| John Ashton |
(author, journalist, film researcher)
|Member of||Justice for Megrahi|
John Ashton is a British author, journalist and film researcher who is focused on the Lockerbie bombing of 21 December 1988, a subject he has studied since 1993. From 2006 to 2009 John Ashton was a researcher with the legal team representing Abdelbaset al-Megrahi who was convicted on 31 January 2001 of the sabotage of Pan Am Flight 103.
John Ashton's 1994 film The Maltese Double Cross - Lockerbie and subsequent books have been strongly criticised by armchair commentators Patrick Haseldine and Barry 'Baz' Walker. Charges include peddling a "drug conspiracy theory", promoting the "flight booking subterfuge" and failing to mention Haseldine's personal obsession, the UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, the highest profile victim of the Lockerbie bombing.
On 22 January 2014, John Ashton published this insightful piece on his website:
- Private Eye rumbles "Haselnut" and The Ecologist
- The latest issue of Private Eye ("Street of Shame", page 7) carries the following article about everyone’s favourite Lockerbie crank Patrick 'clinically sane' Haseldine.
- Most hacks and news organisations have long blocked or junked rants from the Lockerbie bombing conspiracy theorist Patrick Haseldine. Not so The Ecologist magazine. Oliver Tickell, the new editor, has just published "the shocking truth" of Lockerbie by the man who styles himself "Emeritus Professor of Lockerbie Studies".
- "Haselnut" has long claimed that Pan Am 103 was blown up by the apartheid South African government in order to kill an unfortunate Swedish passenger, Bernt Carlsson, the UN Assistant Secretary-General and Commissioner for Namibia.
- As well as aiming various far-fetched accusations over the years at people connected to the Lockerbie investigations and trials, Haseldine has also claimed that he was "nominated" for last year’s Private Eye Paul Foot Award – by which he meant he had in fact submitted his own material for consideration.
- 1 Ashton's critique of Patrick Haseldine
- 2 Maltese Double Cross
- 3 By the same author
- 4 Scotland's Shame
- 5 Review of "Lockerbie: What Really Happened?"
- 6 Book reviews
- 7 Other publications
- 8 External links
- 9 References
Ashton's critique of Patrick Haseldine
Patrick Haseldine is the primary author of this page (with the exception of this section, which was written by Ashton) and of just about everything else written about Lockerbie on Wikispooks. Ashton wrote a brief critique of Haseldine, which appears towards the bottom of Haseldine's otherwise self-penned Wikispooks profile.
Ashton's latest book 'Scotland's Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters' (published in October 2013) contains the following passage on Haseldine:
- "Former Foreign Office employee and Essex café owner Patrick Haseldine has for 25 years claimed, without evidence, that the bombing was carried out by the South African Bureau of State Security (BOSS) in order to kill the UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, who, like Botha’s party, was flying to New York for the signing of the Namibia peace accords. In his prolific online writing Haseldine has also claimed that I was employed by BOSS to conceal its role in the bombing, and that members of the campaign group Justice for Megrahi work for MI6. At the time of writing, he is facing legal action for another of his outlandish libels."
Maltese Double Cross
- Full article: The Maltese Double Cross - Lockerbie
- Full article: The Maltese Double Cross - Lockerbie
John Ashton was researcher for Allan Francovich's 1994 documentary film The Maltese Double Cross - Lockerbie about the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The film claimed that a South African delegation including foreign minister Pik Botha and defence minister Magnus Malan had been booked on Pan Am Flight 103 of 21 December 1988, but had received: "a warning from a source which could not be ignored," and changed flights.
In June 1996, the South African parliament was told by justice minister Dullah Omar that Pik Botha's delegation were not warned to change flights since they had not been booked to travel on the fatal flight. Critic Patrick Haseldine has observed that Ashton has never published a correction to this "flight booking subterfuge".
Flight Booking Subterfuge
This is the relevant narrative in The Maltese Double Cross:
- "The South Africans booked on Pan Am Flight 103 cancelled just before departure. Along with Pik Botha, General Malan the Defence Minister, and General van Tonder, Head of the Secret Service, BOSS, and other senior government officials.
- "Botha, Malan and van Tonder confirm this change in travel arrangement to British businessman Tiny Rowland. They tell him the source of the information was of the kind that could not be dismissed.
- "Botha rebooks on the earlier flight Pan Am 101. General van Tonder and two other members of BOSS cancel their trip altogether."
Ashton's claim that Pik Botha's party had been booked on the Lockerbie flight was shown to be false by the now retired South African MP Colin Eglin of the Democratic Party. In a letter to a British Lockerbie victim’s family dated 18 July 1996, Mr Eglin wrote of questions he had put to South African Justice Minister Dullah Omar in the National Assembly.
- "had any plans to travel on this flight (Pan Am Flight 103) or had reservations for this flight; if so, why were the plans changed?"
In reply in the National Assembly on 12 June 1996, Justice Minister Omar stated he had been informed by the former minister of foreign affairs (Pik Botha) that shortly before finalising their booking arrangements for travel from Heathrow to New York, they learned of an earlier flight from London to New York: namely, Pan Am Flight 101. They consequently were booked and travelled on this flight to New York. Mr Eglin went on to write in his letter to the Lockerbie victim’s family:
- "Since then I have done some more informal prodding. This has led me to the person who made the reservations on behalf of the South African foreign minister Pik Botha and his entourage. This person assures me that he and no-one else was responsible for the reservations, and the reservation made in South Africa for the South African group was originally made on Pan Am 101, departing London at 11:00 on 21 December 1988. It was never made on Pan Am 103 and consequently was never changed. He made the reservation on Pan Am 101 because it was the most convenient flight connecting with South African Airways Flight SA 234 arriving at Heathrow at 07:20 on 21 December 1988."
Mr Eglin gave the victim’s family the assurance that he had 'every reason to trust the person referred to' since he had been given a copy of 'rough working notes and extracts from his personal diary of those days.' In his letter Mr Eglin wrote:
- "In the circumstances, I have to accept that an assertion that the reservations of the South African group were either made or changed as a result of warnings that might have been received, is not correct."
"Cover-Up of Convenience"
Following the Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction for the Lockerbie bombing on 31 January 2001, John Ashton co-wrote a book entitled "Cover-Up of Convenience: The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie" with fellow journalist Ian Ferguson. According to a review of the book in The Observer on 17 June 2001:
- "If 'Cover-Up of Convenience' occasionally loses narrative focus, that is hardly surprising bearing in mind the difficulties with co-authors on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and the speed with which this book has been produced."
According to the blurb:
- "Based on many years’ research, this book demonstrates that the truth was buried to protect the hidden agendas of Western policy in the Middle East, demolishing the case against Libya, it presents shocking evidence that the terrorist masterminds lay in Iran, Syria and Lebanon and also raises questions against the Western intelligence services."
Although Cover-Up of Convenience has a 14 page index, Bernt Carlsson is not mentioned - an interesting lacuna, considering he was among the most prominent of the victims of the Lockerbie event. Moreover, the book's 'Acknowledgments' page states that "The relatives of the Lockerbie victims deserve particular thanks, chief among them Martin and Rita Cadman, Pam Dix, John and Lisa Mosey, Sanya Popovic and Jim and Jane Swire... Fellow journalists gave generous help, including Jan-Olof Bengtsson, Ronen Bergman, John Coates, John Cooley, Con Coughlin, Don Devereux, Rob Evans, Paul Foot, Drago Hedl, Björn Hygstedt, David Jessel, Shelley Jofre, David Johnston, Jürgen Krönig, Gunter Latsch, John Loftus, Neil Mackay, Joe Mifsud, David Milne, Mats-Eric Nilsson, Margaret Renn, Murdoch Rodgers, Frank Ryan, Kjetil Stormark, Phillip Wearne, Terry Wrong and David Yallop." Sanya Popovic was Bernt Carlsson's fiancée, John Coates interviewed Carlsson in The Case of the Disappearing Diamonds and, Jan-Olof Bengtsson wrote a series of Swedish newspaper articles about the UN Commissioner's secret meeting in London with De Beers on the day of the bombing.
"Megrahi: You are my Jury"
- "I read John Ashton's 500-page tour de force "Megrahi: You Are My Jury" at a sitting and though I would not expect anyone else to do so it is an invaluable 'source' for the public. His dissection of the trial in general and the 80-page judgement of Lords Sutherland, Coulsfield and MacLean in particular make compelling if disturbing reading.
- "The British public, media and politicians have a spectacularly poor knowledge of science and technology as debates over such things as windfarms and GM crops makes clear. It would be unreasonable to expect our Law Lords, classically educated at public schools where the teaching of science was bad and technology non-existent, to be any better. It was therefore only to be expected they would struggle to comprehend the weakness of the forensic evidence or to understand the operation of Frankfurt airport's X-ray security. Yet, as the UN observer wrote, that does not excuse their reliance on the partial evidence from wholly unreliable witnesses to reach a verdict 'beyond any reasonable doubt'. The Crown's case was that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah, acting together, smuggled the bomb on board a feeder flight from Malta in unaccompanied baggage. The Prosecution insisted they were either both innocent or both guilty however the only evidence linking Fhimah to this scenario depended on the evidence of one witness. This was Majid Giaka, a CIA informant, and by the time Fhimah's counsel, Richard Keen, had finished with him it was clear Giaka was both a liar and a fantasist.
- "I thought the trial was over and though it still dragged on with increasing absurdity I was not surprised when the Crown closed that Keen submitted Fhimah had no case to answer. However, I had not counted on Alastair Campbell, who led the Crown's case, informing the court he was dropping the conspiracy charge i.e. separating al-Megrahi and Fhimah. This was allowed but conspiracy was the basis of the case so I asked a leading figure in our judiciary if they could do that and he said the Law Lords could do what they liked.
- "When I replied that was illogical and unfair he archly responded, 'Show me where it says Scots Law must be logical and fair,' and an historic miscarriage of justice was inevitable."
"Was Libya really behind it?"
- "The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the small Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988 was one of the most notorious acts of "terrorism" in recent history. Its political and foreign policy repercussions have been enormous, and twenty-five years after the atrocity in which 270 lost their lives, debate still rages over the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, as well as his controversial release on compassionate grounds by Scotland’s SNP government in 2009. John Ashton argues that the guilty verdict, delivered by some of Scotland’s most senior judges, was perverse and irrational, and details how prosecutors withheld numerous items of evidence that were favourable to Megrahi. It accuses successive Scottish governments of turning their back on the scandal and pretending that the country’s treasured independent criminal justice system remains untainted.
- "With numerous observers believing the Crown Office is out of control and the judiciary stuck in the last century, politicians must address these problems or their aspirations for Scotland to become a modern European social democracy are bound to fail."
Independence and Lockerbie
- "Scottish justice survived the Act of Union with England with its independence intact: perhaps since then it has been a talisman of Scotland's reputation as an independent nation capable of running its own affairs. If that is so, Scotland - my country - would do well to address the apparent problem of the impenetrable arrogance of her prosecuting authorities that seem to have blighted her justice system ever since it became clear that the Lockerbie trial had been defective.
- "It is best addressed from within Scotland herself and may well be a factor which will block independence until it is resolved, for an independent community with an obscured and mistrusted justice system can never be a healthy community.
- "We would wish healing, not harm, for Scotland and all her people, but the arrogant refusal to consider fault has dragged on so long that the cure is not likely to be found within the timescale now scheduled for the independence debate. It is to be hoped that the refusal of the current Scottish Government to intervene with an independent inquiry, despite clearly having the powers required to do so, is not driven by motives of party advantage."
Terrible stain on Scottish justice
When Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was granted compassionate release from prison in Scotland in August 2009 film producer Ken Dornstein, the brother of Lockerbie victim David Dornstein, "couldn’t suppress the feeling that Megrahi was literally getting away with murder." Dornstein suspected that other perpetrators remained at large in Libya. The lead Scottish investigator on the case, Stuart Henderson, gave him a list of eight “unindicted co-conspirators” who had never been captured. Henderson told Dornstein that if he could get to Libya it might be possible to track down the men who were responsible. Over the course of three trips to Libya starting in 2011, Dornstein sought out the eight men on his list. In September 2015, in a PBS Frontline film entitled "My Brother's Bomber", Dornstein revealed that Abu Agila Mas’ud was his main suspect.
On 4 October 2015, in a Sunday Herald article, John Ashton commented:
In 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case back to the appeal court on no fewer than six grounds, among them that the trial court judgment was unreasonable. The terminally ill Megrahi abandoned the appeal two years later in order to aid his application for compassionate release, but the prosecution’s narrative has been on a life-support machine ever since.
Now it has been breathed new life by a three-part documentary for the US Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline series. Trailed by a lengthy article in the New Yorker, the film suggests that Megrahi was, after all, involved in the bombing as an accomplice to a man called Abu Agila Mas’ud. I was a paid consultant during the early stages of the film’s production, but I disagree with its conclusions.
It reveals that Mas’ud was named by a German judge as the technician responsible for the bomb that destroyed the La Belle nightclub in Berlin two-and-a-half-years before Lockerbie, killing three people, including two American servicemen. That attack prompted US air raids on Libya ten days later, for which Lockerbie was supposedly revenge.
Megrahi was on the same flight as Mas’ud on at least three occasions prior to Lockerbie, including on the morning of the bombing when they flew from Malta to Libya. It was in Malta that Megrahi was alleged to have put the bomb onto an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, which was supposedly transferred to a feeder flight to Heathrow and again at Heathrow to Pan Am 103. Megrahi and numerous other Libyan witnesses denied knowing Mas’ud, but the film suggests that Mas'ud was in the car that greeted Megrahi on his return to Libya. Earlier this year a Libyan court convicted Mas’ud of making booby-trapped car bombs during the country’s 2011 revolution.
So far, so convincing. Clearly there is a prima facie case against Mas’ud, just as there was against Megrahi. Now that his whereabouts are known, we must hope that he can be brought to trial and the new evidence tested in a Scottish court. However, if that happens, the prosecution will face far greater difficulties than they did in trying Megrahi.
The fear is that the Frontline film’s claims will provide the Crown Office with a smokescreen, from behind which it can brief that Megrahi was guilty all along and that its failures were therefore immaterial. They were anything but and, until it is held to account for them, they will remain a terrible stain on Scottish justice.
On 4 November 2015, the Scottish Review published an article by John Ashton arguing that the coverage of Dornstein's film "is more notable for what it omits than what it reveals".
Review of "Lockerbie: What Really Happened?"
- Full article: Lockerbie: What Really Happened#John Ashton
- Full article: Lockerbie: What Really Happened#John Ashton
On 12 March 2014, John Ashton published his review of Al Jazeera's Lockerbie: What Really Happened?, which he was paid to help development, although he was "not involved with the production itself". Although noting that it did contain "powerful interviews", he was broadly unimpressed with the film, concluding that overall though, "it was a wasted opportunity".
A customer review of 'Megrahi: You Are My Jury: The Lockerbie Evidence' on the "Amazon" website says:
- "Nowhere in John Ashton's book does he mention Lockerbie's highest profile victim United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson.
- "John Ashton has previously ignored Bernt Carlsson in his 1994 film 'The Maltese Double Cross' and in the 2001 book 'Cover-up of Convenience' that he co-authored with Ian Ferguson.
- "Whether John Ashton's new book 'Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters' - that was published by Birlinn on 3 October 2013 - actually features the targeting of Bernt Carlsson on Pan Am Flight 103 remains to be seen."
- "This recent tweet deals with the targeting issue: The #PanAmBoeing #ClipperMaidOfTheSeas was deemed by #ScottishPolice to be the #Lockerbie #Target, instead of the bleedin' obvious high-profile victim #UNAssistantSecretaryGeneral #BerntCarlsson!"
John Ashton adds: the Amazon review in question was in fact written by Patrick Haseldine under the guise of Enid Le Sah "Ellie" (Enid Le Sah being Haseldine backwards). His review of the Morphy Richards Power Steam Elite 42223 steam iron is also well worth a read (highlights include: 'easily gives a professional smooth finish to ironing of all types'). Unusually for Haseldine it a) makes no mention of Bernt Carlsson and b) contains no bizarre libels.
In 1988, John Ashton co-wrote a leaflet entitled Blood on their Rands: an investigation into the worldwide activities of the British Tyre & Rubber Co Ltd (BTR), with the help of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.
- "About the author on Amazon"
- "Charlatans, Fabricators and Conspiracy Theorists"
- "John Ashton's Lockerbie dictum: 'Don't mention Bernt Carlsson!'"
- "Lockerbie spotlight on John Ashton"
- "#Lockerbie spotlight on @MegrahiURmyJury that covered up #HighestProfileVictim #BerntCarlsson"
- "Flight 103: It was the Uranium"
- "Private Eye rumbles 'Haselnut' and The Ecologist"
- "Justice Minister Omar stated 'They consequently were booked and travelled on this flight (Pan Am Flight 101) to New York'."
- "Why the Lockerbie flight booking subterfuge, Mr Botha?"
- "Bogus claim by John Ashton"
- "South African MP Colin Eglin refutes John Ashton's claim"
- "Lockerbie Cover-Upper Ian Ferguson"
- "Cover-Up of Convenience: The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie"
- "The show trial must go on" The Observer, 17 June 2001.
- "Important lacuna - Bernt Carlsson"
- "Megrahi: You are my Jury"
- "Dr Cameron's review of John Ashton's 2012 book"
- "Was Libya really behind it?"
- "Scotland's Shame: Lockerbie 25 Years On - Why It Still Matters"
- "Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters"
- "Jim Swire: SNP's failure to order Lockerbie bombing inquiry will harm its indyref chances"
- "The Avenger"
- "Linking Megrahi to a new Lockerbie bombing suspect won't work ... he was innocent and his conviction is a stain on Scottish justice"
- "Response to PBS Frontline ‘My Brother’s Bomber’"
- "John Ashton - The Lockerbie Case"
- "Lockerbie: What Really Happened?"
- "No mention of Lockerbie's highest profile victim"
- "Leaflet written in 1988 by John Ashton" with the help of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa