To seek to inflict further state violence, in the form of imprisonment, can undermine the process.  This requires very difficult moral compromise, and it is unavoidable that victims will feel they have not obtained individual justice.  I can even understand that in these circumstances it can be right for certain amnesties or actions to be unacknowledged or secret.

Peter Hain spoke great sense last week when he said that to keep the peace in Northern Ireland, we have to let go of the past, and stop pursuing not only IRA men, but also policemen, soldiers and official murderers like those who organized the killing of Pat Finucane.  This is hard indeed for the families and the maimed, I realize.  I am also particularly pleased that John Downey did not have to stand trial; experience shows that the chances of a fair trial for accused Irish nationalists in England are slim.

47 thoughts on “Bygones

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  • Patrick Haseldine

    Bert said: “I thought that Scots Law Professor Robert Black was on the correct side of the Lockerbie truth search.” For a different view of Prof Black see “Blackout of Mandela blueprint”

    Ba’al Zevul said in relation to Alan Feraday: “it is surprising that no more specialised and formally qualified ‘expert’ was apparently available to the prosecutors.” Feraday’s WikiSpooks biography gives a pretty convincing case as to why the prosecutors preferred this “Odious Bomb Expert”:

    Alan or Allen Feraday (born 23 December 1937), former head of the Forensic Explosives Laboratory (FEL) at the Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) at Fort Halstead in Kent, is a self-professed forensic expert in electronics.

    Although not so academically qualified, Alan Feraday was often addressed as ‘Dr’ or ‘Professor’ when he appeared as an expert electronics witness in a number of high profile terrorist bombing cases including Danny McNamee (1982), John Berry (1983), Patrick Magee (1984), Hassan Assali (1985), the Gibraltar shootings (March 1988) and the Lockerbie bombing (December 1988).

    Margaret Thatcher soon took an interest in Alan Feraday after his evidence in the 1986 Brighton bombing case where Patrick Magee was convicted, and was especially grateful for the exculpatory testimony Feraday gave at the “Death on the Rock” inquest in Gibraltar, when the SAS were alleged to have been operating a “shoot to kill” policy against three IRA bombers killed in March 1988.

    Following the sabotage of Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December 1988, the director of the Forensic Explosives Laboratory Dr Thomas Hayes and his colleague Alan Feraday were tasked with the forensic investigation into the Lockerbie bombing, which was allocated the FEL case reference number PP8932. In the 1989 Queen’s Birthday Honours list, Feraday was awarded an OBE and took over as head of the FEL when Hayes retired to become a chiropodist in the latter part of 1989. Two years later, Feraday and Dr Hayes (who continued with the Lockerbie investigation on a part-time basis) compiled a Joint Forensic Report into case PP8932. The JFR identified the only piece of hard evidence in the Lockerbie case: a tiny fragment of printed circuit board that Feraday maintained had been the trigger for the Lockerbie bomb.

    On 28 September 1993, Alan Feraday’s career prospects suddenly appeared to be in tatters when, in overturning John Berry’s conviction, England’s most senior judge, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Taylor of Gosforth, commented that although Feraday’s views were “no doubt honestly held”, his evidence had been expressed in terms that were “dogmatic in the extreme” and his conclusions were “uncompromising and incriminating”. LCJ Taylor went even further saying that in future Feraday should not be allowed to present himself as an expert in the field of electronics.

    In 1995, Alan Feraday saw the writing on the wall and, aged 58, took early retirement after 25 years’ service at the FEL when RARDE was subsumed into the less regal-sounding Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA).

    How come then the main prosecution ‘expert’ witness at the trial in June 2000 of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi – who was convicted in January 2001 of the Lockerbie bombing – was none other than Alan Feraday? The obvious answer is that Scots Law Professor Robert Black arranged for the trial to be held in the Netherlands under Scottish Judges, where Feraday’s ban imposed by the now-deceased English Law Lord could safely be ignored.


  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    See no need for the double posting.

    Gather you don’t like Alan Feranday and think he would have manipulated any trial of Downey, apparently a most unlikely outcome, given his reputation.

    It seems that mainland police thought that they had a good case against him – what PSNI officers were afraid of, and had given him the get-out-of-gaol letter to make sure.

    Think any trial would have been better than none.

  • Patrick Haseldine

    Trowbridge, the WikiSpooks biography of Alan Feraday first appeared in March 2013.

    John Downey was arrested on 19 May 2013 and charged with the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing in London in what the WS biography describes as “an obvious attempt by the establishment to rehabilitate Alan Feraday’s fatally damaged reputation.”

    The prosecution must have hoped they could get away with using Feraday as their chief ‘expert witness’ in securing Downey’s conviction (2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours: Sir Alan Feraday OBE).

    But the prosecution didn’t reckon with Gareth Peirce as John Downey’s defence lawyer. Nor did they anticipate the WS biography’s focus on Lord Chief Justice Taylor’s ban on Feraday as an ‘expert witness’.

    The trial was clearly not going too well when, on 4 February 2014, Feraday’s daughter Caroline and her media lawyer husband Mark Lewis “launched an unprovoked attack on former diplomat Patrick Haseldine and the editor of ‘The Ecologist’ Oliver Tickell on ‘Twitter’ by referring to an article published in the then current issue of ‘Private Eye’ magazine” (see

    Within a few weeks the prosecution had thrown in the towel and allowed Downey’s comfort letter to collapse the trial (see Judgment of 21 February 2014


  • Ba'al Zevul (Let's Nuke Russia! (Everett Mix))

    Never mind Feraday, what about Thurman?

    On 13 September 1995 the FBI’s forensic department was the subject of a programme broadcast in the US by ABC. At its centre was a memorandum from the former head of explosive science at the FBI, Dr Frederic Whitehurst. It was a devastating indictment of a former colleague. The colleague was Thomas Thurman and the accusations related to his investigation of a terrorist attack in which a judge was killed by pipe bombs. Two years later, as a result of a review by the US inspector general, Michael Bromwich, into a large number of criminal investigations, Thomas Thurman was barred from FBI labs and from being called as an expert witness. Bromwich had discovered that he had no formal scientific qualifications and that, according to a former colleague, he had been ‘circumventing procedures and protocols, testifying to areas of expertise that he had no qualifications in . . . therefore fabricating evidence’.

    Very good summary of the Lockerbie investigation and trial, whether you believe Megrahi did it or (these days more likely), not.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Not true at all.

    Justice Sweeney stayed the trial from going ahead because the PSNI letter to Downey in 2007 prevented the court from appearing to do justice in the case.

  • Patrick Haseldine

    Trowbridge, The case should never have come to trial since the prosecution knew all about Downey’s 2007 PSNI letter at the time of his arrest The whole point of what would have been a John Downey show trial was to rehabilitate Alan Feraday – and get him a knighthood (

    Ba’al Zevul, Here’s another link to the FBI’s Thomas Thurman:

  • Kempe

    “The obvious answer is that Scots Law Professor Robert Black arranged for the trial to be held in the Netherlands under Scottish Judges, where Feraday’s ban imposed by the now-deceased English Law Lord could safely be ignored.”

    It wasn’t quite that simple. The Lybians refused to hand the suspects over unless the trial was held in a neutral country. There was a lot of horse trading before The Hague became the chosen venue.

    Feraday’s evidence in that trial wasn’t the least satisfactory by any means.

  • Herbie


    “I’m sure O’Neil was “a bit too nice, posh and reachy-outy” for some. But still the same question, I’m afraid – murder, mayhem and violence and for what?”

    You could ask the same question about Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan etc etc. Perhaps there are some similarities.

    Do you remember what was going on in Britain in the 1970s? Might there be a clue there?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Whole rigmarole is just intended to cover up what really happened in London in July 1982 and thereafter with its bomb attacks.

    Can only wonder if what happened exactly 25 years later in London and thereafter with those bomb attacks which resulted in the PSNi writing to John Downey that he was not suspected of being involved in them.

    Looks like vast plotting by the coppers and spooks in NI and London going to the greatest lengths to cover up really what heated up The Troubles and beyond in Stockholm so as to protect Thatcher’s inflated reputation.

  • Kempe

    “Kempe, The Hague was not the chosen venue: ”

    My mistake; The Hague was one of the various suggestions put forward during the negotiations with Libya. Declaring part of the base to be temporary Scottish territory was a legal nicety to enable the defendants to be tried under UK not Dutch law.

  • John Edwards

    Is it only the English courts where Irish nationalists don’t get a fair trial or do your comments apply to other British courts as well?

  • Richard


    Well, I sort of remember what was going on in Britain in the ’70s. I was in secondary school for most of that decade and though I was fairly alert, I was also naïve and then as now, probably not too able to grasp the real motivations of many of my fellow humans. So any clues that are there I no doubt missed.

    I’m not too sure why you say “I could ask the same question of …”.

    Well, I’m sure I could – and no doubt more besides – but I didn’t. The question pertained to the topic in hand an was, of course, largely rhetorical and you are the only one who has chosen to pick up on it. Not to answer it, though. So I shall give my answer to it; one that is probably implicit in the question itself. Anyone who begs to differ is free to do so:

    Murder and mayhem and for what? Nothing … absolutely nothing. The square root of bugger all. Its only accomplishment was the misery and destruction it caused.

    Best wishes to all and let’s try to learn from our past: eschew violence except as a last resort for self defence in the face of attack. No “cause” is worth it.

  • Bena


    The rules for prosecuting corrupt practices were intended to prosecute people like the decision makers in BAE. The law itself was corrupted by not applying it.

    The amnesty given to those fighting in the conflict in Northern Ireland was intended to procure peace. In discontinuing the prosecution that intention was carried out.

  • guano

    Is there an alternative policy to UKUS using Al Qaida to achieve its aims in Syria?

    “Istanbul — Syrian opposition chief Ahmed Jarba called Saturday for backers of the rebellion to provide it with the “means to fight” the regime, as the conflict entered its fourth year.
    In a speech delivered in Istanbul and articles published in the French and US media, Jarba renewed a call for weapons as the rebels take on both President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and jihadists.
    “Our fighters are not only facing regime forces and their allied gangs,” he said in the speech.
    “They are also facing extremist gangs and are cleaning our house of terrorist mercenaries, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and others, who sneak up behind the revolutionaries to stab them in the back in the service of the regime.”

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