The trial court’s crucial findings and were they justified?
From the 90 paragraph written judgement produced by the trial court (...) it is clear that the court convicted Megrahi on the basis of the following nine factors.
1. The bomb was detonated through the mechanism of a MST-13 digital electronic timer manufactured by a Swiss company (MeBo) and supplied principally (but not exclusively) to Libya.
Commentary. The judges accepted prosecution evidence that a fragment of circuit board found among the wreckage of Pan Am 103 came from a MeBo MST-13 timer. The managing director of MeBo had denied this in his evidence, but his credibility was, unsurprisingly, assessed as being very low. The evidence established that timers of this model were supplied predominantly to Libya (though a few did go elsewhere, such as to the East German Stasi). This fragment is also important since it was the only piece of evidence that indicated that the Lockerbie bomb was detonated by a stand-alone, long-running timing mechanism, as distinct from a short-term timer triggered by a barometric device when the aircraft reached a pre-determined altitude (a method known to be favoured by certain Palestinian terrorist cells operating in Europe in 1988). The provenance of this vitally important piece of evidence was challenged by the defence and, in their written Opinion, the judges accept that in a substantial number of respects this fragment, for reasons that were never satisfactorily explained, was not dealt with by the investigators and forensic scientists in the same way as other pieces of electronic circuit board (of which there were a multitude). The judges say that they are satisfied that there was no sinister reason for the differential treatment. But regrettably they do not find it at all necessary to enlighten us regarding the reasons for their satisfaction.
2. A company of which a member of the Libyan intelligence services (Badri Hassan) was a principal for a time had office accommodation in the premises of the Swiss manufacturer, MeBo.
3. Megrahi was a member of the Libyan intelligence service.
Commentary. The only evidence to this effect came from a Libyan defector and CIA asset, Abdul Majid Giaka, now living in the United States under a witness protection programme. He gave evidence highly incriminating of both Megrahi and the co-accused Fhima. However, the trial judges rejected his evidence as wholly and utterly unworthy of credit, with the sole exception of his evidence regarding the Libyan intelligence service and Megrahi’s position therein. The court provides no reasons for accepting Giaka’s evidence on this issue while comprehensively rejecting it on every other matter.
4. The suitcase which contained the bomb also contained clothes and an umbrella bought in a particular shop, Mary’s House, in Sliema, Malta.
5. Megrahi was identified by the Maltese shopkeeper as the person who bought the clothes and umbrella.
Commentary. The most that the Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, would say (either in his evidence in court or at an identification parade before the trial or in a series of nineteen police statements over the years) was that Megrahi “resembled a lot” the purchaser, a phrase which he equally used with reference to Abu Talb, one of those mentioned in the special defence of incrimination lodged on behalf of Megrahi. Gauci had also described his customer to the police as being six feet [183 cms] tall and over fifty years of age. The evidence at the trial established (i) that Megrahi is five feet eight inches [173 cms] tall and (ii) that in late 1988 he was thirty-six years of age. On this material, the judges found in fact that Megrahi was the purchaser.
6. The purchases were made on 7 December 1988, a date when Megrahi was proved to be on Malta and not on 23 November 1988 when he was not.
Commentary. By reference to the dates on which international football matches were broadcast on television on Malta, Tony Gauci was able to narrow down the date of purchase of the items in question to either 23 November or 7 December. In an attempt to establish just which, the weather conditions in Sliema on these two days were explored. Gauci’s evidence was that when the purchaser left his shop it was raining to such an extent that his customer thought it advisable to buy an umbrella to protect himself while he went in search of a taxi. The unchallenged meteorological evidence led by the defence established that while it had rained on 23 November at the relevant time, it was unlikely that it had rained at all on 7 December; and if there had been any rain, it would have been at most a few drops, insufficient to wet the ground. On this material, the judges found in fact that the clothes were purchased on 7 December.
7. The suitcase containing the bomb was sent as unaccompanied baggage from Luqa Airport in Malta, via Frankfurt, on the morning of 21 December 1988 on an Air Malta flight, KM 180.
Commentary. The trial judges held it proved that the bomb was contained in a piece of unaccompanied baggage which was transported on Air Malta flight KM 180 from Luqa to Frankfurt on 21 December 1988, and was then carried on a feeder flight to Heathrow where Pan Am flight 103 was loaded from empty. The evidence supporting the finding that there was such a piece of unaccompanied baggage was a computer printout which could be interpreted to indicate that a piece of baggage went through the particular luggage coding station at Frankfurt Airport used for baggage from KM 180, and was routed towards the feeder flight to Heathrow, at a time consistent with its having been offloaded from KM 180. Against this, the evidence from Luqa Airport in Malta (whose baggage reconciliation and security systems were proven to be, by international standards, very effective) was to the effect that there was no unaccompanied bag on that flight to Frankfurt. All luggage on that flight was accounted for. The number of bags loaded into the hold matched the number of bags checked in (and subsequently collected) by the passengers on the aircraft. The court nevertheless held it proved that there had been a piece of unaccompanied baggage on flight KM 180.
8. Megrahi was in Malta on the night of 20/21 December 1988 and left for Tripoli from Luqa Airport on the morning of 21 December.
9. On this visit Megrahi had been travelling on a passport (in a name other than his own) which was never subsequently used.
Commentary. Megrahi (inexplicably, in the view of many) was not called by his lawyers to give evidence on his own behalf at the trial; so no explanation of his use of this passport was ever supplied to the court. There is an innocent (ie non-Lockerbie related) explanation (involving his role in seeking to circumvent US trade sanctions against Libya and obtain Boeing aircraft spare parts on behalf of his employers, Libyan Arab Airlines) which could have been provided.
It is my firm view that the crucial incriminating findings made by the judges were unwarranted by the evidence led in court and were in many cases entirely contrary to the weight of that evidence. I am convinced that no Scottish jury, following the instructions traditionally given by judges regarding the assessment of evidence and the meaning and application of the concept of reasonable doubt, would or could have convicted Megrahi. So how did it come about that the three distinguished and experienced judges who concurred in the verdict felt able to convict him?
In paragraph 89 of the Opinion of the Court it is stated: “We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications. We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seem to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified.” Regrettably, in my submission, the judges’ intellectual recognition of the danger does not appear to have enabled them to avoid it.