Saturday, 8 December 2012

Lockerbie bombing: the search for the truth

[This is the headline over a long article by Alasdair Soussi published today on the website of The National, an English-language newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates.  It reads as follows:]

In the early afternoon of May 20, the only person ever convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie died at home in Libya. Abdelbaset Al Megrahi had been released from a UK prison on compassionate grounds in August 2009 after being found guilty of the December 21, 1988 terrorist atrocity, which killed all 259 passengers and crew on board and 11 others on the ground.

Megrahi, who had been suffering from prostate cancer and was given only three months to live, was released by Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, under controversial circumstances.

He arrived home to a hero's welcome at Tripoli airport after serving just eight years of a minimum 27-year sentence.

The Libyan, whose co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted at trial, went on to live for two years and nine months, leading many to question the true extent of his illness. But, while seven months may have elapsed since Megrahi's death, and 24 years since the attack itself, many individuals are now convinced of the late Libyan's innocence.

Jim Swire, whose daughter, Flora, died on Flight 103, Robert Forrester, secretary of the Justice for Megrahi (JFM) campaign and John Ashton, author of Megrahi: You Are My Jury, all believe that the Lockerbie dead were not the only casualties that cold December evening when, 38 minutes into its transatlantic flight from London Heathrow, the Clipper Maid of the Seas passenger jet exploded. Swire, Forrester and Ashton are all pushing for Megrahi's conviction to be quashed in the belief that the evidence used to try the Libyan in 2001 can be disproved.

The timer fragment used to detonate the bomb, said to have been found at the Lockerbie crash site and which the prosecution argued had been planted in a suitcase by Megrahi at Malta airport, is one such questionable item of evidence.

According to Ashton, the fragment, made of pure tin, could not have come from any product sold by the Swiss company Mebo in Libya, because it used tin-lead alloy at that time.

He bases his claims on two assertions: a sworn affidavit from the production manager of the firm that made the Mebo timer's circuit boards and expert opinion that refuted remarks made by two prosecution witnesses that the heat from the explosion could have burnt away the lead from the Lockerbie fragment, leaving just tin residue.

"The experts we spoke to did experiments, which disproved this supposition," says Ashton, who worked alongside Megrahi's legal team for three years as a researcher and claims that notes by a prosecution forensics expert, during his original examination of the circuit board fragment in 1991, reveal he was aware of a difference in the composition of the circuit board, but that his notes, which were handed to police on November 8, 1999, were not disclosed to Megrahi's defence until 10 years later.

"So, we then had a very, very startling conclusion which was that the fragment was not from one of the circuit boards sold to Libya. That really destroys the case. The fragment was what tied Megrahi in as he had an association with Mebo, and which was the golden thread that tied [him] to Lockerbie. When you removed that you really had no case."

Swire believes that Ashton's evidence "blows the Malta-Megrahi story … out of the water" and has always harboured deep reservations that a device of this kind "would have been used in such a way that it would only clear Heathrow by 38 minutes".

This, contends Swire, is because such a detonation time fitted perfectly with the pressure-trigger bombing devices used by the Syrian and Iranian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC). Indeed, not only were the PFLP-GC the original prime suspects, but they were also incriminated by group member Mobdi Goben, in a lengthy deathbed confession.

For Swire, the evidence of the so-called "Heathrow break-in" - which took place just 16 hours before the bombing at a padlocked rubber door that gave access from landside to airside and down towards the airport's baggage area - was also mishandled.

It is his contention that Scottish police, who were in possession of the full facts surrounding the incident at Heathrow by February 1989 but didn't pass on details to the Crown Office in their case against Megrahi in 1991 - doing so only eight years later when they merely submitted unreferenced details of the break-in along with 14,000 other witness statements - "decided off their own bat that there was no evidence for anyone else being involved in the bombing and to suppress the Heathrow evidence in its entirety".

"The Crown Office, before the case started in court, knew perfectly well that the defence were going to lead [on] incrimination and were going to allege that the PFLP-GC had done this with one of their devices," says Swire, who claims that the appearance of the Lockerbie timer fragment was the result of "a major, major conspiracy of some unknown party to pervert the course of justice".

"In order to use a PFLP-GC device it would have to have been introduced at Heathrow or had to be treated by the terrorists in some way at Heathrow in order to activate it. Why? Because if you flew it in from Frankfurt it would have blown up on the way - on the feeder flight, Pan Am 103A. In that scenario, the evidence of the break-in ought to have been a crucial defence plank, but it wasn't because the defence didn't know about it."

With such assertions in mind, Forrester, on behalf of the JFM committee - which includes a Queen's Counsel, the parish priest in Lockerbie at the time of the disaster and a retired police superintendent, as well as Swire - wrote to Scotland's justice secretary on September 13, 2012, alleging six counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice pertaining to members of the Scottish police, the Crown and other involved parties. [RB: the original six counts have now been increased to eight.]

But, as Forrester admits, "major obstacles" exist in reaching JFM's goal of seeking justice for the 270 victims. This, despite a report from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) - a non-departmental public body funded by the Scottish government - which upheld six grounds on which Megrahi could have suffered a miscarriage of justice.

Indeed, viable avenues to expose Megrahi's conviction to the above claims - and others that have surfaced - appear doom-laden. An appeal from the Megrahi family, which seems unlikely due to the present political climate in Libya, or, potentially, an appeal from the Lockerbie bereaved, could both be scuppered by a Scottish Parliament ruling, which, says Forrester, "allows the judiciary to reject applications for appeal that are submitted to it by the SCCRC".

A Scottish government- launched independent inquiry, for which JFM has petitioned hard since 2010, provides another potential opening, but Salmond has, thus far, remained steadfastly opposed to such a move. Even so, JFM remains undeterred and focused on what Ashton contends as the biggest miscarriage of justice in the modern age.

"This was the biggest criminal investigation in British history - and the biggest mass murder - but the real hidden thing in this and the real scandal was that not only was the wrong man convicted, but so too was the nation of Libya, because as a result of these indictments Libya was subjected to 12 years of sanctions … So, here you have an entire nation punished on the basis of evidence that was at best shaky and at worst fabricated."

7 comments:

ebol said...

MISSION LOCKERBIE, 2012:
No "suitcase" from AirMalta KM 180 transfered to PanAm 103/A in Frankfurt!

The alleged "bombcase" (B-8849) came not from Malta but from Berlin with passenger no. 131, W. Wagenführ, as on-line bag from feederflight PA-643, (Prod. 1089, Police Referenz DW 125; PanAm Telex after offbloc PA-643, 11:26 hour in Berlin:
ZCZC FSA 0207, PTM: PA0643/21> PA103/21--LHRO/0/1 B1).
This bag (Tray B-8849) although an on-line piece of baggage was wrong coded as inter-line bag on counter V3-206 but not x-rayed, because it was actually an on-line baggage that had been already X-ray checked only in Berlin.
At London HEATHROW, Mrs Wagenführ and here bag (B-8849) was not trans-ferred to the flight PA-103 to New York.

This on-line bag (B-8849) wrong coded as inter-line bag got the code S0009+Z13:07. This happened at the same time (13:07 hour) when the inter-line baggage from AirMalta, KM-180, (code S0009+Z13:04-13:10) was coded at the same counter V3-206.
Therefore the wrong acceptance at the court in Kamp van Zeist 2000/2001, that the alleged bombbag (B-8849) was transfered by AirMalta, KM-180 onto PanAm,
PA-103/A!
Summary of the original testimony of Commissioner Hans Jürgen Fuhl from BKA (Crown Witness 566):

Other organisations who were investigating the bombing had taken some of the documentation before the BKA could get their hands on it. Fuhl also testified that PanAm had apparently instructed staff at Heathrow to destroy documentation. (Ref. Doc.1 Chapter 13 page 38).

by Edwin and Mahnaz Bollier, MEBO Ltd. Switzerland. URL: www.lockerbie.ch

baz said...

Edwin Bollier (above) is probably quite right but then we know perfectly well the primary suitcase was never on PA103A.

I am a bit baffled by the reference in this article to a "padlocked rubber door".

I wonder who were the two prosecution witnesses who claimed that the heat from the explosion could have burned away the lead content of the fragment of timer (PT35b)?

According to Dr Hayes besides recovering the fragment of timer on the 15th May 1989 he also miraculously recovered a fragment of Toshiba manual from PI/995 (a piece of slalom shirt) with the writing on it still visible! The explosion had blasted this fragment into the shirt without even singeing it!

However as can be seen from chapter 7 of the SCCRC report the photograph depicting these exhibits was faked. According to the SCCRC report each individual negative is kept seperately in a sheath, not on an intact roll of film making the fabrication of photo 117 (FC3521) rather simple.

"Photo 116" taken (according to the SCCRC) in April 1990 apparently shows PI/995 prior to disscetion while "photo 117" (FC3521) supposedly taken a year earlier shows PI/995 post dissection with the fragment of MST13 timer and the fragment of manual. How do the SCCRC explain this? Well they don't really besides arguing that if photo 116 is genuine then photo 117 must also be genuine. In their own words "assuming the photographic record is genuine", in the circumstances not an assumption I would make.

The SCCRC also purport to corroborate "photo 117" by reference to page 51 of Dr Hayes' notes while the ESDA tests they themselves commissioned show that the imprint on page 52 of Hayes notes comes not from page 51 but from another unidentified document. Do they find this suspicious? Not a bit of it! By some twisted logic this proves the notes are genuine!

I thought it interesting that "photo 116" was taken as part of a roll that according to the register reproduced in the SCCRC report are described as "clothing".
(Each photograph is not described seperately.) But of course exhibit PI/995 was described on it's label as clothing but as debris. The SCCRC do not reproduce the section of the register from which photo 117 was taken. Might I guess this (FC3521) and the surrounding photos are described in the register not as "clothing" but as "debris" and this is why the label for PI\995 was overwritten?

It would appear that RARDE's methods make it a matter of simplicity to fake and backdate the supposed discovery of the key exhibits in the case PT 35 (a) & (b).

It seems to me that Eddie McKechnie's submissions to the SCRRC that photo 117 page 51 of Dr Hayes notes and Alan Feraday's "Lads & Lasses" memo had indeed been reverse-engineered. Unfortunately the Crown Office careerists who compiled the SCCRC took it as a given that no misconduct had been committed by anybody associated with the prosecution and as one of the Trial Judges correctly predicted "the SCCRC will just pick us up on something minor".

Isn't the SCCRC report just part of the Scottish Legal establishment cover-up?

Rolfe said...

Hi Baz!

Actually, Edwin is wrong. Mrs Wagenfuhr's luggage was in a tray coded ten minutes later in the Central Hall. (Sorry I don't have my notes here to tell you the number of the tray or the coding station involved, but she disembarked from PA643, and the tray with her luggage was clearly coded at the correct coding station dealing with PA643 at the time it was dealing with that flight.) Sadly, the Frankfurt police fouled up the analysis of the transfer luggage so badly I doubt if it will ever be possible to discover what was in tray 8849. Except, as you say, it wasn't the bomb because John Bedford saw the bomb suitcase at Heathrow airport an hour before the feeder flight from Frankfurt landed.

As far as I can see, the reference in the article to the "padlocked rubber door" is to Raymond Manly's statement that he found the padlock on an access door "cut like butter" just after midnight during the night before the disaster.

The two experts who examined the fragment on behalf of the Crown were Drs. Wilkinson and Johnston. They, or perhaps it was just Dr. Wilkinson, hypothesised that the heat from the explosion had vaporised the lead component of an alloy coating, leaving only the tin on the fragment. She also suggested this hypothesis should be tested by experiment. The investigation didn't follow her advice, and the experiments were never done. Instead, neither she nor Dr Johnston were called as witnesses, and their reports were not admitted in evidence.

In this way the prosecution was able to conceal from the court that there was a discrepancy in the composition of the fragment. The witness who was called who knew about the discrepancy did just as it says in the article. He lied about it, saying that there was no discrepancy.

The defence team eventually did the experiment proposed by Dr. Wilkinson, and found that the explosion had not been hot enough for long enough to vaporise lead. The fragment had been originally manufactured with a tin coating, while the MST-13 timer PCBs were all manufactured with an alloy coating. Of course, anyone with eyes in their head should have been able to figure that out right from the start. There is a blob of lead solder on the fragment, visible in all the photographs. If the explosion had been hot enough to vaporise lead, that blob of solder would have been the first thing to go.

Rolfe said...

I don't see how it's possible that photograph 116 could have been taken before the shirt collar was interfered with, if it was taken in April 1990, because PT/35b was indisputably being examined by the Lockerbie inquiry at that time. The evidence shows it was in there at least by 10th January 1990. It's perfectly possible that Hayes made a mistake in the witness box when he said 116 showed the collar before dissection - after all, he'd been trimming toenails for ten years by that time and his memory could have been at fault. Then the SCCRC may simply have followed along with what he said.

Nevertheless, you are quite right that chapter 7 of the SCCRC report requires closer scrutiny. I was at fault in accepting their assurance that 117 was taken in May 1989 far too readily. From what you say, it would have been fairly simple to fake the provenance as it was presented to the committee, especially for an audience as unsuspicious as the committee appears to have been. I fear that your assessment of the mindset of the SCCRC is absolutely on the button.

If I recall correctly, some of what RARDE was found to have been up to in connection with the IRA bombing miscarriages of justice was uncovered because of the use of hard-bound lab books where pages can't be inserted retrospectively. That was all revealed by the May report in - 1989! After the May investigation (which would of course have been earlier than 1989) it seems they moved to using loose leaf paper to make their lab notes. Fancy that. I wonder if that's when they started cutting the rolls of developed film into individual negatives? Any forensic scientist will tell you that you DON'T do that, because you'll lose the provenance.

The weight of evidence suggesting that PT/35b (at least) was reverse-engineered and planted with a fake back-dated provenance is enormous. The weight of evidence suggesting it wasn't lies entirely in photograph 117. Well. I can only hope that there is still sufficient evidence held on this matter to enable a competent inquiry with a properly suspicious mind-set to prove whether or not there has been hanky-panky going on. As far as I can see, hanky-panky is the only possible explanation for that damn photo.

baz said...

Well Hayes gave evidence photo 116 showed PI/995 pre-dissection. The date the photograph was taken (4-6-90) is attested by the log reproduced in the SCCRC report at chapter 7.


I am not aware of indisputable evidence that PT35b was being dealt with by the Lockerbie investigation team in January 1990 but I think the reality is that it was never actually found or discovered. It was created and it's discovery was fabricated. Perhaps it was originally "discovered" in a different scenario. Perhaps Rolfe has alighted on the very essence of the fraud, that its discovery had to be backdated to before it was being "dealt with".

You may be right but wasn't it Alan Feraday (who "witnessed" Dr Hayes' discovery in May 1989) who became a chiropodist not Dr Hayes.

While the JFM people have made some progress I think perjury and the fabrication of evidence at RARDE is a matter for the British Government. I recall a number of major convictions were quashed when a RARDE centrifuge was found to be contaminated.


I did not dwell too much on the "Lads and Lasses" memo but to me this stinks. According to the SCCRC (chapter 8 sections 9-11) DI Williamson admitted (or claimed)he was mistaken in thinking Feraday's memo of the 15th September 1989 referred to PT/30. I think it pretty clear he made no such mistake. The SCCRC claim the "Lads and Lasses" memo (as it now exists) is genuine because it refers to green circuit board and accurately plots the curvature of PT35b. To me that is precisely why it is a fake. I would of course presume that the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary would concur in the claim that Williamson was mistaken when clearly he was not.

Eddie McKechnie picked up on williamson's memo from Leppard's "On the Trail of Terror" which refers to a piece of circuit board extracted from Karen Noonan's suitcase. According to Leppard Hayes identified PT25b in the summer of 1990.

I suspect the point of the backdated "discovery" was to "prove" the discovery of the fragment before the recovery of the timers in Senegal. According to Cannistraro (quoted in "On the Trail of Terror") the two Libyans arrested in Senegal were the initial "culprits" in the Lockerbie case.

It is all very complicated but the essential point is the discovery of PT35 (a) & (b) in May 1989 was faked. It had nothing to do with the actual bombing but (brown or green) was crucial to the creation of a politically convenient "solution".

Rolfe said...

Thanks for that, Baz.

Hayes is the one who became the chiropodist. Feraday was promoted into Hayes's old job at that point. By the time of Camp Zeist, Hayes had been trimming toenails for ten years. He was also very cavalier in the witness box - I for one get the impression he wasn't keen to stir himself to try to remember things, or to be sure he got them right.

Hayes said photograph 116 showed the collar before dissection. Hayes was either mistaken, or he mis-spoke, or he just said whatever came into his head. If the photo was take in April 1990, then it must have been post-dissection. You can disbelieve Marquise when he says Henderson told him about PT/35b privately on 10th January 1990, you can disbelieve Williamson when he says that he and Feraday travelled to Meckenheim to try to match it with "Autumn Leaves" evidence on 16th January, but the fragment was definitely being analysed on 8th February and the high-resolution photographs of it were taken on 12th February. The provenance during February and March is thick with independent bodies being asked their opinion of it and even analysing bits of it.

Thank you for the extra information about the lads and lassies memo. You are thinking exactly what I am thinking. I didn't know Williamson had originally said he thought it was talking about PT/30 but that absolutely figures.

They had to backdate the discovery because otherwise it would have been too obviously convenient. They didn't do it very well, but so far it has held up because nobody who has been in a position to challenge them on it has chosen to do so. Let's see if that might change.

baz said...

Hayes may have been correct to say that photo 116 showed PI/995 prior to dissection. If it is post dissection what is the point of the photograph.

As I said the "discovery" of PT35b might originally have been by a different scenario, perhaps by Feraday. Indeed the "Lads and Lasses" memo appears to indicate a twin track approach. Without the discovery of photo 116 it would been more credible.

Gareth Peirce's article "The Framing of Al-Megrahi" is very good on this aspect of the case making the point that it is up to RARDE to prove the integrity of their evidence.

I am not sure why they had to backdate the "discovery" (although I think it has something to do with Senegal) but I am pretty certain it was backdated. However if it was backdated there is no evidence it was actually "discovered" at all. think "discovery" is the right word.