Irrespective of which side of the Lockerbie divides one stands, it is beyond argument that the case that convicted Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the atrocity has more than a few gaping holes in it. And with a furtive request by Scottish prosecutors for the Maltese courts to gather more evidence in the case, the chances of those holes being filled once and for all have seen a new light of day.
This fresh push for evidence raises hopes that justice and the answers to the many pending questions could at long last be delivered to the Lockerbie attack’s victims, al-Megrahi’s family and to Malta as well, which many believe had been erroneously labelled as the bomb’s point of departure.
This week, a Maltese court began hearing evidence from several witnesses behind closed doors with even the courtroom’s peepholes blocked from prying eyes. Both the Maltese and Scottish judicial authorities have been reticent about revealing details of the new line of inquiry. All the Scottish authorities would say, according to press reports, was that they were working in conjunction with American law enforcement on yet to be disclosed lines of inquiry and that ‘this is a live investigation to bring to justice the others involved in this act of state-sponsored terrorism’.
Authorities in the post-Gaddafi Libya have said they have in their possession previously top secret documents related to the case, while the capture last month and ensuing interrogation of Gaddafi’s intelligence chief Adbullah al-Senussi, it is hoped, could also shed further light on what many still believe to be an unsolved mystery.
The new lines of inquiry also come as Justice for Megrahi
campaigners prepare to repeat their arguments for the case to be re-examined in an inquiry. They are expected to appear before the Scottish Parliament later this month.
Malta’s name has been much maligned over the years for its connection to the case in which Megrahi was convicted of placing the bomb on a plane leaving Malta International Airport, where its fateful journey to the skies over Lockerbie was said to have begun.
With his death last May, al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, the victims’ families and the world runs the risk of the truth behind the Lockerbie bombing going to the grave with him, but this new inquiry could finally clear Malta’s, and al-Megrahi’s names.
The man died protesting his innocence, despite having dropped a planned appeal against his conviction so as to clear the way for his release and return to Libya under Scottish law, which grants compassionate release for the terminally ill.
That, were it to come to pass, would also be a gross injustice to Malta, whose good name has been tarnished over these last 23 years as the point of departure of the lethal luggage that brought down Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland on 21 December 1988, killing 270 people.
Evidence presented during the trial that the bomb, it has been said time and time again, had originated at Luqa Airport was some of the weakest of the entire proceedings. Al-Megrahi, a former employee with Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta and the only person to have been found guilty of the terrorist attack, was convicted largely on the basis of evidence supplied by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci – of the now infamous Mary’s House on Tower Road, Sliema.
In his evidence, Mr Gauci identified Mr al-Megrahi as the purchaser of articles of clothing and an umbrella found in the suitcase containing the bomb – placed on an Air Malta flight and transferred to the ill-fated Pan Am flight in Frankfurt.
It is not known whether Mr Gauci himself gave evidence in the Maltese courts this week. But he certainly should: in reviewing Megrahi’s request for an appeal, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission had clearly found “there is no reasonable basis in the trial court’s judgement for its conclusion that the purchase of the items from Mary’s House, took place on 7 December 1988” – the very argument that had sealed the indictment against Mr al-Megrahi.
In fact, this week’s testimony is believed to have centred on matters related to travel logistics.
In recommending that the appeal be heard, the Commission had ruled that although it had been proven that al-Megrahi had been in Malta on several occasions during the month in question, it was determined through the new evidence submitted that 7 December 1988 was the only date on which he would have had the opportunity to make the purchases from Mary’s House.
The evidence that was not heard at the trial concerned the date on which Christmas lights had been illuminated in Sliema near Mary’s House which, taken together with Mr Gauci’s evidence at trial and the contents of his police statements, indicates the purchase of the incriminating items had taken place before 6 December 1988 – when no evidence had been presented at trial to the effect that al-Megrahi was in Malta before 6 December.
Yet more new evidence indicated that, four days before the identification parade at which he picked out Mr al-Megrahi, Mr Gauci had seen a photograph of al-Megrahi in a magazine article linking him to the bombing.
The Commission found Mr Gauci’s exposure to the photograph, so close to the date of the identity parade, “undermines the reliability of his identification of the applicant at that time and at the trial itself”.
Al-Megrahi’s lawyers have also claimed that Mr Gauci had given contradictory evidence, including differing dates of purchase and his account of the sale itself, and that, on one occasion, he had even identified Palestinian terrorist leader Abu Talb as the purchaser.
And then there are the other allegations made by Mr al-Megrahi’s defence team that Scottish detectives had coached Mr Gauci on at least 23 occasions, sometimes over alleged fishing trips on the Scottish lochs, and that he also received up to US$2 million in return for his testimony.
There are so many questions about the case that are still lingering or, rather, festering, that one questions whether the truth behind the Lockerbie bombing will ever be known, new lines of inquiry or not. Real justice, however, will never be served until those questions are answered once and for all and this new line of inquiry, however vague it may be at the moment, offers a new ray of hope.