Sunday, 4 December 2016

Pan Am ceases operations

[What follows is excerpted from the Wikipedia article Pan American World Airways:]

While a program to refurbish Pan Am aircraft and improve the company's on-time performance began showing positive results (in fact, Pan Am's most profitable quarter ever was the third quarter of 1988), on December 21, 1988, the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 by Abdelbaset al-Megrahi above Lockerbie, Scotland, resulted in 270 fatalities. Pan Am's iconic image had made it a repeated target for terrorists, resulting in many travelers avoiding the airline as they had begun to associate it with danger. (...)

Pan Am was forced to declare bankruptcy on January 8, 1991. Delta Air Lines purchased the remaining profitable assets of Pan Am, including its remaining European routes and Frankfurt mini hub, the Shuttle operation, 45 jets, and the Pan Am Worldport at John F. Kennedy Airport, for $416 million. (...)

Pan Am ceased operations on December 4, 1991 following a decision by Delta's CEO, Ron Allen, and other senior executives not to go ahead with the final $25 million payment Pan Am was scheduled to receive the weekend after Thanksgiving. As a result, some 7,500 Pan Am employees lost their jobs, thousands of whom had worked in the New York City area and were preparing to move to the Miami area to work at Pan Am's new headquarters near Miami International Airport.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Gaddafi: Megrahi family to sue over prison neglect

[What follows is the text of a report that appeared in the Evening Standard on this date in 2010:]

The family of the Lockerbie bomber is to sue over his "neglect" in a Scottish jail, Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi has said.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was freed from Greenock prison on compassionate grounds last year after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.
The Libyan was sentenced to life in jail after his conviction for the murder of 270 people in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland.
He returned to his home country where he is said to be "very ill".
Colonel Gaddafi spoke about the bomber to staff and students at the London School of Economics over a video link on Thursday.
According to reports, he told them: "His health was not looked after in prison. He didn't have any periodic examination. I wish him a long life.
"After he passes away, his family will demand compensation because he was deliberately neglected in prison."
The decision to free Megrahi, taken by Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, sparked fury in the US and was condemned by President Barack Obama's administration.
Meanwhile a group of campaigners in the UK is calling for an independent inquiry into his conviction.
[RB: No such action was ever raised or, I believe, seriously contemplated.]

Friday, 2 December 2016

Kofi Annan in Lockerbie trial mission

[This is the headline over a report that appeared in The Independent on this date in 1998. It reads as follows:]

Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, is expected to meet Muammar Gaddafi this weekend, amid mounting speculation that the Libyan leader is on the verge of handing over two suspects, wanted for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Speaking in Algiers, Mr Annan said he was in contact with the Libyan Government, and "might go" to Libya when he ends a visit to Tunisia.
In fact it is assumed he will go - and, possibly, seal arrangements for Abdel Basset Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah to face trial at a court in The Hague.
With the 10th anniversary of the destruction of PanAm's flight 103 just 18 days away, the Foreign Office is bending over backwards to avoid any impression of a deadline.
Only too aware of Mr Gaddafi's proven capacity for stalling, officials in London merely express encouragement at the "serious engagement" of the Libyans in seeking a resolution of the issue.
Exactly what Mr Annan will do in Tripoli is unclear.
If the end game is at hand, he would be expected to confirm that, once the suspects had been surrendered, the UN's sanctions against Libya would be lifted.
But during a phone conversation last week with Mr Annan, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, made it clear that there could be no negotiation.
The ball, Britain insists, is firmly in the Libyan court. The hope is, as one official put it, "that Annan's going there will be a peg for Gaddafi to make an announcement."
But the Libyan's intentions are as mysterious as ever. Years of total deadlock were broken in August when the US and Britain, fearful that UN sanctions aimed at isolating Libya were slowly dying by default, abandoned their long standing insistence that the two men's trial be held in Scotland or America.
In return, Tripoli seemed to agree in principle to hand over the suspects.
Nonetheless, prevarication over the details had continued, before the waters were further muddied last week by reports from Tripoli of the trial and imprisonment of three senior Libyan security officials, allegedly on the grounds of "dereliction of duty" over the bombing, in which 270 people were killed.
That step was interpreted in some quarters as a sign that the crucial breakthrough was at hand, and that by jailing three key witnesses who would otherwise have been called to testify in The Hague, the Libyans were seeking to make it hard, if not impossible, to convict Megrahi and Fhimah.
Other analysts however maintain that the three - one of them the brother- in-law of Mr Gaddafi himself - are so senior that their belated "imprisonment", if such it is, may presage a definitive refusal to deliver the two men accused by the West of actually planting the suitcase bomb which blew the PanAm Jumbo jet apart.
According to this theory, the Libyan president would argue that the individuals who had plotted the crime had been punished and justice done, so that no grounds any longer existed for a trial of the mere foot soldiers in Britain's worst ever terrorist outrage.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Libyan lawyers set up fund for defence of Megrahi and Fhimah

[The following are two snippets from the Libya: News and Views website on this date in 1998:]

A Libyan lawyers' union has created a fund to help pay for the defense of two Libyans charged in the 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people. Mohammed al-Ellagi, head of the Libyan Lawyers' Union, was quoted as saying that a number of Arab lawyers have volunteered their expertise or pledged money to help defend the suspects, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lameen Khalifa Fhimah. Al-Ellagi did not say how much money the union hoped to collect. The union is licensed by the Libyan government. Libya has accepted in principle a joint US-British offer to try the Libyans in the Netherlands under Scottish law and with Scottish judges. []

Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi said the United States and Britain must drop their conditions if they want a trial of two Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie bombing take place in the Netherlands, the official Libyan news agency JANA reported Monday. "We challenge America and Britain not to set conditions which are bound to be firmly rejected, for holding that (Lockerbie) trial and if they wanted it be held and solve this issue,'' the agency, monitored in Tunis, quoted al-Qadhafi as saying. Al-Qadhafi, who was talking at a banquet in the Libyan coastal town of Sirte, some 280 miles east of Tripoli, in honor of visiting Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, did not say to which US and British conditions he was referring to. [Reuters]

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Lockerbie relative's doubts over Megrahi release

[This is the headline over a report published on this date in 2009 in The Scotsman. It reads as follows:]

Fears have been raised that Kenny MacAskill unduly influenced the course of criminal proceedings by delaying key decisions over the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

As Mr MacAskill faces MSPs today to answer questions about the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, a Lockerbie relative said it was "unclear" whether the justice secretary acted responsibly.

In a submission to Holyrood's justice committee, Matt Berkley, who lost his brother in the bombing, highlighted delays he says put pressure on the bomber to drop his appeal.

These include a 43-day wait to contact the relatives after the transfer application was made and a three-week wait to respond to Megrahi's acceptance of Mr MacAskill's invitation for a meeting.

Mr Berkley also said it was not clear the Scottish Government had "provided accurate, fair and balanced information to the prisoner". He said Mr MacAskill appeared not to have told Megrahi the range of options he had in relation to the dropping of his appeal.

"Did the justice secretary take adequate care, through promptness of action and appropriate information to the appellant, to avoid influencing the court process?" asked Mr Berkley in his submission.

A spokesman for Mr MacAskill said: "Megrahi and his legal team chose to abandon their appeal … their decision bore no relation to the release."

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Unsubstantiated and unattributed intelligence rumours

[The following are excerpts from a report in The Sunday Times of 29 November 2009. The document referred to is a US State Department press release dating from April 1992 which appeared on the State Department website for many years and is well known to all who have taken the trouble to follow the Lockerbie case. What motivated the newspaper to draw  attention to it again in November 2009 remains a mystery.]

The Lockerbie bomber was implicated in the purchase and development of chemical weapons by Libya, according to documents produced by the American government.

The papers also claim that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi sought to sponsor Latin American terrorist groups and to buy 1,000 letter bombs from Greek arms dealers while working as a Libyan intelligence officer. The documents, which were prepared by the US State Department, reveal the extent of Megrahi’s alleged terrorist activities. (...)

In 1987, Megrahi was appointed director of Libya’s Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS), which served the Department of Military Procurement. In a section headed “Procurement of chemical weapons precursors”, the documents state: “An al-Megrahi subordinate operating in Germany in 1988 played an important role in acquiring and shipping chemical weapons precursors to Libya. Megrahi is also linked to a senior manager of Libya’s chemical weapons development program.” (...)

Bill Aitken, justice spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said the documents made a mockery of Britain’s ongoing trade links with Libya and the decision to release Megrahi. (...)

Frank Duggan, president of Washington-based Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, said that the documents shed further light on Megrahi's terrorist activities.
"It was pretty clear that investigators from the US and Scotland knew they had a bad penny with Megrahi. I had never heard of Megrahi being linked with chemical weapons but his involvement doesn't surprise me. This strengthens the case against Megrahi as being the Lockerbie bomber."
Tony Kelly, Megrahi’s lawyer in Scotland, said he was unaware of the existence of the State Department documents but was sure they were based on “unsubstantiated and unattributed intelligence rumours”.

“If there was any evidence backing any of this up I am absolutely certain it would have been introduced at trial, and it wasn’t,” he said.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Prosecution failure to disclose

[What follows is based on an item that was originally posted on this blog on this date in 2007:]

Lockerbie evidence withheld from defence

This is the title of an article posted today on the Cossacks Breaking News website. Internal evidence suggests that it derives from The Scotsman but I have not been able to find the piece on that newspaper's website. [RB: The article in The Scotsman can now be found here.] Part of the story reads:

"Fresh doubt has been cast over the conviction of the Lockerbie bomber after it emerged a document containing vital evidence about the bomb timer has never been shown to the defence.

The Scotsman has learned that the failure to disclose the classified document, which concerns the supply of timers identical to the one said to have been used to blow up Pan Am Flight 103, led a review body that examined the case against Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi to conclude a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

It was not previously known that doubts over the timer were grounds for an appeal.

The content of the document remains a mystery as sensitive details of the report seen by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) have been blacked out, or redacted. It is understood that security services also prevented the SCCRC from releasing the report, or disclosing any of its contents, to Megrahi or his lawyers, who are thought likely to seek a court order forcing the Crown Office to hand it over.

The document is among six points in the case which the SCCRC has concluded casts doubt over the reliability of Megrahi’s conviction. The SCCRC detailed some of these in a summary of its findings in June, but others, including the failure to disclose this document, remained secret." (...)

None of this seems terribly earth-shattering: those who attended, or followed proceedings at, the procedural hearing on 11 October [2007] had already reached the inevitable conclusion that the failure by the Crown to disclose the document relating to timers was one of the grounds upon which the SCCRC had referred the case back to the appeal court.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

UK and US call for surrender of accused Libyans

On 27 November 1991 the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States each issued a statement calling upon the Libyan Government to hand over the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing to either the Scottish or the American authorities for trial, to disclose all that it knows of the crime, and to pay appropriate compensation.  Requests for the extradition of the suspects had been transmitted to the Government of Libya by diplomatic channels. The full text of the statement can be read here in a UN Security Council document (Annex III). The same UN document reproduces the full announcement of the charges which was made by the Lord Advocate, Peter Fraser QC, on 14 November 1991 (Annex I) and a statement made by the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, in the House of Commons on the same date (Annex II).

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Lockerbie Bombing: ‘Case Closed’ Says Libya’s Justice Minister

[This is the headline over a report that appeared in The Huffington Post on this date in 2011. It reads as follows:]

Scottish prosecutors’ hopes of help with their investigation into the Lockerbie bombing look set to be dashed after Libya’s interim justice minister reportedly said “the case is closed”.
Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC has requested that Libyan authorities hand over any information that could lead to a second trial over the atrocity, which killed 270 people in December 1988.
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is the only person to have been convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie.
But according to reports, Libya’s interim justice minister Mohammed al-Alagi, responding to news of the request, told a press conference: “The case is closed.”
The Crown Office declined to comment on the interim justice minister’s comment.
Prosecutors are seeking assistance from Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) to gain evidence that could lead to the conviction of others involved in the atrocity.
Earlier a Crown Office spokesman said that it accepts that Megrahi “did not act alone” and it is hopeful recent developments in Libya will mean the country will assist with the inquiry.
He said: “The trial court accepted that Mr Megrahi acted in furtherance of the Libyan intelligence services in an act of state-sponsored terrorism and did not act alone.
“Lockerbie remains an open inquiry concerning the involvement of others with Mr Megrahi in the murder of 270 people.
“The Crown will continue to pursue lines of inquiry that become available, and following recent events in Libya, has asked the National Transitional Council, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for assistance with the investigation.”

Friday, 25 November 2016

There is some deep secret hidden in this tragedy

[What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2009:]

Convicted Lockerbie bomber probably not guilty—so who is the real criminal?

[This is the headline over an article in the current issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs by the magazine's publisher, Ambassador Andrew I Killgore. The following are excerpts.]

On Aug 21 Scotland freed Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi—convicted under Scottish law at a special court in The Netherlands of destroying Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on [December] 21, 1988. Killed were 259 persons, including 189 Americans on board and 11 people on the ground. The terminally ill Megrahi, after dropping his second appeal, was released on compassionate grounds. Back in Libya, he continues to protest his innocence. (...)

At the Lockerbie trial so-called “key witness” [Tony] Gauci would identify Megrahi as the purchaser of certain items of clothing found at the crash site that Gauci claimed were purchased at his shop in Valetta, Malta. But on the witness stand Gauci proved to be a flop at identification. An FBI officer, Harold Hendershot, called to the witness stand to bolster Gauci’s testimony, also appeared to lack credibility.

Another puzzling aspect of the Lockerbie trial was that, despite the prosecution’s insistence that the bombing could only have been a two-man job, Megrahi’s co-defendant, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted. No explanation was ever forthcoming. A middle-aged American (judging by his accent) attending the trial was overheard by this writer on a BBC broadcast expressing uncertainty about the testimony: “I wonder who killed our relatives?”

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the crash, is sure that Gauci identified the wrong man. Swire is an unusual man. As an officer in the British army, he was trained in the use of plastic explosives. After completing his army national service, he worked for the BBC as an electronics engineer before studying medicine and becoming a practicing physician. Dr Swire cannot accept as credible the Lockerbie trial’s technical details about the explosives that brought down Pan Am 103. He became a spokesman for relatives of British nationals killed in the crash. Overwhelmingly these relatives do not believe that Megrahi is guilty.

Dr Swire is convinced that shopkeeper Gauci identified an innocent man as the bomber. In a Dec 27, 2007 e-mail from Swire to this writer, Swire quoted Gauci as saying that Megrahi was “like” the man who bought clothes in his shop, but that the age and height were “very different.” Nevertheless, the Scottish judges accepted Gauci’s testimony.

Gauci reportedly now lives in Australia with a $2 million (some reports say $4 million) reward from the American government. According to the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” Web site, since its inception in 1984 the program has paid $77 million to more than 50 people.

But the biggest reason for questioning the validity of the “Libya-did-it” scenario is the sheer improbability of placing a bomb on a plane in Valetta, Malta, bound for Frankfurt, Germany, there to be offloaded on a second plane bound for London, where it would be offloaded on a third plane bound for New York, to explode 38 minutes later. Common sense would dictate a far more simple scheme: load the bomb aboard a plane in London with a simple pressure mechanism to go off when the plane was safely out to sea (...)

In the aforementioned e-mail, from which I am free to quote, Dr Swire said the Lockerbie court heard of a “specialized timer/baroceptor bomb mechanism” made by the PFLP-GC in the Damascus suburbs. This device would explode within 30 to 45 minutes after takeoff, but was stable indefinitely at ground level. The court heard that these devices could not be altered. “Yet the court believed,” Swire wrote, “that Megrahi ‘happened’ to set his Swiss timer in such a way that it went off in the middle of the time window for the Syrian device, surviving changes of planes at Frankfurt and London.”

Dr Swire told the BBC News of Aug 20, 2009 that the prosecution at the Lockerbie trial failed to take into consideration the reported break-in of the Pan Am baggage area at Heathrow in the early morning hours of the day of Pan Am 103’s doomed flight.

Many of the British relatives of Pan Am 103 victims have come to believe that the bomb was loaded in London, and thus that Megrahi could not be guilty. These relatives and Dr Swire were opposed to Megrahi’s withdrawing his second appeal on the grounds that further evidence would come out that might have pointed to the real culprit.

In a Jan 4, 2008 e-mail, Dr Swire warned that “ which evokes virulent responses...when questions are raised.”

In an Aug 20, 2009 e-mail response to this writer’s inquiry, Dr Swire said “that it appears that the Iranians used the PFLP-GC as mercenaries in this ghastly business.” According to this theory, held by many who doubt Megrahi’s guilt, including CounterPunch’s Alexander Cockburn, Iran hired the PFLP-GC to avenge the July 3, 1988 shooting down by the USS Vincennes of an Iranian Airbus passenger plane, killing 290 passengers, including 66 children. The US ship’s officers later received medals for heroism in combat.

Having lost his daughter in the Pan Am crash, and as an expert in explosives, Dr Swire is uniquely qualified to examine the Pan Am tragedy. America and its mainstream media did not reflect credit on themselves by refusing to acknowledge questions about Megrahi’s guilt.

Dr Swire may well be right in blaming the PFLP-GC for the tragedy. But this writer still has his doubts — because the ineptness of the trial and Washington’s fanaticism in pushing such a flimsy case against Libya leave an impression that it must be covering up for the real criminals. Somehow it seems unlikely that the US would go to such lengths to protect Iran, much less the PFLP-GC.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Increasing the motive for revenge

[What follows is the text of a letter from Dr Jim Swire that was published in the Malta Independent on this date in 2009:]
In demanding that Megrahi should now be removed from his family and returned to a Scottish jail, is not Senator Charles Schumer revealing a lust for revenge?
If the Senator will look at the context of the Lockerbie disaster, he cannot but conclude that it was itself an act of revenge. Either by Iran, for the shooting down of her airbus by the US missile cruiser Vincennes five months before Lockerbie, with the loss of 290 lives, or if he still believes the Zeist court’s verdict, by Libya for the bombing of Tripoli and Bengazi by the USAF in 1986, an attack which led to the death of Gaddafi’s daughter Hanna aged 18 months, and around 30 other citizens.
If the good senator would go to Tripoli and look at the preserved remains of the bedroom in which Hanna died, he will see two pictures on the wall. One is of Hanna and one is of my daughter Flora (murdered at Lockerbie) also at the age of 18 months. Below these is a legend in Arabic and English, which says “the consequence of the use of violence is the death of innocent people”.
My own efforts to get the two accused Libyans to trial were specifically because I believed that was the best way of breaking the cycle of revenge attacks, while the insistence on Scottish rather than US justice was specifically to avoid the death penalty.
I have had letters from the US which have advocated the witholding of morphine from Megrahi ‘so that he would die in agony’, I have heard one American call for the ‘nuking’ of Tripoli. Humans are programmed to seek revenge. It is not a characteristic of which we should be proud.
Would the good senator, who presumably still believes Megrahi to be guilty, despite the SCCRC’s findings that there may have been a miscarriage of justice here, but who cannot help representing US opinion from a nominally Christian country, like to consider whether he is acting in accordance with the words of a Teacher who claimed that we should even (if we can) love our enemies, rather than torture them?
Had the US read the small print of Scottish law before agreeing that any sentence should be served in Scotland, they would have detected the precedent, which Kenny MacAskill used, for compassionate release when death appeared likely within three months. Ask any doctor if he can predict the very day of a patient’s death, such predictions are statistics based and wildly variable.
Adding to the suffering of the man found guilty of the Lockerbie disaster, by taking him from his family again would risk increasing the motive for revenge by Libya again. Is that what the senator would like to see?

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The date of the Malta purchases

[What follows is excerpted from a long article headed Evidence reconsidered: date of clothing purchase posted in January 2010 on Caustic Logic’s blog The Lockerbie Divide:]

1) A choice of two days
Tony Gauci's initial recall of the date of purchase was vague - late November or perhaps early December, or a few weeks before the bombing. It was a football game played on the day (see below) that really narrowed it down to 23 November or 7 December 1988. He recalled the purchse as on a weekday, and specifically "mid-week." In his 2000 testimony, Gauci clarified this meant, exactly, Wednesday. [Day 31, pp 4820-21] Both possible dates were Wednesdays, so that's no help, but the distinction is crucial; as Marquise points out, Megrahi was on Malta on the 7th and so could possibly be the buyer (or to some minds, he clearly is).

If, on the other hand, this supposed purchase occurred two weeks earlier, it had to be someone else; Maltese immigration records and all sources on all sides agree Megrahi had a solid alibi for 23 November. We know the official decision - the purchase happened the 7th. And we know how that helps the prosecution case. But what does the actual evidence offered by Tony, and his brother Paul for that matter, and others, actually say on the subject?

2) Christmas lights
Paul Foot's amazing 2000 booklet "Lockerbie: The Flight From Justice" reports:
On 19 September, 1989, Gauci asserted in a statement to police: “At Christmas time we put up the decorations about 15 days before Christmas. The Christmas decorations were not up when the man bought the clothes.” On 10 September, 1990, Mr Gauci told DCI Bell of the Scottish police: “I’ve been asked to try again and pinpoint the day and date I sold the man the clothing. I can only say it was a weekday; there were no Christmas decorations up, as I have already said, and I believe it was at the end of November.” [p 21 - emphasis mine]
But ultimately another day was needed, a day by which the town would normally have its halls partly decked. By the time Mr. Gauci made it to trial in 2000, judging from the stretches of Q and A I’ve been going over, he was taking every opportunity to fudge the two versions closer together, on this issue and others. The Court’s summarized final opinion document (31/1/01) stated:
“In his evidence in chief, Mr Gauci said that the date of purchase must have been about a fortnight before Christmas. He was asked if he could be more specific under reference to the street Christmas decorations. Initially he said “I wouldn’t know exactly, but I have never really noticed these things, but I remember, yes, there were Christmas lights. They were on already. I’m sure. I can’t say exactly.” [paragraph 56]
Of course among the first things he remembered, that helped mark the memory, was the decorations “were not up when the man bought the clothes.” After this contradiction “had been put to him” by the defense, the Court continued, “he said “I don’t know. I’m not sure what I told them exactly about this. I believe they were putting up the lights, though, in those times.” [para 56]

Clearly the earlier version, before he became muddled with an awareness of contradiction, is more trustworthy, and the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission, announcing a possible “miscarriage of justice” in 2007, found support for this. Among other alarming problems, they unearthed additional specific evidence giving a start date for the Christmas light erection – the 6th of December:
New evidence not heard at the trial concerned the date on which the Christmas lights were illuminated in the area of Sliema in which Mary’s House is situated. In the Commission’s view, taken together with Mr Gauci’s evidence at trial and the contents of his police statements, this additional evidence indicates that the purchase of the items took place prior to 6 December 1988. In other words, it indicates that the purchase took place at a time when there was no evidence at trial that the applicant was in Malta.

3) Weather records vs Gauci's evidence
Gauci’s first statements to the police cited the weather as a clue to the day of the purchase. When the mystery shopper came in, it was raining enough for him to buy, in addition to the memorably random assortment of clothing, a single item of utility; an umbrella. From his first statement, 1 September 1989:
“I even showed him a “Black coloured (umbrella?) and he bought it. … The man said he had other shops to visit and he picked up the “umbrella” and he said he would come back shortly … [and] walked out of the shop with the “Umbrella” which he opened as it was raining.”
Remnants of a black umbrella were found in Scotland and presumed to be from the bomb bag. This looks like a good connection, but the items bought are covered in a separate post. For this post it establishes that Gauci’s story, however true or relevant it really was, featured significant rainfall.

During the 2000 trial, the issue was raised by defense for the first accused (Megrahi). They called as a witness one Major Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese meteorologist who gave evidence on 5 December 2000. He discussed rainfall records kept at the airport. Every three hours (usually), there was a measurement taken, entered in the "Rainfall" on the charts, showing as some entries discussed:
6 Dec 21.00 GMT - "Nil"
7 Dec 00:00 GMT – “Nil”
7 Dec 06.00 GMT – “Nil”
7 Dec 09:00 GMT – “T/R” Mifsud explained the mark “TR” as “a trace of rainfall, less than 0.5 of a millimetre.” This reading refers apparently to a one minute light shower recorded from 8:44 to 8:45 am GMT, ten hours prior to the alleged December 7 purchase. The closest time to that, for 18.00 GMT, Mifsud clarified, showed “a nil entry” for the airport. [Transcripts, Day 76, p 9192-93] All other samples aside from 09:00 were equally dry.
Above: Police records for Malta, December 1988. From Foot, Flight from Justice, p21. Maj. Mifsud testified to records the airport at Luqa (highlighted) and recorded TR (trace rainfall) Dec 7. Rain in Silema (highlighted) Dec 7 is the issue and it, like all others aside from the airport, was left blank. December 6 is similarly dry-looking - these blanks mean either “nil," or everyone else just took these day off.

Note in the chart how these are daily totals, and do not reflect changes in rainfall at points during the day, so the “TR” at Luqa could be used to argue for light rain at Silema around 7pm, even though its daily total shows as blank, or nil. In fact, Foot noted how some did argue “the blank referred to the period from noon on the previous day (6 December) to noon on the 7th. So it could still have been raining at the time the clothes were sold – at about 6.30pm on the 7th.” But this is obfuscation. The As foot noted, Mifsud was quite clear on what the hourly returns meant:
"Q. Just confirm with me, please, apart from the trace of rain that we discussed that fell or was measured at 9.00 in the morning of Wednesday December 7, did any rain fall at Luqa?
A. No, no rain was recorded. No, no rain was recorded.
Q. Up to midnight?
A. Up to midnight." [Day 76, p 9201]
The prosecution asked the witness it could rain in Silema, which is right on the coast, but not the airport, approximately four miles inland (southwest). He admitted “I do not altogether exclude the possibility that there could have been a drop of rain here and there,” and estimated “the possibility that there would be some drops of rain, about ten per cent possibility.” [Foot 21] It’s precipitously less likely to have been enough to warrant buying an umbrella, and only a major screw-up in records-keeping could explain such a rain on the 7th not being recorded.

It can’t be ruled out that Gauci was eventually made aware of this disconnect and pressured to shift his story. One can observe subtle changes in the witness' recall of rainfall over subsequent statements made to DCI Harry Bell, who was leading the Scottish police effort on Malta and was Gauci’s usual contact. Two of these later read in court include:
21 February 1990: “I have been thinking about the day the man bought the clothes, November, December 1988. He left the shop after having made the purchases and turned right down Tower Road. At that time, he had the umbrella raised and opened. When he returned to the shop, he came from the same direction, but the umbrella was down because it had almost stopped raining, and it was just drops coming down.” [p 4815]
10 September 1990: “I have been asked about the weather conditions that night the man made the purchase of the clothing. Just before the man left the shop, there was a light shower of rain just beginning. The umbrellas were hanging from the mirrors in the shop, and the man actually looked at them, and that is how I came to sell him one. He opened it up as he left the shop, and he turned right and walked downhill. There was very little rain on the ground, no running water, just damp.” [emphasis mine] [p 4817]
A decade later Gauci tried valiantly to minimize rainfall further in his pivotal trial testimony. The Court summarized his take into this finding, from paragraph 56 of their final opinion: [OoC 56] “When asked about the weather he said “When he came by the first time, it wasn’t raining but then it started dripping. Not very -- it was not raining heavily. It was simply dripping...” What the actual transcripts show is a little weirder. It was delivered in his native Maltese, and translated for the court.
”Q Do you remember what the weather was like when the man came to the shop?
A When he came by the first time, it wasn't raining, but then it started dripping. Not very -- it was not raining heavily. It was simply -- it was simply dripping, but as a matter of fact he did take an umbrella, didn't he? He bought an umbrella.” [Day 31, P 4741]
“Q … on the 1st of September of 1989 your memory was that the man purchased the umbrella, he didn't leave it for you to bundle up with the other things he had bought in the shop, but he left with the umbrella and put it up outside the door of the shop because it was raining?
A Exactly.” [p 4815]
"A It wasn't raining. It wasn't raining. It was just drizzling.
Q We'll come to --
A I can't remember the dates. I don't want to say -- I don't want to give out dates if I am not that sure, sir.
Q Indeed. What I am endeavouring to do, Mr. Gauci, with your help, is to illustrate --
A I always thank you, sir. I am here to help you, sir." [p 4816]
"A I don't want to cause confusion. I don't know dates." [p 4820]
It was barely raining, had just started, just stopped, drizzling, ground barely wet, etc. None of it fits well with December 7, when rain on Sliema would be described as “maybe a few drops, but not that I noticed.” The records for November 23, not surprisingly, are a direct fit for his freshest memories. Major Mifsud, again, from the transcripts: [Day 76, Pp 9207-09] “Light intermittent rain at noon” was recorded, a condition that “persist right down the column until 16.15,” onto the next page to at least 18.00 GMT, 19:00 local, almost the minute of any alleged 6:50 purchase that day. This slot measurement shows .6 of a millimeters of rain was taken at the airport.

Results in Sliema, a bare four miles distant, were likely the same - light but notable. And the buyer noticed enough to buy and use an umbrella. What this evidence shows then, is the unknown purchaser of 23 November, if he really existed, was a bit of a pansy regarding rain. (...)

5) Why doesn’t November 23 work, aside from Megrahi not being there?
I almost left this section blank, to emphasize that I’ve seen no reasonable excuse yet offered as to how these clues add up to 7 December. Paul Foot’s 2000 booklet brilliantly outlined the evidence for 23 November, which I've drawn heavily from, and summarized:
But this evidence was no use at all to the prosecution of Abdelbasset Megrahi, who was certainly not in Malta on 23 November. Was there any other day he was in Malta and could have bought the clothes? Yes, he was staying in the Holiday Inn in Sliema on 7 December, 1988. So the thrust of the prosecution inquiries about the sale of clothes shifted from 23 November to 7 December. [p 21]
This may sound cynical, but in point of fact, DCI Bell, head of the Scottish police investigation in Malta, tacitly admitted as much in a 2006 interview. Speaking with the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission, these excerpts were found in the Megrahi defense team’s grounds of appeal [pdf link  - p 229]
DI Bell SCCRC interview (25-26/7/06)
"...The evidence of the football matches was confusing and in the end we did not manage to bottom it out..."
"...I am asked whether at the time I felt that the evidence of the football matches was strongly indicative of 7th December 1988 as the purchase date. No, I did not. Both dates 23rd Nov & 7th Dec 1988 looked likely.
"...It really has to be acknowledged how confusing this all was. No date was signficant for me at the time. Ultimately it was the applicant's [Megrahi’s] presence on the island on 7th December 1988 that persuaded me that the purchase took place on that date. Paul specified 7th December when I met with him on 14th December 1989 and I recorded this..."
“Applicant” here refers to Megrahi, applying for his second try at appeal, which the SCCRC wound up granting. Note two aspects of his citation of Paul's 12/89 statement: it's mentioned immediately after the admission that it was Megrahi that decided it, as a supporting afterthought. Also this being an oral interview, he had the date of that meeting memorized, ready to call up. This is interesting, but inconclusive, evidence of a memorized and rehearsed spin. Paul’s “specifying” the 7th on that particular day conflicts with his own words, from two months earlier, that "the 23rd November 1988 was the date in question.” Do note that Mr. Bell deceptively places the days as equals, creating some unwarranted “confusion,” when the 23rd is clearly the better fit in all the regards addressed above. But whatever “fog of war” effect he may have suffered on the investigative front lines, Bell admitted he saw no good reason, aside from Megrahi’s absence and one mention by Paul, to dismiss the earlier purchase. And he and the investigation and ultimately the Zeist Court all dismissed the earlier purchase.

Further, Paul's apparent story change between mid-October and mid-December hints at - but far from proves - an intention somewhere to shift the scope onto Megrahi (and thus the date to 7 December), an intention that had somehow influenced Paul to report the other day despite everything. (...)

7) Harry Bell's First Reason
Considering the quote above by DCI Harry Bell, the date 7 December was clearly chosen to fit Megrahi. One must presume this decision was made prior to his citing it, in his police diary, as reason #1 to identify Megrahi. On the day of Tony's "ID," February 15 1991, Bell wrote in support that "He arrived in Malta on 7th December '88. This was the date of the purchase of the clothing." Nabbed. Bell that is, using criminally circular logic he thought would never be exposed. (This is explained in a separate post.)