The judges got it wrong
In an article for The Sunday Times, British journalist and author Ian Ferguson, who has covered the Lockerbie case extensively internationally for TV, radio and newspapers, casts doubt over the Malta-link to Lockerbie.
A German expert has raised fresh controversy on a crucial piece of evidence in the conviction of Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi as the Lockerbie bomber.
The verdict relied heavily on the judges' acceptance of a brief computer printout of the baggage movements at Frankfurt airport. The prosecution had argued it proved an unaccompanied bag containing the bomb was transferred from Air Malta flight KM180 to the Pan Am flight 103 to London on December 21, 1988.
The expert who helped design the baggage system in place at Frankfurt airport in 1988 and familiar with the operating software has now said: "The Lockerbie judges got it wrong, they simply got it wrong."
In the original trial, the Crown could offer no evidence of how the bag got aboard the Air Malta flight in the first place. Malta had presented records showing that no unaccompanied baggage was on the Air Malta flight in question.
The baggage reconciliation system at Malta's airport did not only rely on computer lists. Personnel also counted all pieces of baggage, manually checking them off against passenger records. Maltese baggage loaders had been prepared to testify, yet they were never called as witnesses.
In spite of a lack of evidence that the baggage containing the bomb actually left Malta, the judges concluded that it must have been the case, based on an interpretation of the computer print out from Frankfurt.
The hotly disputed computer printout was saved by Bogomira Erac, a technician at Frankfurt airport. She testified at the original trial under the pseudonym Madame X. One of the reasons this computer printout was so controversial was that although Ms Erac thought it important to save, she then tossed it in her locker and went on holiday.
Only on her return did she hand it to her supervisor who gave it to the Bundeskiminalmt (BKA), the German Federal Police. The BKA did not disclose this printout to Scottish and American investigators for several months.
The German expert has now examined all of the evidence that related to the Frankfurt baggage system placed before the court in the original trial. The expert, who agreed to review this evidence on condition of anonymity, spent six months examining the data.
Although he demanded anonymity, he agreed that if a formal approach was made by Mr Al-Megrahi's lawyers or the Scottish Criminal Cases review commission, he would meet them.
He was puzzled when he saw how short the printout out was and explained that there was no need to print a very small extract from the baggage system traffic, as a full back-up tape was made. This would have shown all the baggage movements at Frankfurt airport that day.
When it was explained that the court heard that the system was purged every few days and that no back-up tape existed, he said: "This is not true."
"Of course it is possible no back-up tape was made for that particular day but that day would have been the first and only day in the history of Frankfurt Airport when not one piece of baggage or cargo was lost, rerouted or misplaced," he added.
He went on to say that FAG, the company that operated Frankfurt Airport, needed these tapes to defend against insurance claims for lost or damaged cargo.
The expert maintains that even with his expert knowledge of the system he could not draw the conclusion reached by the Lockerbie trial judges in 2001.
"They would have needed much more information of the baggage movements, not this very narrow time frame," he said.
Questions are now raised about why Mr Al-Megrahi's legal team at the trial in the Netherlands decided to accept and rely upon a report on the baggage system compiled by a BKA officer and not find an expert on the system. The Scottish police also did not seek to interview those people who designed and installed the system.
Jim Swire, whose daughter lost her life in the bombing and who has been campaigning relentlessly for the truth to emerge, explained there was a break-in at Heathrow airport, early on December 21, 1988, in the relevant area of Terminal 3. This was followed by the sighting (before the flight from Frankfurt had even landed) of an unauthorised bag within the very container where the explosion later occurred.
"What we need now is an equally clear explanation as to why the information about the Heathrow break-in was concealed for 13 years," he said.
Dr Swire added: "At last, the time has come to turn away from Malta and Frankfurt and look a lot closer to home at Heathrow airport for the truth, for that is what we still seek.
Scottish legal expert says Lockerbie verdict was flawed
'No evidence the bomb left from Malta'
Caroline Muscat, Mark Micallef
A former Scottish judge who was the architect of the original Lockerbie trial has told The Sunday Times there was never any evidence that the bomb which claimed the lives of 270 people actually left from Malta.
The trial held in the Netherlands under Scottish law led to the conviction in 2001 of Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi as the bomber who placed the explosive on Air Malta flight KM180 on December 21, 1988. It was said that the suitcase containing the bomb was transferred in Frankfurt to Pan Am flight 103A which then headed for London before continuing to the US.
"There is no acceptable evidence that the bomb left Malta. There never was. There was never an explanation given by the judges to contradict the clear evidence from Malta," Prof. Robert Black said.
Malta presented records at the original trial showing there had been no unaccompanied bags on the flight.
Prof. Black echoed comments made last week by a representative of the families of the British victims, Jim Swire, who lost his 24-year-old daughter Flora when Pan Am Flight 103 from London Heathrow to New York's JFK airport exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland an hour into the journey on December 21, 1988. All 259 people on board died as well as 11 locals on the ground.
The legal team representing Mr Al-Megrahi, who is eight years into a 27-year sentence for his part in the bombing, began appeal proceedings in Edinburgh on April 28. They are arguing that the evidence against him in the original trial was "wholly circumstantial".
Mr Al-Megrahi was told last year he is dying. Doctors discovered he has advanced and aggressive prostate cancer, which has spread to his bones. He has a few months left to live, a diagnosis confirmed by two cancer specialists.
The Maltese government yesterday told The Sunday Times it was monitoring the situation, while Air Malta said it had no comment to make.
The ongoing appeal was ordered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission in 2007, after a four-year investigation that concluded Mr Al-Megrahi may have suffered a "miscarriage of justice".
According to Prof. Black the appeal took so long to reach the court because the prosecutors and the British Foreign Office used delaying tactics.
"They refused the defence access to documents they were entitled to see and that were an important part of the conclusions reached."
Documentation sought by the defence team includes a fax they say questions the original testimony of key Maltese witness Tony Gauci, who said he sold clothes to Mr Al-Megrahi from his shop in Sliema. It was said the suitcase containing the bomb on the Pan Am flight included those clothes.
The evidence the defence team is seeking relates to contact between police and other investigators with another potential Maltese witness, David Wright. They believe Mr Wright may have material evidence that calls into question Mr Gauci's statement.
At the start of the appeal, the judges ordered prosecutors to hand over 45 key pieces of evidence to the defence in what was described by British newspaper The Herald as "an embarrassing setback for the Crown Office".
Prof. Black was not surprised: "The truth would be extremely embarrassing from the point of view of saving what is left of the reputation of the Scottish criminal justice system. Also, the truth would not place Britain's reputation in a very good light."
He insisted that it was in the interest of the British government that this appeal would "quietly go away".
"The easiest way for that to happen is for Mr Al-Megrahi to abandon his appeal and be transferred back to Libya."
Libyan authorities recently applied for Mr Al-Megrahi's transfer to Libya. It came after a prisoner transfer agreement was ratified by the UK and Libyan governments two weeks ago.
A few weeks earlier, the Westminister Joint Select Committee on Human Rights had called for the ratification of the agreement to be delayed, pending investigation into concerns over the content of the treaty. But Jack Straw, the UK Secretary of State for Justice, insisted the treaty must go ahead.
This prompted the campaign group UK Families Flight 103 to issue a statement accusing Mr Straw of hypocrisy, saying the agreement cleared the way for the man convicted of the bombing to return home before the truth emerged. But Kathleen Flynn, from New Jersey, US, who also lost her son John Patrick to the bombing, said she would be horrified if Mr Al-Megrahi is released to the Libyan government.
"This man is not a political prisoner, he is a murderer and there is a big difference... to me it is inconceivable how this idea could be entertained," she told The Sunday Times.
"He is likely to be received as a national hero in Libya," she added.
Unlike Dr Swire, she has full confidence in the guilty verdict: "The person responsible for a crime of this nature should serve his entire sentence, while given all the medical attention he needs."
Asked what would happen if the transfer is given the go ahead, she said: "I can assure you we will not just say au revoir... we have been successful in the past 20 years at making sure justice is done."
According to Scottish law, the application for transfer cannot be submitted while an appeal is pending, meaning Mr Al-Megrahi has to abandon his appeal before he can go home.
Although Mr Al-Megrahi is suffering from terminal cancer, his lawyers did not confirm whether he would choose to go home. If he does, he will remain a condemned man and Malta will remain implicated in a terrorist act that killed 270 people.
[The first of these articles can be accessed here; and the second here.]