Monday, 24 April 2017

Lockerbie — Pan Am 103: the truth at last?

[This is the headline over an article about the Megrahi family’s forthcoming application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission posted today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer’s Intel Today website. In the article he quotes an email that I sent to him earlier today. Here is what I wrote:]

I am optimistic about the outcome of the Megrahi family's forthcoming application to the SCCRC. In June 2007 the SCCRC decided, on six grounds, that there might have been a miscarriage of justice. Since then even more evidence has come to light casting doubt on the verdict (not least Dr Morag Kerr's masterly analysis of the bomb-damaged luggage, which demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that the bomb suitcase was ingested at Heathrow, not Luqa in Malta).

My only slight worry is how the SCCRC will apply the "interests of justice" requirement (ie not only must the Commission be satisfied that there might have been a miscarriage of justice, it must also be satisfied that it is in the interests of justice for there to be a fresh appeal). It is possible to envisage the SCCRC saying that there have already been two appeals (the first of which Megrahi lost and the second of which he abandoned) and that it is not in the interests of justice for there to be a third bite at the cherry. I am reasonably optimistic that the Commission will not adopt this approach -- the Megrahi conviction still casts a dark shadow over the Scottish criminal justice system and is far from being generally accepted as just by the public in Scotland and elsewhere. I would expect the SCCRC to take the view that it is in the interests of justice in Scotland that an appeal take place that can remove this dark shadow, one way or the other.

The world will say sorry one day

[Most of the UK print and broadcast media today carry reports of the Megrahi family’s bid to secure a fresh appeal against the conviction of Abdelbaset. None of the reports adds anything significant to the article in yesterday’s Sunday Mail that broke the story, with the exception perhaps of a piece in the Daily Mail from which the following is excerpted:]

The Lockerbie bomber’s widow has sparked outrage after claiming that the ‘world will say sorry to my husband and my family’ as she launches a legal bid to clear his name.

Relatives of the family of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi also want former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to be quizzed in court over Libyan’s release – and he has said he is happy to help.

Megrahi’s widow Aisha said: ‘I wish to pursue this appeal in my husband’s name to have his conviction overturned, to clear his name and to clear the name of my family.

‘The world will say sorry to my husband and my family one day.’ (...)

The grounds for a new appeal will formally be handed to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) by the Megrahi family’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, this week.

An SCCRC decision to refer the case to the Appeal Court would prove a major humiliation for prosecutors and the Scottish Government.

Last night, American Susan Cohen, 79, who lost her daughter Theodora, 20, in the tragedy, said: ‘The world owes an apology to the families of the victims for allowing airline security to be so lax and in some cases for failing to voice their outrage over the atrocity.

‘The bombing destroyed my life and took away the only person I was prepared to die for.

‘The people who insist on Megrahi’s innocence are using alternative facts, they’re conspiracy theorists.

‘In terms of the appeal, a lot of the people involved are dead and probably by the time this is concluded some of the victims’ relatives will also be dead.’

The SCCRC has already ruled that the Libyan’s conviction was potentially a miscarriage of justice.

Relatives of victims, led by Dr Swire, tried to have the conviction overturned posthumously but the SCCRC ruled it could re-examine only if asked by the family. That barrier has now been overcome. (...)

The SCCRC has the power to refer the case to the Appeal Court if it feels there are grounds. The process is likely to take months.

Mr Anwar said: ‘A reversal of the verdict would mean that the governments of the United States and the UK would be accused of having lived a monumental lie for over a quarter of a century and having imprisoned a man they knew to be innocent for the worst mass murder on British soil.’

According to Megrahi’s deathbed memoirs, published in 2012, Mr MacAskill indirectly urged him to ditch an appeal in return for his freedom – dismissed by the SNP at the time as ‘hearsay’.

Mr MacAskill, Justice Secretary between 2007 and 2014 under Alex Salmond, promised to come forward if asked, saying: ‘If I am called to give evidence, I will give evidence.

‘Due process will take place and I will fully co-operate.’

He strongly defended the decision to release Megrahi.

Dr Swire said: ‘Before Megrahi died, I met him in Tripoli and reassured him I would still do everything I could to clear his name.’

Can you believe it?

[What follows is Dr Jim Swire’s account of the showing of Gideon Levy’s Lockerbie Revisited in the Scottish Parliament the previous evening:]

I saw the film last night in the Scottish Parliament. Lord Fraser, Stuart Henderson, Richard Marquise, Fred Whitehurst, Tom Thurman, Prof Hans Koechler and Robert Baer all made contributions in it.

The subject was the famous 'timer circuit board fragment', called PT35B in the court records.

There was evidence of widespread confusion over what was supposed to have been the way in which PT35B was handled, some claimed it had been to the USA others that it had not. The impression was that at least some of these were trying to contribute to a story the truth of which they did not want us to know.

Their stories could not all be true, for they differ widely.

'Oh what a complex web we weave when first we practice to deceive'

For me Robert Baer of the CIA was the most significant. His view was basically that of course it was a Iranian/Syrian job, but that even the USA (and therefore the UK) could not confront Iran militarily over it. That would, without question, have been to strangle the straits of Hormuz and therefore US oil supplies for a start. That sounds common sense to me.

The interviewer of these men was Gideon Levy himself [the film-maker], who showed great skill in extracting a maximum of information from them.

There was one criticism and that was that the film did show the famous picture of a tiny piece of circuit board on someone's finger tip. This is a picture of a shattered piece from a domestic cct board such as a tape recorder. It carried the codes of the former components printed in white on the fragment which appeared to have been of 'Paxolin' (mid brown) and bore no resemblance to a piece of fibre-glass board.

Use of this image will cause some confusion and allow the critics to get their knives in.

Otherwise it gave excellent support to the idea that the PT35B fragment has a very suspicious history, lacking the confirmed freedom from interference required of any significant item of 'evidence' for use in a murder trial.

I was able to point out at the end that PT35B also appeared to be something that could hardly have survived such close proximity to the Semtex charge, and that at least two independent explosives firms have confirmed this. Also that its police evidence bag had had its label interfered with, while its entry into the UK forensic report appeared to have been a hasty afterthought, requiring renumbering of the subsequent pages.

There is also said to be evidence that PT35B was never tested prior to the trial, for explosives residues, but that this has now been done and shown no trace of such residues.

Incredibly one contributor to the film claimed that the failure to do this was 'for reasons of economy'. Can you believe it? PT35B was only the most important forensic item in the entire 'evidence' armoury.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Application to SCCRC by Megrahi family imminent

[What follows is excerpted from a report published in today’s edition of the Sunday Mail:]

A bid to clear the name of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing will be launched this week by his family.
Relatives of Abdelbaset al Megrahi will hand a dossier to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.
They hope it will result in an appeal against Megrahi’s conviction. The details were finalised in talks with lawyer Aamer Anwar in Zurich.
Details of a planned appeal brought by Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s widow and son, who want former justice ­secretary Kenny MacAskill to be quizzed in court over his release, are revealed by the Sunday Mail for the first time today. (...)
The grounds for a new appeal will formally be handed to Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission by the Megrahi family’s lawyer Aamer Anwar this week.
As justice secretary at the time, MacAskill took full responsibility for the decision to release the Libyan.
It’s understood Megrahi’s relatives want to question him on the ­circumstances surrounding the decision to release him and MacAskill said he would co-operate if called to give evidence.
Megrahi’s widow Aisha and son Ali Abdelbaset al-Megrahi agreed the terms of the appeal at a meeting in Zurich last November. (...)
Dr Swire and another relative, Rev John Mosey, are among 25 UK-based relatives of victims who are ­supporting the Megrahis’ appeal.
A source said: “There are too many ­unanswered ­questions and the best place for the truth to come out is in a courtroom.
“One of the main questions is why did Kenny MacAskill feel he had to meet Mr Megrahi in person on his own in prison?
“It is an extraordinary step for a justice ­secretary to meet a prisoner particularly if he is just about to release him on compassionate grounds.
“We need to know if he was ever given the impression overtly or implied that dropping his appeal would increase his chances of compassionate release.”
The new grounds for appeal include ­questions over the integrity of evidence ­produced by the Crown at the original trial, including circuit board fragments and clothes.
They also claim that crucial testimony given by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci was false and should have been ruled inadmissible.
The SCCRC have already ruled that ­Megrahi’s conviction was potentially a miscarriage of justice.
Victims’ relatives, led by Dr Swire, tried to have the conviction overturned posthumously but the SCCRC ruled they could only re-examine if asked by the family. That barrier has been overcome following the summit in Zurich.
Aisha al-Megrahi said: “I wish to pursue this appeal in my husband’s name to have his ­conviction overturned, to clear his name and to clear the name of my family. The world will say sorry to my husband and my family one day. That’s all I wish to say.”
Ali, 22, added: “I still feel bad that my father was innocent and locked up in prison for so many years.
“I lost my father and although nobody can bring him back, I still want justice for him. I’m sure that, with the new appeal, my father’s name will be cleared from all ­allegations.
“The Lockerbie affair hit my family very, very hard and we’re looking forward to the day that Scottish justice prevails and that we can live in peace again.
“We hope the authorities of Scotland will make it possible to correct the controversial verdict and give all the families who lost loved ones, including ours, real justice.”
Also in attendance in Zurich was Edwin Bollier, a Swiss businessman who was a witness at the original trial at Camp Zeist in Holland.
He is a former director of Swiss firm Mebo, who prosecutors claimed made the Lockerbie bomb’s timer. He believes Megrahi’s conviction wrongly implicated him in the atrocity.
The SCCRC have the power to refer the case to the Court of Appeal if they believe there are enough grounds. The process is likely to take months.
Anwar has received thousands of pages of documents from the original trial which had been held by Megrahi’s previous legal team Taylor & Kelly.
Megrahi’s Scottish lawyer while alive was Tony Kelly, a partner in that firm.
Anwar, installed last week as rector of Glasgow University, said: “The Lockerbie case has often been described as the worst miscarriage of justice in British legal ­history.
“A reversal of the verdict would mean that the governments of the United States and the UK would be accused of having lived a monumental lie for over a quarter of a century and having imprisoned a man they knew to be innocent for the worst mass murder on British soil.
“The reputation of our criminal ­justice system has suffered at home and internationally because of the widespread doubts over the conviction of al-Megrahi.
“The only place those doubts can truly be addressed are in the Court of Appeal and nowhere else.”
MacAskill, who served as the SNP ­government’s justice secretary between 2007 and 2014 under Alex Salmond, promised to come forward if asked.
He said: “If I am called to give evidence, I will give evidence. Due ­process will take place and I will fully co-operate.”
He added: “This is a matter for the courts. It would be wrong of me to interfere. I am no longer involved in any aspect of it. I am happy to contribute but I will leave the due process of law to work its way.” (...)
Dr Swire backed plans for a new appeal. He said: “Shortly before Megrahi died, I met him in Tripoli and reassured him I would still do everything I could to clear his name.
“I am delighted that this request for an appeal is now being placed before the SCCRC.”

Documentary Lockerbie Revisited shown in Scottish Parliament

[On this date in 2009 a private showing of Gideon Levy’s documentary Lockerbie Revisited was held in the Scottish Parliament. What follows is from the background note supplied to those who attended:]

Dutch Public TV network VPRO, in conjunction with German TV, ZDF and Arte, commissioned a documentary investigation into aspects of the bombing of Pan Am 103 in December 1988.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, following a three year investigation has stated there may have been a miscarriage of justice and that Mr Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of this atrocity should have a fresh appeal. This appeal is scheduled to start on April 28th 2009. If there has been, as many believe, a miscarriage of justice, the implications for the Scottish Judicial system will be immense and could result in charges of perverting the course of justice.

The film focuses mainly on a crucial piece of circuit board fragment alleged to have been found at Lockerbie. Investigations carried out by Scottish police and the United Sates of America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that this fragment came from a timer mechanism sold only to Libya.

Statements made on camera to the documentary film makers by some of the most senior personnel involved in the investigation in Scotland and the USA cast even more doubt specifically on this piece of circuit board. The FBI agent who headed the USA’s part of the investigation has stated that without this fragment of circuit board there would not have been an indictment let alone a trial. Clearly, from filmed interviews, it can be seen that the FBI and Scottish police tell completely different stories about this fragment. They cannot both be correct.

The shocking new evidence gathered in this film will, it is believed, impact greatly on the forthcoming appeal and the producers intend to make this material available to the Crown Office and to Mr Megrahi’s defence team.

The screening will be by invitation only and it is hoped that a wide ranging audience will attend from elected representatives to relatives of those died on Pan Am 103.

[RB: The documentary can be viewed here.]

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The true story of how Megrahi was framed

[What follows is the text of an article that appeared on this date in 2012 on Tony Greenstein’s Blog:]


When Muammar Ghadaffi made his peace with western imperialism and Tony Blair , part of the price was the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie Bomber. A special court had been convened at Camp Zeis in the Netherlands 8 years before, but only Scottish judges were to sit there, whereas the original Libyan demand had been for an international panel of judges.

Ghadaffi was eager to come in from the cold and conceded the point. The judges decided, when faced with 2 prisoners, to convict one and acquit the other. The pressures on them were, of course, enormous. Megrahi was convicted in January 2001 and freed, as a ‘humanitarian gesture’ in August 2009.

It is widely believed that the reason for Pan Am 103 being brought down had nothing whatsoever to do with Ghadaffi and everything to do with a pro-Syrian Palestinian group, the PFLP-General Command. The reason? An Iranian aircraft had been shot from the skies by the US navy some years previously.

And of course, whilst we have heard countless tales of how much the relatives of the Pan Am passengers have suffered, I have yet to see a single interview with the 300 or so Iranians who were murdered. Arab people are somehow not quite as human for the BBC as white Americans.

The evidence was always extremely tenuous and depended on things like the bomb having been put on a flight in Malta and then relying on it to go undetected. Far more likely, the bomb was put on in Paris. But the judges were under political pressure to come up with a result and that is what they did, aided by CIA and British Police skullduggery and the planting of evidence, the disappearance of other evidence and the paying of bribes to witnesses.

When Megrahi was freed in August 2009 one of the conditions, although Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill denies that he gave him this advice, was that he had to drop his appeal. The evidence had all but disappeared as the true story of how Megrahi was framed began coming out. An appeal hearing when the judges were forced to admit that the evidence was simply not credible or sufficient would have been a damaging blow. Far better to release Megrahi on ‘humanitarian’ grounds, even if the largely stupid and ignorant American relatives were outraged, because they preferred to take the word of Bush and the Republicans rather than examine the convictions themselves. Many of the British relatives were not so easily taken in, in particular Jim Swire whose daughter died in the atrocity.

As Mick Hall writes, ‘below Morag Kerr of the Justice for Megrahi Committee has put together a detailed overview of the Lockerbie case. It was commissioned by the Scottish Review, and is designed to unpick the many strands of the case past and present. This is the first time, a concise statement justifying the argument that the Lockerbie trial resulted in a colossal miscarriage of justice has been placed in the public arena.

Tony Greenstein

What happened? The Story of Pan Am 103

Maid of the Seas, Pan Am 103, left the gate at Heathrow airport on time at 18.07 on the evening of 21st December 1988, taking off at 18.25. The aircraft was loaded from empty at Heathrow, however 49 passengers and their luggage were transferred from a feeder flight (Pan Am 103A) which had left Frankfurt at 16.50 local time. Maid of the Seas was due to land at John F Kennedy airport, New York, at 01.40 GMT. She fell out of the sky at 19.03 over southern Scotland, with the fuel-laden wings causing carnage in the small town of Lockerbie when they landed on occupied houses. In total, 270 people lost their lives. It was soon established that the cause of the crash was an explosion in the baggage container that had held the luggage transferred from the Frankfurt flight.

What was Abdelbaset al-Megrahi supposed to have done?

The court decided that he was a senior Libyan security officer who had bought a selection of clothes in a small shop in Sliema, Malta, only three miles from Luqa airport. Fragments of clothes from that shop were recovered from the crash scene, and the shopkeeper (Tony Gauci) remembered the sale. Megrahi then (allegedly) smuggled a suitcase containing these clothes and a Semtex bomb disguised in a radio-cassette recorder on to Air Malta flight KM180, which left Luqa at 09.45 local time on 21st December, for Frankfurt. The suitcase was said to be unaccompanied, and to carry Air Malta tags directing it to be transferred at Frankfurt to PA103A, and then at Heathrow to PA103. He was alleged to have used an electronic countdown timer set to detonate the bomb after the transatlantic leg had left Heathrow.

What was the evidence for this?

Evidence against Megrahi fell under a number of headings.
1. A member of the Libyan security services who had turned CIA informer identified him as a senior security operative.
2. Tony Gauci identified him as 'resembling' the man who bought the clothes in his shop.
3. He was shown to have been at Luqa airport at the time KM180 departed, travelling on a false passport.
4. Baggage transfer records at Frankfurt showed evidence of an item of luggage being transferred from KM180 to PA103A, even though no passenger from the Malta flight was booked on the Heathrow flight, and all the passengers collected their luggage at their destinations with nothing going astray.

A small piece of printed circuit board found embedded in a scrap of the Maltese clothes was identified as a part of a countdown timer made by a Swiss firm which Megrahi had had business dealings with. This timer was part of a special order of only 20 items supplied exclusively to Libya.

The difficulty with this is firstly that each of these points fails to stand up to serious scrutiny, and secondly that far more robust evidence exists for both a different modus operandi and a different set of perpetrators.

Membership of the Libyan security services

The CIA informant, Majid Giaka, was originally the Crown's star witness. Without his evidence, the indictments against Megrahi and his colleague Lamin Fhimah (who was acquitted) could not have been issued in the first place. However, CIA cables revealed during the trial exposed Giaka as a fantasist who was inventing 'intelligence' for favours and money from the CIA. The judges discounted all his evidence except for his statement that Megrahi was a member of the Libyan security forces. No other evidence for this was produced, and Megrahi has consistently denied the allegation. No evidence has ever emerged linking Megrahi to any other terrorist atrocities or human rights abuses of the Gaddafi regime, or to refute his claim that he was merely an airline employee who was also moonlighting as an entrepreneur businessman.

The identification evidence Tony Gauci was first interviewed about the clothes sale on 1st September 1989, nine months after the event. He described the purchaser as Libyan, aged about 50, over six feet tall, heavily built and dark-skinned. Megrahi is 5 feet 8 inches tall, light-skinned, of medium build, and was 36 at the time of the purchase. A photofit and an artist’s impression produced at the time suggest the man may have been negro or mixed race. Gauci was unsure of the date, but this was narrowed down to either 23rd November or 7th December 1988 on the basis of televised football games. Gauci stated that the Christmas lights were not yet lit, and it was raining when the customer left the shop.

On 15th February 1991 (well over two years after the purchase) Gauci was shown a police photospread including a picture of Megrahi. He initially rejected all the men as being 'too young', but when urged to reconsider he chose Megrahi's picture as the one that looked most like the customer. However, all the policemen present knew which picture was the suspect's, a recognised confounder in such exercises and something now banned, and Megrahi's picture was appreciably different from the others in both size and quality. As a further confounder the passport photo reproduction used was such a poor likeness of Megrahi as to be essentially unrecognisable. It did, however, look a bit like the photofit Gauci had produced in 1989.

By the time of the live identity parade in April 1999, better likenesses identifying Megrahi as the 'Lockerbie bomber' had appeared in many publications, which Gauci is known to have seen. (So widespread had been the publicity that most people following the case could probably have picked the accused out without ever having met him.) Megrahi was by then 47, close to the age the purchaser was said to be in 1988. The 'foils' in the parade were nearly all much younger (and bore little resemblance to Megrahi), even though by Gauci's original estimate the purchaser would by then have been in his early sixties. Megrahi in the flesh looked nothing like the images Gauci had produced for the police in 1989, or the blurry passport photo he picked out in 1991. Nevertheless, Gauci once again fingered him as 'resembling' the purchaser.

The date of the purchase was important, as Megrahi was in Malta on 7th December 1988 (using his own passport), but not on 23rd November. Meteorological evidence demonstrated that there was light rain in Sliema at the relevant time on 23rd November, but not on 7th December. The Christmas lights were eventually found to have been switched on on 6th December.

In late 1998 a magazine article was published with a recognisable photograph of Megrahi, together with a list of all the discrepancies between Gauci's original description of the purchaser and date, and the case against Megrahi. Gauci had a copy which was only taken from him four days before the identity parade. When he gave evidence, he consistently back-tracked on his original statements regarding height, build, age, Christmas lights and rain, always to favour the prosecution case. Tony Gauci's brother Paul, who was later rewarded for 'maintaining the resolve of his brother', had long expressed interest in a reward for the family's input, and after Megrahi was convicted the brothers were paid an alleged $3 million by the US Department of Justice's 'Rewards for Justice' programme.

Presence at Luqa airport

Megrahi was at Luqa airport on the morning of the disaster, using a passport in the name of 'Abdusamad'. However, all he did was catch his flight for Tripoli, without going airside, and without checking in any hold luggage. The court accepted that he could not have got the bomb suitcase on to KM180 himself, and must have had an accomplice. That accomplice was originally said to have been Lamin Fhimah, but Fhimah could not even be shown to have been at the airport that morning. The 'false' passport was a legal one, issued to Megrahi to allow him to conceal his airline employment while negotiating business deals to circumvent the sanctions then in force against Libya, and which he occasionally used for personal travel. Although Megrahi used it for that trip, he had business meetings in Malta using his own name, and stayed at a hotel where he was well known.

Not only was no other accomplice identified, security at Luqa airport was unusually tight in 1988, and baggage records provided strong evidence that there was no unaccompanied luggage on flight KM180. Despite intensive and intrusive investigation lasting many months, no plausible mechanism whereby the bomb suitcase could have been loaded was ever identified, and no trace of the bomb was found on the island.

Baggage transfer at Frankfurt

The only evidence for an unaccompanied suitcase coming from Malta was a single line of code in a printout taken from the Frankfurt airport automated baggage system, which surfaced in August 1989. However, that system was far from transparent, and a number of guesses and assumptions were necessary to conclude that something might have been transferred from KM180 to PA103A. In the end, two items apparently loaded on to the Heathrow flight could not be identified, one seeming to have come from Malta and one from Warsaw. The coincidence of the Maltese clothes caused the investigators to become convinced the former item was the bomb, and this was never reconsidered despite the failure to find any way the bomb could have been put on board at Luqa. The Warsaw-origin item was never investigated.

The timer fragment.

This is the most notorious item in the Lockerbie case. Originally the investigators believed the bomb to have been triggered by an altimeter device, operating on air pressure, and designed not to explode until the device was airborne (see the PFLP-GC, below). This introduced problems in respect of a Frankfurt introduction, as such a device should have exploded over France. A hypothesis was developed that the altimeter had malfunctioned on the feeder flight, only to detonate after the second take-off. When the focus of the investigation switched to Malta and a third flight, this introduced a paradox that was not addressed for over a year, until the identification of this fragment as part of a countdown timer resolved the difficulty.

The MST-13 timer was said to be one of a special run of only 20 supplied exclusively to Libya by the Swiss firm MEBO. Megrahi had business dealings with that firm, but not relating to, or at the time of, the purchase of the timers. Nevertheless this was said to be the 'golden thread' linking him to the bomb. This item had extraordinarily irregular provenance within the forensic investigation, with paperwork anomalies leading many commentators to suspect its appearance in the chain of evidence had been back-dated. In addition, the Libyan provenance was less certain than claimed, with Lockerbie occurring over two years after the timers were supplied, and examples having been found in other parts of Africa.

Irrespective of who had bombed the plane, the countdown timer introduced another paradox. Maid of the Seas exploded only 38 minutes after her wheels left the tarmac, and the plane was not late. There was a seven-hour flight ahead of her, with a thousand miles of Atlantic ocean where incriminating clothes and PCB fragments could have been buried forever. An altimeter timer would inevitably have exploded around 40 minutes into the flight, regardless of take-off time. Using a countdown timer set so early in the flight time carried a huge risk that the explosion would have occurred harmlessly on the tarmac if the plane had missed its slot at Heathrow – as could easily have happened on a stormy winter evening.

It was only in February 2012 that metallurgical evidence concealed from the original trial was revealed, which showed that the fragment could not have been one of the 20 items MEBO had supplied to Libya. This discovery calls into question whether the PCB chip was even part of a countdown timer, rather than some other electronic component using the same basic template.

Evidence for a Heathrow introduction

Although Maid of the Seas was loaded from empty at Heathrow, a press release issued on 30th December 1988 announced that the bomb had almost certainly not been introduced there, apparently because the location of the explosion had been traced to the baggage container holding the Frankfurt luggage. However, that container already held a number of suitcases before the Frankfurt items were added, and had been unattended in Terminal 3 for some time during the afternoon.

Baggage-handler JohnBedford was interviewed on 3rd January 1989, and told a strange story. He had left the container with a few suitcases already inside while he took a tea break. When he returned (this was still an hour before the feeder flight landed), he noticed two more cases had been added. He described the left-hand one, which was only a few inches from the position of the explosion, as 'a maroony-brown hardshell, the kind Samsonite make'. It was not until several weeks later that forensic analysis identified the bomb suitcase as a Samsonite hardshell in 'antique copper', variously described by investigators as brown, bronze, maroon and even burgundy. It was known that security at Heathrow was very lax, with many airside passes unaccounted-for. However, there is no evidence the police seriously investigated the possibility that the suitcase Bedford saw was the bomb-bag.

Reasons why this suitcase was not the bomb varied during the inquiry.

Originally (at the 1991 fatal accident inquiry) it was assumed absolutely that the case could not have been moved at all, thus as the explosion had occurred a few inches outside its last recorded position, it was innocent. Later (at Camp Zeist) this was reversed, and a suitcase from Frankfurt was placed in the position the Bedford case had originally occupied. One might think this obviously allowed for the possibility, even probability, that the Bedford case, replaced on top of this Frankfurt item, was indeed the bomb. Especially as no innocent suitcase recovered on the ground was ever matched to the one Bedford described. Nevertheless the prosecution insisted that the tenuous trail of the Frankfurt baggage printout was the one to follow, rather than the only brown Samsonite suitcase actually seen by any witness.

It was only after Megrahi had been convicted that another witness came forward to testify that there had been a break-in into that very area of the Heathrow airside, the night before the disaster. This had been reported at the time, but not acted on. Clearly, this could have been the way the suitcase was taken airside, to allow the terrorist to enter the next day, apparently empty-handed. It was not until 2007 that it was realised that one witness whose evidence had been crucial both at the FAI and the civil actions against Pan Am in the USA in the early 1990s had not been called at Camp Zeist. DC Derek Henderson had conducted reconciliations on the baggage carried by passengers on PA103, and concluded that none of them had checked in a brown-ish Samsonite. This was considered crucial in proving that the bomb had not been planted in a passenger's luggage. However, it also proved that the suitcase Bedford saw was not legitimate passenger baggage. Lacking his evidence, the Zeist judges were able to decide that Bedford's case belonged to a passenger, and had simply vanished over Lockerbie.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command

The saga of the Frankfurt cell of this terrorist group, its murderous members, their shocking past form in blowing up airliners, their possession of explosives, radio-cassette recorders and altimeter-type timers, and their serious intent to blow up an airliner in autumn 1988, has been well-rehearsed elsewhere. There is evidence to suggest they were sponsored by Iran to take revenge for the US shooting down of the Iranian airbus flight IR655 over the Straits of Hormuz in July 1988. What there was not, was any evidence to link this group to the actual placing of a device on Pan Am 103. Whether this is because the investigators spent all their time and effort investigating the feeder flight, and latterly concentrating exclusively on Malta, and neglected to investigate Heathrow as a possible point of origin, cannot be known.

The reasoning of the Zeist court

The trial at Camp Zeist took place nine years after the indictments were issued against Megrahi and Fhimah. Nine years of international publicity and condemnation, of house arrest for the suspects, and punitive sanctions imposed on Libya, which was assumed to be guilty. It is difficult to see how the presumption of innocence could be maintained in this context. The reasoning of the judges has been subject to much criticism as being perverse; 'inference piled upon supposition'. At almost every turn a less probable explanation that implied guilt was preferred to a more probable explanation that implied innocence.

The rationale of the judgement has been variously described as circular reasoning, petitio principii and begging the question. First, the judges decided for no readily apparent reason that the date of the clothes purchase was 7th December,despite the evidence of the rainfall records. Then, they decided that although Gauci's identification of Megrahi was 'only partial', the fact that Megrahi had been in Malta on the day of the purchase, and had been at the airport at the time they had decided the bomb was invisibly levitated on board KM180, and knew the manufacturer of the timing devices, showed that he was indeed the purchaser beyond reasonable doubt. Then, when turning to the extraordinarily tenuous evidence at Frankfurt, the possibility that the entry being relied on was a mere coding anomaly was rejected on the grounds that the man they had decided had bought the clothes in the suitcase was at the airport when the flight in question had left.

Although Giaka was acknowledged as a lying fantasist his assertion that Megrahi was a senior security operative was accepted, and the 'coded' diplomatic Abdusamad passport judged to be highly incriminating. Megrahi having lied to a journalist in a panicked interview shortly after being indicted was also held against him. The extensive terrorist record of the PFLP-GC members was brushed aside in favour of blaming a man who had no such history, and their possession of radio-cassette bombs designed to attack aircraft ignored in favour of an imaginary device that Megrahi was merely assumed to have assembled.

Withholding of evidence

Inquiries carried out in connection with Megrahi's appeals revealed an alarming amount of important evidence never disclosed to the defence. These are only a selection.

• The report of the break-in at Heathrow the night before the disaster
• DC Henderson’s baggage reconciliation report (despite his having given evidence at the FAI and in the USA in the 1990s)
• A statement from Gauci stating that the clothes purchase occurred on 29th November
• Police notes documenting the desire of the Gauci brothers for a reward payment
• The metallurgy results showing the coating on the 'timer' fragment was pure tin, while all the timers made for MEBO were coated with a tin-lead alloy
• The infamous 'public interest immunity' documents relating to the timer fragment

It seems inescapable that if the Zeist court had had access to the withheld evidence, their reasoning might well have been different.

Conclusion

The weight of evidence that the Lockerbie bomb was introduced at Heathrow (not all of which can be rehearsed here) is absolutely compelling. In contrast the evidence that the bomb transited from Malta through Frankfurt is beyond tenuous. In addition, no dispassionate examination of Tony Gauci's various and varied statements can possibly lead to the conclusion that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi bought the clothes in the bomb suitcase. Bearing in mind that Megrahi was verifiably in Tripoli at 4pm on 21st December 1988, the time John Bedford took his tea break, some might reasonably observe that he has an alibi. It was his misfortune to be at the other end of the blind alley the investigators pursued to Malta, looking just suspicious enough and with the right contacts to have a wholly inferential case constructed against him.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Flight to disaster

[This is the headline over a report that appeared on the BBC News website on this date in 2000. It reads as follows:]

BBC Scotland home affairs correspondent Reevel Alderson reports on how the Pan Am Flight 103 disaster became a murder inquiry

The police operation which began on 21 December, 1988, is the biggest ever mounted in Scotland.

Initial activity in the darkness of the longest night of the year was concentrated on finding out if there were any survivors - and establishing the extent of the destruction in the town of Lockerbie.

A week after the crash, on 28 December, the police investigation turned into a murder inquiry when the government's Air Accident Investigation Branch announced that a bomb had been responsible for the tragedy.

A painstaking search for debris and the belongings of the 257 people on the jumbo jet "Clipper Maid of the Seas" had become a search for clues.
It stretched for 100 sq. miles east of Lockerbie, across the English border as far as the Kielder Forest.

Initial forensic examination of the debris revealed further details about the bomb which had devastated the aircraft 30,000 ft above Lockerbie.

By 16 February,1989, the man leading the inquiry, detective superintendent John Orr was able to reveal in which part of the baggage hold the bomb had been - and in what luggage.

Further evidence emerged during the fatal accident inquiry (FAI) in Dumfries before Sheriff Principal John Mowat QC, between October 1990 and February 1991.

An FAI is held in Scotland in cases where a sudden death requires investigation. There is no jury, and its purpose is to discover how a death arose - and most importantly - if lessons can be learned to prevent a repetition.

In his determination, issued in February, 1991, Sheriff Mowat said the Samsonite suitcase containing the bomb - along with other baggage from the Frankfurt flight - had not been properly checked or x-rayed at Heathrow.

His conclusion was: "The primary cause of the deaths was the criminal act of murder."

This had been the first involvement of the Scottish judicial system in the aftermath of the bombing.

The evidence available to the FAI formed part of the Crown case for any eventual prosecution.

On 14 November, 1991, an announcement was made in Edinburgh, by the senior law officer, the Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, indicting Abdel Baset Ali Mohammed el-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhima, on three charges of murder, conspiracy to murder and contravention of international aviation laws.

That announcement was made simultaneously in Washington. The United States and the UK had agreed that the two men, described as agents of the Libyan Intelligence Services, should be tried by a court either in the US or Scotland.

Until the indictment and warrant for the arrest of the two men, international focus had been on a Syrian-backed group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command).

Now international diplomatic efforts were targeted at the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and on 27 November, 1991, Britain and the US formally asked for the extradition of the two men.

There followed almost seven years of diplomatic wrangling and obstruction before hope emerged that an end could be found to the impasse.

UN resolution 731 passed on 21 January, 1992, called on Libya to collaborate with international investigators.

When it failed to do so, UN resolution 748 of 31 March imposed an air and arms embargo on the Libyans.

By resolution 883 of November, 1993, further sanctions were imposed by the UN, including the freezing of Libyan assets in foreign banks and an embargo on exporting oil industry-related equipment there.

Throughout the 1990s a number of initiatives took place, aimed at bringing the two Libyan suspects to trial.

These ranged from a hearing at an international court - rejected as "impractical" by Britain and the US - to a suggestion by the Professor of Scots Law at Edinburgh University, Robert Black, that the trial could be held in a neutral country whilst retaining Scots rules of evidence and procedure.

Professor Black travelled to Tripoli on a number of occasions, along with Scots lawyers engaged by Megrahi and Fhimah.

On 24 August, 1998, following strenuous diplomatic efforts by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and the Arab League, as well as the outgoing President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, London and Washington made a formal offer to Libya.

It was for a trial of the two suspects in the Netherlands under Scots law.
Tripoli accepted the proposal but demanded sanctions should be lifted.

The proposals were for a trial to be held in the Netherlands before a panel of three Scottish judges, and without the jury, which would normally hear a criminal trial.

With that exception, the trial would be carried out exactly as any other before the Scottish High Court.

There remained concerns of the accused and their lawyers, but on 5 April, 1999, the two men were flown in a United Nations plane from Libya the Dutch military airbase of Valkenburg, near The Hague.

After a short extradition process, they were taken by helicopter under armed guard to Camp van Zeist, home of the Dutch air force museum where, on 14 April, they were formally committed for trial by Sheriff Principal Graham Cox QC.

Under normal circumstances under Scots law, a trial of a serious matter - under "solemn" procedure - must begin 110 days from the date of committal.

It is open to either the defence or the Crown to seek an adjournment.
Given the extraordinary circumstances of this case, two adjournments were granted [and the trial began on 3 May, 2000].

It is taking place in a court and prison complex built at a cost of £12m at Camp Zeist. Special facilities have been provided, including a bullet-proof glass screen separating the public from those in the court.

The judges' benches, and those of the defence and prosecution teams, are equipped with high-tech monitors allowing them to see documents and those giving evidence.

They have laptop computers giving them a simultaneous transcription of the proceedings, and headphones allowing the judges and the lawyers to hear translators working in English and Arabic.

The total bill for providing the facilities, guarding the two accused - said to be £2m a month - and the legal costs, will come to at least £150m by the time it is over.

For the families of the 270 victims of the bombing, the cost of justice is immeasurable, and the only thing which matters is that the facts of the case are made public.