Gareth Peirce

Are British making same mistakes with Muslims they made with Irish?


Gareth Peirce

And  lawyer Peirce, who is now presenting her case for the innocence of Abdelbaset Ali al Magrahi - the man convicted of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, says: “The right to a fair trial is in many ways difficult to articulate. If a defendant believes his or her prosecution is unjust, does he or she have any concepts to hand onto that are not entirely nebulous, unless they can prove, as those wrongly convicted in Birmingham or Guildford did, that their confessions had been brutally coerced? Or in the case of Judith Ward, where it was proved that the prosecution had withheld for 18 years evidence that disproved her claimed fantasies.”

Human rights legislation is a relatively new addition to British law. And Peirce asks if these rules can  be changed or if there are legal concepts that protect a community under blanket suspicion.

During the Troubles, the Irish had some allies. Peirce says: “Much current reminiscence ignores vital factors - above all the weight of the Irish Diaspora and the far-sightedness of those who began and maintained contact, long before Blair was elected and claimed the ultimate prize. Throughout the 30 years of conflict, 40 million Americans of Irish descent formed an electoral statistic no US administration could afford to ignore.”

She believes no similar allies for the Muslim community are evident today, capable of pushing and pulling the British Government publicly or privately into seeing sense.

This summer the families of those killed in Bloody Sunday received the findings of the Saville Report.

“Saville’s conclusions are that one platoon of the Parachute Regiment and one commander bear responsibility and that the chain of command above them could not have foreseen the events of the day,” Peirce says. “There is no finding on the inquiry’s report either that foresight existed or could have prevented the bloody events of the day, which even at the time were immediately recognised by Irish men and women as the actions not of a few rogue soldiers but as actions authorities at the highest level.

“If so substantial an inquiry now could arrive at conclusions that allowed David Cameron to say to the House of Commons that the buck stops with foot soldiers, has the British state in fact owned up to the whole truth?,” she adds. “And how does the precedent set by the Saville Inquiry inform us so important as the second, announced only this summer, into torture? There is nothing in David Cameron’s announcement that guarantees that any of it will be heard in public.”

Peirce argues that the public has never been told what actually happened to lead to the conviction of al-Megrahi.

“Many of the families of those who died when Pan Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie in 1988 have urged for almost as long as the Bloody Sunday families, that there be a searching inquiry into what happened,” she says. “And not one focused instead on the decision, a proper one, and entirely customary on Britain, to release a terminally ill person from prison.”

She adds: “Another dying man in a British prison years before, Giuseppe Conlon, wrongly convinced on the evidence of the same discredited scientists who provided the forensic case against al-Megrahi, was forced to wait for such a decision until the day of his death, when the home secretary, fearful of a political backlash, agreed too late to his release on humanitarian grounds. But the desire for vengeance remained in the air.”

Peirce is solid in her convictions. “There will always be a hunger by a bereaved family and a need by society in general,” she says finally, “ to have an adequate searching enquiry.”  


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