Sunday, 24 July 2011

Exploding Lockerbie

[This is the title of a two-part article in the Criminal Law & Justice Weekly by David Wolchover, barrister and Head of Chambers Emeritus at 7 Bell Yard, London. It examines in detail the evidence led at Camp Zeist about the ingestion of the bomb that destroyed Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. Part I of the article can be read here and Part II here. The conclusion of the two-part article reads as follows:]

It will have become apparent from the analysis of the evidence before the court offered here that wherever the bomb which destroyed Pan Am 103 was built the Samsonite hardshell bag in which it was packed could not have come from Luqa as an anonymous item of baggage on KM180, or from Frankfurt on PA103A. It should have been as “plain as a pikestaff” that it was smuggled into the system at Heathrow.

Why the Judges lost sight of the wood for the trees is not a matter which warrants conjecture. That they did so is beyond doubt. When asked by Lord MacLean to confirm that al-Megrahi’s Abdusamad passport was never used again after December 21, 1988, William Taylor QC said “We don’t know that”, to which Lord Maclean riposted “Yes I do” and gave the reference. The Judge got the acerbic reply he truly deserved: “Thank you. I am corrected. So your Lordship has asked me a question to which your Lordship already had the answer.” The application of a sight more judicial cleverness and rather less too cleverness by half might have delivered a truer verdict.

[An earlier Lockerbie article by Mr Wolchover "Masking justice with 'mercy'" can be accessed here.]


  1. It should have been as “plain as a pikestaff” that [the bomb] was smuggled into the system at Heathrow.

    Excellent forensic analysis and an unarguable conclusion! If I have one criticism, it is that Mr Wolchover omitted to mention that 'timer fabricator' Thomas Thurman of the FBI was with Edward Marshmann when Marwan Khreesat was debriefed in November 1989.

    I agree that the bomb was smuggled into the system at Heathrow and believe that General Magnus Malan (who died on 18 July 2011) was behind the operation. Please see this extract from Lockerbie: Ayatollah's Vengeance Exacted by Botha's Regime:

    Q. Was it the Iranians or the South Africans that put the bomb in Bernt Carlsson’s checked-in suitcase while it was unsupervised at Heathrow?

    A. The Europe Branch (based in London) of South Africa’s Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB) executed Iran’s revenge attack. CCB operatives substituted the ‘bomb bag’ for Carlsson’s suitcase. No trace of his suitcase was ever found.

    Q. Who supplied the bomb?

    A. Marwan Khreesat, a Jordanian double agent who infiltrated the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), told FBI special agent Edward Marshman in 1989 that he had built five barometrically triggered aircraft bombs when he was in Neuss, West Germany in October 1988. German BKA police intercepted four of these devices in November 1988 following the arrest of a PFLP-GC terrorist cell in Neuss. Khreesat said that the fifth bomb had been taken by a senior PFLP-GC agent named Abu Elias, who escaped arrest in Germany. Abu Elias is suspected of supplying the South African CCB with the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103.

  2. I preesume the above questions and answers are posed by Patrick Haseldine and answered by him as well!

    I thought the article was fantastic - many or most of the points Mr Wolchover made I made in my 2009 article "Lockerbie the Heathrow Evidence" at part 1 of the Masonic Verses at http:/

    Indeed 15 years ago I tested John Major's claim to the House in the June 1996 adjournment debate that the investigation was "open" by writing to the PM pointing out the Police had made a colossal blunder in "eliminating" Heathrow as the point at which the bomb was introduced.

    The response was a letter from some muppet at the Aviation Security Branch of the DoT drawing my attention to the conclusion of the FAI that the bomb arrived unaccompanied from Frankfurt, a conclusion with which I profoundly disagreed as it was based on speculation not evidence. I was however assured that the investigation was "open".

    I thought it was as "plain as a pikestaff" from reading David Leppard's 1991 book "On the Trail of Terror" (although Leppard didn't)and it was from this that my interest in Lockerbie stemmed.

  3. I don't believe General Malan or Thomas Thurman featured in Mr Wolchover's intelligent article.

  4. Very readable account and report - does the SCCRC report read like this? [btw: I do wish I could construct phrases and develop argument like a barrister does - reading it with the internal voice of an elderly old-Etonian judge also helped my enjoyment of the article! Wonder where he got hold of Rolfe's URL of photos of Megrahi and others?]

  5. I've been reading Leppard, and I noticed something quite interesting (as Baz also notes). The book was published in 1991, but he actually mentions Bedford's evidence, including the mysteriously appearing extra two suitcases, and that the one on the left was a brown or maroon Samsonite. "Was this the bomb bag?" (p. 137)

    So I totally see what Baz means here. It's almost a throwaway line, in context, and yet it's quite obvious dynamite to the unbiassed reader. I don't know whether Leppard got that straight from the cops, or whether he was at the FAI. That is the only reference I have seen to Bedford's evidence pre-Zeist. Paul Foot appears not to have been aware of it before Zeist, as his writings from the 1990s favour the Frankfurt bag-switch theory, and it's only when he heard Bedford (and Taylor I imagine) at Zeist that he underwent a dramatic conversion to the Heathrow theory, and that became the main thrust of his "Flight from Justice" booklet.

    Unfortunately a lot of what Leppard writes is clearly erroneous, and where it isn't, it's either self-contradictory, or spectacularly lacking in joined-up thinking. The worry is that he is clearly being fed his material almost verbatim from inside police sources, and quite high-up ones I would wager. So what we are reading is the internal contradictions and the absence of joined-up thinking in the investigation itself. It's pretty unedifying I have to say.

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  7. At the risk of pontificating may I point out how Leppard explained the Police (or John Orr's deduction) that the primary suitcase was on the second or third "layer" of luggage and not in contact with the floor of AVE4041. (According the the AAIR the centre of the explosive event was 10.5" from the floor.) This conclusion was confirmed by the dubious Indian Head tests.

    Leppard wrote (page 141)
    "The test results from Indian Head proved all-important to the Lockerbie investigators. They already knew from interviews with baggage handlers at Heathrow that only the first row of suitcases from the IED luggage pallet had been loaded at Heathrow. The remainder had been loaded at Frankfurt. The tests also meant that the mysterious brown samsonite reported by the Heathrow luggage handler as being loaded on to the bottom layer could be ruled out: it was not the bomb bag. Kamboj was in the clear."

    As I pointed out in my article and Mr Walchover pointed out in his this logic was repudiated by the Trial Judges who speculated that this bag had been moved "to some remote corner" of the container. As I and Mr Walchover pointed out this suitcase could not be eliminated by some cod deductive process - it needed to be recovered and linked to a specific Interline passenger.

    (p.s. I note Mr Walchover, who cites Leppard as a source, also exactly shares my views on Juval Aviv and the "Drug Conspiracy Theory" expresssed in part II of my blog "A Poisoned Pill - The Mysterious Life and Death of Ian Spiro.")

    Did Leppard attend the FAI? At page 205 he writes "This (Orr's deductions-Baz) was the basis for a statement at the fatal accident inquiry by Lord Fraser's Deputy, Andrew Hardie, QC, that the bomb bag had arrived at Heathrow on the feeder flight from Frankfurt. Hardie explained this did not mean that the bomb bag had originated at Frankfurt. The Crown, he told the inquiry in November 1990, could not reveal where it had begun its journey. It did not want to compromise the criminal investigation. (Ergo it was on the basis of Orr's dodgy deductions that my suggestion that the Police had made a colossal blunder in "eliminating" Heathrow was based).

    Is Rolfe reading Leppard for the first time? It is a fantastic record of how the investigation went wrong and significantly Leppard did not question the "Libyan solution" despite the evidence to the contrary in his own book!

  8. p.s. What in Leppard is "clearly erroneous"? This is not the truth about Lockerbie but the truth about the investigation.

  9. Yes, actually I haven't finished the book yet. Sero sed Serio, and all that....

    As you say, it is a stunning indictment of the inquiry. I was quite taken aback to see the mention of the Bedford suitcase there, because until then I'd seen no mention of it before Bedford's FAI evidence was admitted into the Zeist evidence.

    As for "clearly erroneous", it's debatable whether it's Leppard or the inquiry that's in error - when he reports errors, then they are errors, no matter how he has come to make them.

    Just for one quick example that I read about half an hour ago, page 108, Karen Noonan and Patricia Coyle are described as "online" passengers, having taken another Pan Am flight from Vienna. On page 157, the Vienna-Frankfurt flight is correctly identified as a Lufthansa service.

    Leppard also writes as if each line on the Koca/Candar worksheet is a single item of luggage, rather than a wagonload from a particular flight. He also hasn't figured out that Koca and Koscha are two completely different people.

    On page 157 he says there were 25 items of interline luggage on the printout, though the breakdown following actually shows only 23 such items. On page 92 he reports that Maier x-rayed 13 items of interline luggage (which happens to be correct). He never introduces these two numbers to each other, or questions the discrepancy. (Elsewhere, he even implicitly states that Maier x-rayed all the luggage that went on the flight!)

    He says there were 19 interline passengers, and then lists 20, by city of origin. He never introduces that information to the breakdown of the alleged flights of origin of the inteline luggage, which is completely different.

    That's just off the top of my head, there's stacks more where that came from.

  10. Just managed to get round to this article today. I don't think I have ever read a more concise, cogent and accessible exposition of the flaws of the Zeist conviction. I truly fine piece and an excellent introduction to any newcomers to the case.

  11. Accusation

    Eeben Barlow, commander of South Africa's Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB) Europe Branch coordinated the Lockerbie bombing on 21 December 1988 by targeting UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, the most prominent of the 270 victims.

    At Heathrow airport, CCB operatives had six hours in which to substitute the 'bomb bag' for Bernt Carlsson's checked-in suitcase, while Carlsson was attending a meeting in London with the De Beers diamond cartel. No trace of his suitcase was ever found following the Pan Am Flight 103 disaster.

    Lockerbie: J'accuse....Eeben Barlow!

  12. p.s. What in Leppard is "clearly erroneous"? This is not the truth about Lockerbie but the truth about the investigation.

    Baz, as I said I'm still reading Leppard, and it's quite a shocker as you indicated. The more I read, the more shocked I'm getting. I'm not at all clear that he was at the FAI, although the book was finished not long after the FAI findings were published. The statements Leppard makes, and some of them are absolute mince, seem to come directly from his police sources.

    I'm particularly struck by page 137, which details a completely fictitious account of the Heathrow baggage transfer.

    First, Leppard notes that the interline bags loaded at Frankfurt were the last to be loaded on the 727, and therefore likely to be the first off. This may well be true, but it's hardly axiomatic - indeed, two of Karen Noonan's three holdalls weren't even in AVE4041, suggesting they were among the last to be unloaded. But this is clearly the basis for the FAI's manipulated conclusion that the luggage laid on top of the Heathrow interline stuff would have been the Frankfurt interline stuff.

    However, Leppard then completely wrecks this line of reasoning by his next, untrue, statement. He announces that the Frankfurt luggage was unloaded on to a trolley in which it was driven to the interline shed, where it was x-rayed.

    From the bottom of the "rocket" the Frankfurt "transfer" bags were driven by luggage trolley across the tarmac to the interline shed where Pan Am's Alert security staff were responsible for screening interline bags on their x-ray machines. The baggage handlers took the interline bags off their trolleys and dumped them on the interline shed conveyor belt. The bags were x-rayed and the baggage handlers then loaded them back into the luggage pallet. Altogether, 39 pieces of luggage were put on top of the existing six or seven bags. These 39 "transfer bags" were not x-rayed. Neither were they reconciled to passengers.

    What on eath is that supposed to be all about? First he says the luggage coming off the 727 was taken to the shed and x-rayed. Then he says it wasn't x-rayed. (Maybe because a hint of the FAI findings percolated through, and he just added that bolded sentence?)

    He's entirely unclear at what point the Frankfurt luggage was added to AVE4041, on top of the existing bags. However, the process he describes, with the Frankfurt luggage being taken to the shed, run through the conveyor, x-rayed and re-loaded, would have either reversed the unloading order leaving the first-unloaded luggage to the end of the loading of the container, or it would have shuffled it beyond unravelling.

    But we know it wasn't x-rayed. We know AVE4041 was taken out to meet the 727 and the luggage put right in on top of whatever was there, before it was wheeled straight across to the waiting 747. The cops must have known that. The FAI knew it.

    Where is he getting this garbage? I wish he wasn't so unreliable because I really want reliable facts and numbers about these passengers and their luggage and what was done with it. But in the face of blatant fairy-stories like this, what can you trust of what he writes?

  13. If Miss Noonan and Miss Coyle took a Pan Am flight to London then they are correctly described as Online passengers.

    Perhaps I am looking at the bigger picture but you are finding fault where I did not see any.

    To me the "bigger picture" is the initial theme of the book the effort to "prove" the bag came from Frankfurt in order to prove it was a PFLP-GC device (and blame the Germans). As one anonymous detective is quoted "Khreesat did it".

    This was the thrust of the investigation until deciding it had nothing to do with Germany at all and the creation (in the real world not the book) of the false evidence to misidentify the Toshiba radio and the creation and backdating of the discovery of the MST-13 fragment.

    I suspect the key to this was the identification of Khreesat as a CIA "asset" leading to the need to jettison the PFLP-GC theory completely.

    I thought the most important chapter was "London or Frankfurt the Forensic Evidence" where Leppard rubbishes the "German" position (in quite xenophobic language). While Leppard supports the Scots position I thought "the Germans" were absolutely right.

    There are some fantastically useful snippets in Leppard - Martin Amandi's trip to England and the fact Abu Talb left Malta on the very day of the "Autumn Leaves" arrests. Compared to a lot of the trash that has been published about Lockerbie it is a fantastically useful book.

    Quincy Riddle praises Mr Walchover's article. We have a saying up north "great minds think alike - Patrick is on his own".

    Although tarted up with a bit of kitchen kaffir Mr Walchover's arguments (and sources) are almost identical to my own article "Lockerbie The Heathrow Evidence."

    Mr Walchover does cover some events at Frankfurt and Malta outwith the scope of my article but I take the view we will never know who purchased the Malta clothing and if the bomb was introduced at Heathrow "Malta" only represents the creation of a fraudulent scenario.

    However Mr Walchover also denounces Juval Aviv and the Interfor Report and the proponents of the "drug conspiracy theory" as I have done over a long period despite it being the only "alternative" advanced in the media.

    While denouncing the "febrile imagination" of some commentators he advances the theory that the primary suitcase was brought to England on the Gothenburg Ferry. This was also exactly my suggestion when pressed on this blog as to my theory. It was also a point I maid in my letter to the PM of July 1996.

  14. Baz, I take your point that the overall thrust of Leppard in rationalising away the dismissal of the Heathrow possibility is hugely important. However, overall thrusts like that are made up of individual statements and claims. Leppard's statements and claims are frequently factually wrong, which is an indictment in itself when he is explicitly presenting the inside story of the investigation. It's also a bit of a bummer if one wants to use his detailed figures and so on to try to understand what happened - it's difficult to trust anything he says, no matter how uncontentious, in that context.

    His confusion over the sequence of events surrounding the transfer of the Frankfurt online baggage at Heathrow is quite appalling. If you read Wolchover carefully (rather than just skimming for bits where he confirms your own writings), you'll see he has presented the true narrative of the unloading of the 727 taken from the primary evidence at Zeist, which is completely at odds both with what Leppard relates, and what the Zeist judges tried to suggest happened. This is an important observation, which as he says has not been made elsewhere.

    You mention Karen and Patricia. They flew in to Frankfurt from Vienna on a Lufthansa flight, LH1453. That is no secret, and it is information that must have been available from the earliest weeks of the inquiry, when the theory that one of the girls had been given the bomb to carry on the plane was prominent. In that context, for Leppard to state blandly that they flew in on a Pan Am flight is sloppy in the extreme.

    It is vitally important to know exactly which flight the transfer passengers arrived at Frankfurt on, because that is vital to the interpretation of the Erac printout, and discovering which line refers to whose luggage. Whether someone was online or interline also affects whose luggage would have been x-rayed by Maier, and hence the whole arithmetic of the security exercise. Leppard dosn't have a clue - he sprays numbers about without ever reconciling them, or realising that every chapter has massive internal contradictions.

    However, that gaffe about the Vienna flight quite pales into insignificance beside his howlers surrounding the tarmac luggage transfer. The entire thrust of the FAI (findings in February 1991) was that the tarmac luggage transfer was a lapse in security, because that luggage was simply tossed out of one plane and sraight into another with no checking at all. Leppard's foreward is dated May 1991, but he describes a complicated and wholly fictitious operation where the luggage was taken to Kamboj's x-ray machine and screened. Then he ends the paragraph with the bald and contradictory statement that this luggage was not x-rayed. What on earth is going on here? I can only conclude a positively criminal lack of attention to detail.

    So yes, the broad thrust is important, and in the end it is what we have to look at. But woods are made up of trees, and broad pictures are made up of tiny details. Familiarity only with the broad picture is hugely risky, because it opens oneself to being undermined by someone pointing out one incontrovertible and deadly detail that contradicts the comfortable broad brush-strokes.

    One needs to pay great attention to the individual trees before one can truly understand the wood.

  15. Baz said: "We have a saying up north 'great minds think alike - Patrick is on his own'."

    As hundreds of copy addressees - including Professor Black and Dr Swire - can verify, I received the following e-mail on 26 July 2011 in response to my article entitled Lockerbie: J'accuse....Eeben Barlow:

    "In my opinion you have hit the nail right on the head!

    "You are a good man Patrick Haseldine. Keep up the excellent work.

    "The truth of the Lockerbie bombing will eventually see the light of day.

    "Best wishes,

    "Gordon Brown"

    Remind me, baz, how many like-minded real people (no pseudonyms!) go along with your theory on Lockerbie?

  16. Well David Walchover for one! "No pseudonyms" who is "Gordon Brown"?

  17. Rolfe - I understand what you are saying but I believe you are missing the point. (Incidentally as Miss Noonan arrived at Heathrow on PA103A then she is an online passenger.)

    You complain that Leppard ios inaccurate and indeed back in the early 90's it was difficult to visualise what he was saying. But what or who is his source? Is he not reporting essentially on documents that have been provided to him by some source within the Scottish Police?

    Did he actually go to Heathrow, did he interview Bedford or Kamboj?
    Of course not. It reads as if he was quoting from a report or papers created by the Metropolitan Police and sent to the LICC. He quotes extensively from other documents. If Leppard is muddled then the information Orr was getting is muddled.

    As I quoted Leppard in the preamble to my article "Lockerbie - the Heathrow Evidence" Orr had effectively eliminated Heathrow within three weeks. Three weeks!

    Orr of course did not give evidence in the Camp Zeist trial. Perhaps the prosecution were scared he might be asked the following question:-

    "Have you ever been to Heathrow?"

    He might have answered no or even worse yes, but only on holiday!

  18. p.s.Patrick "Great minds think alike" means that two intelligent people separately considering the same evidence come to the same or similar logical conclusions. It does not mean that you have found one other moron on the planet who agrees with you!

  19. Baz, believe it or not, I have not missed the point, and I am actually agreeing with you.

    Leppard is reporting what the police are telling him. What Leppard is reporting is disjointed, internally self-contradictory, and frankly shambolic. Not to mention the point you make about Bedford and the spurious reasons for dismissing Heathrow.

    I agree that this part is probably the most fascinating bit of it all. I could wish that you were better at explaining yourself, in which case I might have figured that part out sooner.

    Karen Noonan was an online passenger at Heathrow. Leppard was not talking about Heathrow in the section I was criticising. He specifically said she arrived at Frankfurt as an online passenger, on a Pan Am flight from Vienna. Elsewhere in the same book he identifies the flight she arrived on. Lufthansa 1453.

    It's like that all the way through. One thing on one page, something contradictory on another. Or in the case of the x-raying of the PA103A luggage at Heathrow, one thing in one sentence and then the direct negative in the following sentence.

    There's also no sign that he personally was at Dumfries. Just like the rest of it, he was getting it all from his confused police sources, who frankly couldn't find their arses with both hands on that evidence.

  20. Baz has left an insightful response for you here, Rolfe!