Saturday, 23 February 2013

Dr Jim Swire calls on Scottish Government to institute inquiry into Crown Office Lockerbie failings

[What follows is the text of a letter sent on 21 February by Dr Jim Swire to Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill:]

Almost a year ago, the book Megrahi: You are my Jury was published in Edinburgh. Much of the key evidence it contains derives from the prosecution’s own documents, some of them only shared with the defence a few weeks before Mr Megrahi withdrew his appeal. The book and other sources contain material which demonstrates that the Crown Office and their agents behaved in ways contrary to the proper prosecution of a case under Scottish Criminal law. Two outstanding examples amongst many others are the emergence, and reliance upon, the circuit board fragment known as PT35b with its ‘pure tin’ plating, and the concealment of the break-in evidence from Heathrow airport.

This letter is not an attack upon the verdict. It is a request to you to investigate what errors were made by the prosecution during the conduct of the investigation, the trial and in the subsequent years, and also in the SCCRC investigation.

It was claimed by the prosecution that PT35b had been found within a police evidence bag, and that it had come from the crash site. Yet we now know that this fragment simply could not have come from the timer circuitry of the Lockerbie bomb, if that bomb had been driven by a Libyan timer as cited.  The plating metallurgy is simply irreconcilably different.

Even the Crown’s forensic officer Feraday’s marginal notes show he was aware of the plating discrepancy long before the trial, by 1991 in fact, before the indictments had even been issued. Yet he signed a forensic document claiming that the fragment was ‘similar in all respects’ to the Libyan boards.

The work initiated by Feraday on PT35b, showed the plating discrepancy and was  available to the prosecution  long before the trial. The police did not pursue this matter with Thüring, who have confirmed that their sole plating process was with the tin/lead alloy as on DP347a, a sample Libyan type board. Finally the scientific evidence provided to the defence by Dr Chris McArdle and Dr Jess Cawley just before Mr Megrahi went home, confirmed the ‘pure tin’ plating of PT35b but also proved that proximity to exploding Semtex could not alter tin/lead plating to resemble ‘pure tin’ plating. This was work the prosecution had failed to initiate.

The court was thus misled into believing that PT35b could have been part of one of the Libyan timers which the prosecution had cited. The adoption of this belief was due to the failure of the prosecution to share all relevant evidence with the defence or the court, and to initiate all the appropriate testing. That belief is now demonstrably false.

As you are aware, Kenny, since you have had access to their materials, the SCCRC also knew that the prosecution had withheld evidence from the defence, but did not seem to realise that Thüring simply had no equipment capable of manufacturing circuit boards using the ‘pure tin’ process, failing to understand that in the industry ‘tinning’ refers equally to tin/lead as to ‘pure tin’ plating.

No other origin for PT35b other than the wreckage was ever suggested in court. PT35b was an optically perfect copy of circuitry demonstrated by the prosecution to have been present on the cited Libyan boards. The Crown Office and its agents were responsible for the sanctity of the evidence chain and the evidence bags. No one knows whence PT35b could have come, where it was made nor how it came to be found in the police evidence bag. All we know is that PT35b’s origin could not have been from a Libyan owned timer as cited by the prosecution.

I found that two weeks ago neither the Crown Office nor the police had even bothered to contact the 
Thüring firm’s Urs Bonfadelli, nor the scientists responsible for the discovery that PT35b’s plating could not have been changed even by a Semtex explosion, in all the more than eleven months since the book was published. Why not?

The concealment of the PT35b plating discrepancy by the Crown’s chief forensics officer, Feraday, the police and the Crown Office, allowed the court to presume that PT35b must have been part of a cited Libyan owned timer, when it clearly could not have been. The relevant documents were available to the prosecution long before the trial, but only discovered by the defence after the trial was over.

In February 2012 the Lord Advocate himself invited us relatives to a meeting in London to explain new moves being made in the criminal investigation. I chose to ask him for an explanation as to why the Heathrow break-in evidence had not been passed to the defence and the court as part of the relevant evidence. He claimed he had also wondered why, but did not know the answer. I then asked the current Chief Constable of the Dumfries and Galloway police, to see if he could discover the answer on our behalf. He did so most courteously and promptly. His letter is enclosed. It shows that the Dumfries and Galloway police of the day knew of the break-in from January 1989, kept this to themselves for a full decade, passed it to the Crown Office only in 1999 and then, together with the Crown Office, kept it hidden from the defence and the court until after the trial was over. Why?

The evidence concerning the break-in only surfaced in 2001 after the trial  had finished. Even then the only reason it did so was that the Heathrow guard who had discovered the break-in was bold enough to ask publicly why his evidence had been ignored by the court.

The prosecution appears to have failed us all  in this case, the Heathrow break-in and the PT35b plating are but two of many other examples. There is a special obligation upon Governments to make available the evidence to the families of victims of murder. There is also an obligation upon our prosecution service to bring fair and prompt justice upon murderers. Thanks to the failures of the Crown Office, and their searchers as your prosecuting authority, it falls to your Government to investigate all these failures. I therefore request that you immediately arrange for  the creation of a properly endowed and objectively led inquiry into the apparent failings of the Crown Office in prosecuting this dreadful case, selecting as members and chairperson individuals acceptable as impartial to the relatives and to the people of Scotland.

I will make this letter available to the Scottish public also. They too deserve to know whether steps are now to be taken by their Government to explore the performance of the Crown Office prosecution in this  case and to enact legislation to curtail any future such deviation from their duty, as may be found by such an inquiry.


  1. What an absolute corker of a letter.

  2. Withholding the break-in evidence from the Defence was outrageous and Jim Swire is right to pursue the matter.

    But it may not have been withheld because there was something to hide.

    I mean the withheld evidence may have been of no value because there may have been an innocent explanation for the break-in.

    Instead withholding the evidence until after the case could have been an insurance policy by the State, in case the Zeist verdict was debunked.

    The State could then encourage the truth seekers to follow another false trail at Heathrow and keep up the phoney criminal investigation, rather than hold a public enquiry.

  3. "Instead withholding the evidence until after the case could have been an insurance policy by the State, in case the Zeist verdict was debunked.

    The State could then encourage the truth seekers to follow another false trail at Heathrow and keep up the phoney criminal investigation, rather than hold a public enquiry."

    So, if the trial was debunked, they planned to throw in another piece of evidence that makes it even more hopeless, and shows exactly how twisted justice was. All for the purpose of wasting somebody's time.

    Or maybe they thought that info about a break-in into the room where luggage to Panam 103 was stored could somehow weaken the case against Megrahi.

    Well, we will never know, will we?

  4. You may be right, but how do you weaken a non existent case?

  5. The information about the break-in was buried at the beginning of February 1989, two years before Megrahi's name even entered the frame for Lockerbie. The information was passed to the investigators at Lockerbie, who said ho hum so what, and filed it. It was never looked at again. When the other Heathrow witnesses were being re-interviewed and re-re-interviewed, nobody said another word to Ray Manly. His evidence was never part of the narrative of the case and it would have remained unknown if he himself had not approached Megrahi's defence team after the verdict in 2001.

    It's tempting to read all sorts of conspiracies into this, and there's certainly a case to be made that in early 1989 someone was distinctly unkeen for Heathrow to take the blame for the disaster, but the more I see of the primary evidence, the more it looks to me like nothing more than the most monumental cock-up of the second millennium.

    Some pretty underhand and reprehensible things were done as part of this inquiry and prosecution, there's no doubt about that. But whether they were done as part of a grand, over-arching, machiavellian plan is an entirely different matter.

    I see incompetent people who were far from being the sharpest knives in the drawer, but who had a very puffed-up sense of their own importance, making a complete pig's ear of the investigation. The recovery and examination of the evidence was absolutely stellar. World class. But then the evidence had to be analysed, and deductions and conclusions drawn. That's where it fell apart.

    Lack of communication, personal egos, premature jumping to conclusions and sheer lack of analytical skills are there in abundance. Then the more you get it wrong the more you have to fudge and manipulate in order to defend what is becoming an indefensible position.

    I'm not even sure they realise they got it wrong. Maybe some of them do. But some of them are so enamoured of their own cleverness in pinning the atrocity on Libya and Megrahi they can't see beyond that.

    There is so much evidence to show that much of this debacle was caused by people in positions of responsibility simply not having the intellectual capacity to work through the inferences from A to B to C. Which makes it quite hard to believe that these same people were running an incredibly clever and complicated conspiracy.

  6. "All we know is that PT35b’s origin could not have been from a Libyan owned timer as cited by the prosecution."

    This statement seems seriously flawed logically - and technically.
    Surely all we know is that the timer fragment evidence was not manufactured by MEBO?

    Furthermore, accepting such a conclusion, both forms an unsound basis for further assumptions - and risks unjustifiably ruling out Libya as the sponsor.