Monday, 13 June 2011

Scottish Sunday Express on the Aljazeera documentary

[What follows is the text of a report by Ben Borland that appeared in yesterday's Scottish edition of the Sunday Express:]

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was convicted on the basis that he bought clothes from Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, including a grey men’s Slalom shirt. The clothing was then packed in a suitcase with the bomb that brought down Pan Am 103, killing 270 on December 21, 1988.

The charred remains of the shirt were crucial to the prosecution, as a forensic scientist found a piece of circuit board from the bomb embedded in the collar which first led investigators to Libya, and ultimately Megrahi.

However, it has now emerged that clothing manufacturers in Malta told Scottish police in January 1990 that the shirt recovered from the crash site was in fact a boy’s size.

Campaigners have stepped up calls for an inquiry after the claims surfaced in a documentary broadcast on Thursday by Arab TV network Al Jazeera but seen by only a handful of Scottish viewers. [RB: The programme can be watched on You Tube here.]

In it, Scotland’s former Lord Advocate also accepted that Gauci, the main prosecution witness, was paid $2million to give evidence against Megrahi. Scottish private investigator George Thomson tracked down shirt manufacturers Tonio Caruana and Godwin Navarro in Malta. They recalled being shown a fragment of shirt by DC John Crawford and telling him, independently of each other, that it was a boy’s shirt

Speaking to the Sunday Express yesterday, Mr Navarro, 76, said: “I stand by my statement. I believe it is a boy’s shirt because of the size of the pocket and the width of the placket, where the button holes are.”

Retired Strathclyde Police superintendent Iain McKie, now a campaigner against miscarriages of justice, said: “The fact that the witnesses say it was a boy’s shirt and not an adult shirt seems to me quite critical.”

He said that if it was a boy’s shirt, then it cannot be the same one purchased from Gauci by the man he later identified as Megrahi – destroying the “evidence chain”.

Supt McKie said the latest claims added weight to calls for the Scottish Government to set up an independent inquiry into Megrahi’s conviction.

He added: “The whole chain of evidence has been totally and utterly shattered. It is looking more and more like the police came to a conclusion and then looked for evidence.”

The programme, Lockerbie: The Pan Am Bomber, also alleged that a piece of the shirt had been altered, as it is clearly a different shape in two police photographs.

However a spokesman for the Crown Office said yesterday that the matter was easily explained. He said: “The fragment of cloth alleged to have been removed from the shirt was examined by the scientists and is referred to in the forensic science report. It is clearly a separate fragment.”

But Fife-based Mr Thomson stood by his claims. He said: “In January 1990 they realise that what they have is a fragment of a boy’s shirt, while Gauci is saying he sold a gents’ shirt.

“The reason for people saying this is mainly down to the size of the pocket and lo and behold the next thing a fragment of the pocket has been removed.”

The documentary is the latest foreign TV show to expose doubts in Scotland’s handling of the case.

Dutch filmmaker Gideon Levy won the Prix Europa for the best current affairs programme of 2009 for Lockerbie Revisited, which has never been broadcast in Britain.


  1. I thought the point of the documentary wa not simply that the Grey Slalom reovered was a boy's size (the Malta clothing was a mix of sizes) but that Gauci's recollection of the purchase of any Slalom Shirt at all (Grey or Beige)was belated.

  2. There were quite a lot of points, but most of them seem to have gone right over the head of this commentator.

  3. The programme was great (congrats to all involved) but I did wonder why Thompson didn't (if, indeed, he didn't) press Megrahi on the bribe/payments over their surreal meal. I suppose he wanted to maintain the touristy persona...

  4. The AlJazeera documentary was excellent and indeed raised a number of important points for consideration.

    Undoubtedly, the issues surrounding the shirt cloth are important especially when taken in context of its significance for the investigation and trial as part of the evidence recovered which included the 'fragment' of timer.

    However, this case never fails to astound. Just when you think you've heard all the possible shenanigans and irregular procedures involved in this investigation, another half dozen come along.

    Now to the incongruous nature of the shirt collar discovery, its chain of custody, the altered labelling, the patently obvious inserted page 51, the incomprehensible delays in identifying the fragment as a clue and its photographing, we can also add the discrepancies of the signatures, statements with parts inserted, and omitted, the colour and size of the shirt, not too mention Mr Gauci's self celebrated infamy in Scotland. Quite Mr Gauci..

    However, all these imponderables escape the central point of the identification of Mr Megrahi as the actual purchaser.

    Because, only in some parallel universe does Mr Gauci's description of the purchaser could be possibly construed as that explicitly of Mr Megrahi. Quite simply, the description Mr Gauci provided of the buyer (ignoring the date issue), the artists impression described in Sep '89 , the photo fit provided to the police at the same time, and the black and white photo he hesitantly chose, on a second subtlety coerced request, in February '91 quite simply bears absolutely no relation to any aspect of Mr Megrahi appearance in December 1988.

    You really need not mention dates of purchase, the differing shirt pocket or size of shirt, the identification of the fragment, the anomalous altering of labels and signatures or even the fact there is not a shred of evidence that the bag was introduced at Malta (unlike the incontrovertible evidence from Heathrow), to arrive at the conclusion Mr Megrahi was certainly not guilty of the charges against him - or indeed based on any supposed belief seemingly relied upon by the Judges of an emerging 'pattern' and thus in their opinion condemned Mr Megrahi.

  5. I thought the "new" page and the altered page numbers in the other guy's notes were interesting too.

    Along with the new signatures going on to tags attached to various evidence.

  6. The page numbers were introduced at the trial. The judges just said it was a pity Dr. Hayes hadn't been more careful, but there were in no doubt the evidence was genuine as described.

    The position of the signatures is odd, and that was something that hadn't struck me before.

    And of course you have to read Crawford's semi-literate memoirs to discover that McColm was a shirker who was probably never within ten miles of Blinkbonny Farm in his life.

  7. Oh, and to give Edwin his due, he has been banging on about this boys' shirt anomaly for ages.