[This is the headline over a report in the current issue of Private Eye. It reads as follows:]
The bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie 25 years ago, killing 270 people, was loaded on to the plane at Heathrow, contrary to prosecution claims that it started its journey in Malta, a new book claims.
Adequately Explained by Stupidity?: Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies, by forensic pathologist Dr Morag Kerr, argues that crucial evidence about the suitcase bomb was withheld from the trial of Abdelbasset al-Megrahi because it would have provided the Libyan with a water-tight alibi.
The 220-page book is the result of a painstaking analysis of all the forensic evidence. Dr Kerr, a member of the Justice for Megrahi Committee, traced and matched baggage and passenger records of Pan Am 103 with its connecting flights, in particular the Maltese flight, which linked up with the Pan Am feeder flight from Frankfurt.
She examined witness statements, police memos and prosecution notes, as well as all the conflicting evidence – and judgments – about the bomb presented at the fatal accident inquiry, the civil case for damages against Pan Am brought by bereaved families, and at the trial and appeal of Megrahi. She makes a compelling case for identifying exactly which case contained the bomb and how it was smuggled aboard Pan Am 103 – and it wasn’t, she believes, from Malta.
It will not surprise those who have followed the Eye’s argument that Megrahi was the victim of a grave miscarriage of justice that Dr Kerr identifies instead the mystery brown/maroon suitcase spotted on a container at Heathrow destined for loading on to the US-bound flight.
Baggage handler John Bedford noticed the hard-shell Samsonite after he returned from a break. His colleague denied putting it there, but as it was complete with security tags it didn’t arouse suspicion at the time. According to the baggage handlers, it was one of six or seven bags, which filled the bottom row of the container.
Coupled with the fact that there was a breach of the fence separating the public and secure airline areas the night before the flight (which was also not revealed at the trial), Dr Kerr barely conceals her incredulity that police seemed uninterested in following up the possibility that someone may have smuggled the bomb through the Heathrow baggage handling system – even when scientists discovered the Samsonite was an exact match to the bomb case.
That may have been because very early on suspicion fell on a Syrian-backed Palestinian terrorist cell, the PFLP, operating out of Germany, who had been caught with explosive devices equipped to bring down planes. Luggage from the Frankfurt feeder flight had been placed on top of Heathrow baggage and suspicion initially fell on German airport security.
Later, of course, the focus switched to Malta, with the discovery that the suitcase bomb was stuffed full of clothes bought from Tony Gauci, the shopkeeper who claimed – after seeing photographs of Megrahi – that the man who had bought the clothes strongly resembled the Libyan. But as Dr Kerr makes clear, there was no evidence of any unaccounted-for baggage at Malta and no evidence of how it could have been smuggled on to the plane by anyone, let alone Megrahi. He just happened to be at the airport that day. It was a difficulty in the prosecution case recognised at both Megrahi’s trial and appeal (in which the judge said that “there is considerable and quite convincing evidence that it could not have happened”) – but a difficulty they decided to ignore.
Unlike Malta, which had a pretty foolproof security system of double-checking luggage, Dr Kerr concludes that security at both Frankfurt and Heathrow was lax. There were multiple unaccounted-for bags at Frankfurt, while at Heathrow – the break-in aside – security was such that the loading shed and baggage trays were left unattended and security labels were available in unlocked drawers.
Not for the first time in the troubled case, Dr Kerr also completely takes apart the forensic evidence presented by the government scientists. Their evidence was that the exploding Samsonite case could not have been the bag described by Mr Bedford. In fact, says Dr Kerr, it is easy to piece together exactly which bag was next to which from the relative blast damage to all – something she says the scientists never did. She adds that all the evidence taken together shows “without any doubt whatsoever” that the bomb suitcase was loaded flat, with the handle facing the back of the container – just as described by Mr Bedford.
A ‘contrived scenario’
The Crown Office has dismissed Dr Kerr’s book as “speculation” and said that Mr Bedford’s evidence was “rigorously tested during the trial and subsequent appeal”. But as she goes to some lengths to demonstrate, the evidence in its entirety had never been properly tested until now.
Adding her weight to the calls for a fresh inquiry, Dr Kerr said it should include how Scottish police overlooked “a shed-load of evidence” pointing to Heathrow as the source of the bomb, how forensic scientists compounded the error by misinterpreting or failing to interpret all the evidence recovered from the crash site, and why prosecutors “chose to conceal so much important information from the court” and presented instead what she described as “a contrived scenario”.
Coming 25 years after the UK’s worst terrorist atrocity – and two years after new evidence showed that scientists’ claims at trial that a tiny piece of bomb fragment recovered from the site matched those supplied to Libya were also false – the case for an investigation into the scandal is now overwhelming.