Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Megrahi appeal -- five years ago

What follows is taken from an item posted on this blog five years ago today. I am reasonably confident that relevant fresh news items will be forthcoming within the fairly near future.

[This is an article by Mark Micallef and Caroline Muscat in today's edition of the Maltese newspaper The Sunday Times. As far as I can discover, none of the Scottish or UK Sundays covers the first week of the appeal hearing.]

Malta may be cleared of Lockerbie connection

"I firmly believe the bomb did not leave from Malta" - victim's father

The Maltese connection to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie will be called into question with fresh evidence presented in the second appeal of the convicted bomber.

A representative of the British victims' families told The Sunday Times yesterday: "I firmly believe the bomb did not leave from Malta."

The appeal, launched last Tuesday, challenged the testimony of key witness Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who had identified Abdel Basset al-Megrahi as having bought clothes from his shop that were later found wrapped around the bomb.

The prosecution's line in the initial trial was that Mr al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, placed the bomb and clothes in a suitcase checked in at Luqa airport and transferred on to the ill-fated Pan Am flight in Frankfurt.

Ever since Mr al-Megrahi's conviction in 2001, Malta has been implicated in the terrorist act that killed 270 people.

But Mr al-Megrahi's lawyer, Margaret Scott [now Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary judge, Lady Scott], tore into Mr Gauci's evidence during last Friday's appeal hearing, saying the witness had initially given descriptions of the man in his shop as being taller and more than 10 years older.

"What we have here is a striking discrepancy," she told the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh, according to The Scotsman.

Investigating officers had shown the shopkeeper several photos but he rejected them, because the people were too young. He had even rejected the page showing the photo of Mr al-Megrahi.

But the lawyer told the court last Friday that "unlike before", Mr Gauci was told to look at the photos again. "It was a clear message that there is something there to be found," [Ms] Scott said.

In fact, Mr Gauci never identified Mr al-Megrahi. He simply stated: "He resembles him a lot."

The trial judges had accepted this identification as a "highly important element" of the case.

Attempts by The Sunday Times to contact Mr Gauci proved futile. During a visit to his Sliema shop yesterday, a man who claimed to be his brother said he had not seen the key witness for a month and insisted he had no comment to make.

Mr al-Megrahi's lawyer will call into question four crucial pieces of evidence that secured his conviction. These are that the accused bought the clothing found with the bomb; that the purchase happened on December 7, 1988; that the buyer knew the purpose for which the clothing was bought; and that the suitcase containing the bomb left from Malta. An element absent from the original trial provides a compelling alternative to the idea that the bomb left from Malta.

Just over 12 years after the bombing, the courts heard retired Heathrow security guard Ray Manly testify that a door leading to the baggage build-up area at Terminal 3 was forced open on the night of December 20, 1988.

The intruder, he had told court, could have easily introduced and tagged a suitcase as Pan Am baggage.

Dr Jim Swire, father of 24-year-old victim Flora, told The Sunday Times yesterday he believed the Malta connection was false: "Security at Luqa conformed to the requirement to check the amount of bags getting on to an aircraft and making sure it agreed with the number that had gone off at the other end."

In the case of the Air Malta flight, which allegedly carried the suitcase with the explosive, "the records show unequivocally that the bags loaded belonged to the passengers and that there were no other bags... and that in Frankfurt the same amount of bags were accounted for."

Dr Swire believed the possibility that the bomb had been planted at Heathrow was suppressed: "Despite this security breach, the airport was not shut down until the breach was explained. Had this been done, I believe my daughter would still be alive." He hoped this second trial would prove to be the watershed he and other sceptical relatives had been waiting for.

However, the appeal may not be concluded if Mr al-Megrahi chooses to return home through a prisoner exchange programme between the UK and Libya, which was ratified by Britain last week.

Mr Al-Megrahi, 57, is suffering from advanced prostate cancer. A decision to drop the appeal would leave him condemned as guilty.

A Scottish journalist following the case told The Sunday Times he suspected that Mr al-Megrahi could be biding his time until this first round of the appeal was over.

"If the judges return with an early verdict in favour of al-Megrahi, he goes back home a free man. If not, he'll likely take the exchange."

Dr Swire was sympathetic to Mr al-Megrahi's position. Although it could mean he would never know the truth about his daughter's death, he said: "Put yourself in his shoes, what else would you do?"

"I would go, and could not blame him if he does. He has told me before that he would rather clear his name before he goes home," Dr Swire added.

But if the appeal did not go through, Dr Swire would be "clamouring" for a full inquiry, which would also be in Malta's interest.

"I think Malta has nothing but substance to gain from this."

1 comment:

  1. The following comment is from Clayton W Munsey, who has been unable to post it directly:

    From wiki: "On 31 January 2001, Megrahi was convicted, by a panel of three Scottish judges sitting in a special court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, of 270 counts of murder for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on 21 December 1988 and was sentenced to life imprisonment. His co-accused, Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, was found not guilty and was acquitted." In hindsight I wonder if the impetus for the acts of September 11, 2001 in the USA were not conditioned by this verdict. The network of 'bad actors' in this international showdown between radical Muslims and the rest of the inhabitants of the earth no doubt convene and choose their cowardly acts based on perceived or actual injustices. In any event the perpetrators of such heinous acts must be pursed to the ends of the earth and made to pay for the incalculable pain they have bestowed on the innocent.