Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Victim’s father seeks correction over luggage allegation on TV

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of the Maltese newspaper The Times. It reads in part:]

Air Malta “is following developments” after Scottish Television on Monday reiterated the allegation that the Lockerbie bomb was loaded in Malta in an unaccompanied luggage.

“Air Malta is following the story as it develops and we will be in a better position to comment further at a later stage,” a spokesman for the national carrier said when asked whether the company was going to protest its innocence.

The airline had threatened court action some years ago when Granada TV had broadcast a similar allegation and the station had to reach an out of court settlement.

The airline has always denied it transported unaccompanied luggage. (...)

The father of one of the victims, Jim Swire, yesterday wrote to STV asking them to correct the wrong impression given by the programme that the fatal bomb was loaded in an unaccompanied luggage on an Air Malta flight in Luqa.

According to the prosecution, the luggage containing the bomb was transferred in Frankfurt to a London-bound flight where it was again transferred to Pan-Am flight 103.

Dr Swire has long maintained that Mr al-Megrahi is innocent and has challenged the prosecution’s case implicating Malta. (...)

In comments to STV, Dr Swire talked of his “unshakeable belief” that the circumstances of his daughter’s murder “have become wrapped up in a tissue of lies”.

The prosecution’s main plank during the trial was Sliema merchant Tony Gauci who identified Mr al-Megrahi as the one who bought clothes from his shop days before the Lockerbie bombing.

Fragments of clothes from the Lockerbie crash site were traced back to Malta and Mr Gauci’s Sliema shop.

However, serious doubts were cast on Mr Gauci’s testimony because the identification of Mr al-Megrahi came only years later after the witness had seen him pictured in a magazine as a Lockerbie suspect. In fact, over the past years, the credibility of the main thesis that saw Mr al-Megrahi being convicted was seriously called into question.

Mr al-Megrahi was a Libyan secret service officer stationed in Malta with Libyan Arab airlines but Malta has always denied the bomb was loaded at Luqa airport.

[A similar story appears in Malta Today.

Amongst the many Lockerbie-related things that I wish for is that journalists would stop blithely referring to Abdelbaset Megrahi as "a secret service officer" or as an intelligence officer. Here is what I have said about this elsewhere when enumerating the evidential factors that the Zeist judges used to justify their decision to convict:]

3. Megrahi was a member of the Libyan intelligence service.
Commentary. The only evidence to this effect came from a Libyan defector and CIA asset, Abdul Majid Giaka, now living in the United States under a witness protection programme. He gave evidence highly incriminating of both Megrahi and the co-accused Fhima. However, the trial judges rejected his evidence as wholly and utterly unworthy of credit, with the sole exception of his evidence regarding the Libyan intelligence service and Megrahi’s position therein. The court provides no reasons for accepting Giaka’s evidence on this issue while comprehensively rejecting it on every other matter.


  1. If I were STV, I'd make amends to Malta immediately. Granada paid them substantial damages for the previous libel.

    It is very odd that essentially Malta proved that Mergahi did not break Luqa Airport security in a civil case, whilst he was convicted in a criminal case where the test is "beyond reasonable doubt" not "on the balance of probabilities".

    Perhaps the judges or the appeal judges still living might inform us of their reasoning in this logical volte face, if they are not gaga, as they behaved at the trial and appeal.

    Shame on their very heads.

  2. It'a a very interesting angle, and I wouldn't know what the implications would be without hearing a legal opinion. However, once you've buried the idea that Megrahi bought the clothes from Gauci (and to my mind that's well decomposed by now), this assertion is all that's left of the case against him. And it's extraordinarily weak, setting the comprehensive Luqa baggage records in which no chink was ever identified ("there is considerable and quite convincing evidence that that could not have happened") against that single entry on a computer printout of quite bizarre provenance.

    Even (with a heroic effort!) setting aside any doubts about the provenance of the printout, the relevant entry could just be a coding anomaly. Coding anomalies were admitted to occur at Frankfurt, and for the court to decide that merely because the defence had failed to prove that this entry was one of these, it could be held to overturn all the strong evidence from Malta, is simply ridiculous.

    A bit less conspiracy-mongering about that timer fragment and a bit more examination of the rationale for that decision (and the provenance of that damn printout) would do this case a power of good.

  3. (1) The Court at Camp Zeist did conclude the bomb suitcase was loaded at Malta although I agree there was no evidence that it was. I doubt STV will withdraw this claim.

    Malta did not "prove" Al-Megrahi did not break security at Luqa. Granada paid damages rather than fight the case. The Granada/Air Malta case proved nothing.

    (2)At point 3 Professor Black describes Abdul Majid Giaka as a defector "now living in the USA under a witness protection programme." There is no evidence that he is "now living" (and no evidence that he isn't save for his remarkable silence.) Fans of The Sopranos may note that when rival mobsters are murdered their disappearance is explained by their "going into the programme."

  4. I agree that STV are probably safe from serious legal challenge. However, it could be fun to make them substantiate their claim! (They'd probably just fall back on "the court said so" though, which would be tedious.)

  5. Everybody falls back on the judgment. Hellopeople? What the hell was yourexcuse prior to that, when youwere believing the grand jury? THey believed Giaka, and youbelieved them.

    Interesting angle indeed. I agree with Baz in that a lwasuit now won'thappen - 1993 is different from 2010. But props to Swire for reminding people that this was never illustrated well at all.

  6. The judgement was not proven. Whereas Air Malta produced documentary evidence about what travelled on the plane and that all owners were accompanied by bags. No unaccompanied bags.

    STV should have researched this point. They should also have known that a former player in the ITV group had previously made the same mistake and come a cropper.

    We need to remember the trial was separate and does not prevent Air Malta from taking action. Unlike the court STV need to prove what they said about this company is true. And they can't.

    I wrote to STV the same night complaining and I've had a letter back from them.

  7. And Adam, this is major as far as I'm concerned. Good on Jim Swire for doing what needs to be done and making public the lies still being peddled. THAT is what will get people thinking.

  8. Also, if STV are to get nailed on the "facts" they missed out there's the other glaring one: they didn't fade out on the smug Marquise and confirm just how much Gauci was paid for his evidence. Instead they left it implying he gained nothing. They should not get away with that.

  9. Caustic: Hellopeople? What the hell was yourexcuse prior to that, when youwere believing the grand jury?
    What the hell are you talking about re: grand jury????

  10. Bunntamas, have you agreed yet that you were mistaken about Libyan Arab Airlines being responsible for all security at Luqa airport, Malta, in 1988?

  11. Rolfe, perhaps I was mistaken. The document I referred to has 400+ pages, so I'm parsing through it again to see if I can find the reference, or if, indeed am mistaken. Patience grasshoppah....

  12. "The Judgement was not proven". well the indictment was most certainly proven. Megrahi was convicted. Jo G may believe the verdict was wrong - but so do Charles, Patrick and Robbie the Pict. I believe it was "wrong" too but recognise their Lordships were pronouncing on something more than Mr Megrahi's guilt or innocence.

    Our opinions are worthless and do not alter the fact of the conviction and therefore STV are not libelling anybody in relying on the findings of the Court.