Saturday, 31 May 2014

"The stench of cover-up becomes overwhelming"

[Two years ago today I posted on this blog an item taken from John Ashton’s Megrahi: You are my Jury website. In this fallow period for new Lockerbie developments (which will not continue much longer) it bears repeating:]

The new edition of Private Eye carries the following article under the headline Justice short-circuited. The newly-revealed document to which it refers can be read here.

For 19 years prosecutors and investigators kept secret a detailed report about the most important forensic evidence recovered from the debris of Pan Am 103 at Lockerbie – a fragment of timing device circuit board – which completely undermined their own case against Abdelbasset al-Megrahi.  

That such crucial material, obtained by the Eye, was never disclosed before the Libyan was convicted of the worst terrorist atrocity on UK soil,  should in itself be sufficient grounds for a public inquiry of itself. Added to the wealth of other evidence concealed from his trial (Eyes passim)  the deeply flawed identification evidence “linking”  Megrahi to the  bombing, the use of a discredited Walter Mitty-type FBI informer as a “star witness”, and the fact that other material in the case still remains secret protected by “public interest immunity”, the stench of cover-up becomes overwhelming.

The 11-page document is a detailed summary of the forensic analysis of the circuit board, which reveals that police and experts were well aware, relatively early in the investigation, that there was something “very unusual” about the board. They had found that tracks on it were coated with pure tin, whereas the vast majority in manufacture have a tin/lead mix. This was a significant lead.

“Without exception it is the view of all experts involved in the PCB [printed circuit board] industry who have assisted with this enquiry that the tin application on the tracks of the circuit was by far the most interesting feature”, said the police report.

Scandalously this was never revealed at Megrahi’s trial and not disclosed to his defence lawyers until 2009 – a month before he was freed from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds to return to Libya, where he recently died.   

The Crown’s case against Megrahi regarding the circuit board was always the opposite: namely, that the fragment was identical to circuit boards used in timers that were supplied to Libya by a Swiss company Mebo.  But these were not remotely “unusual” as they had the common tin/lead mix.

Earlier this year writer and researcher John Ashton in his book,  Megrahi: You are my Jury, revealed how the government scientist, Allen Feraday, who had told the trial that the circuit fragment was “similar in all respects” to the Mebo devices,  had, in fact, overseen tests on the fragment and a control sample circuit board, (revealed in recently disclosed notebooks) which pointed up the differences between the two.

As this new document shows, the significance of such findings was known more widely. This raises questions about why the evidence remained buried for years and who exactly knew the Mebo timers were different.

The piece of board was discovered among parts of a man’s shirt recovered from the crash site. The shirt was in turn traced back to Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper, who put Megrahi in the frame three years after the bombing, saying he resembled the man who had bought the clothing. (As Eye readers know Megrahi bore no resemblance to the man first described by Gauci to investigators, and it later emerged that the shopkeeper and his brother were handsomely “rewarded” by the FBI.)

The new material coupled, and the doubts about the veracity of the Gauci evidence, undermine the two main pillars of Megrahi’s conviction. And while the Libyans were not averse to state-sponsored acts of terrorism at the time of the bombing in 1988, it remains the case – as the late Paul Foot pointed out in an Eye special report, Lockerbie: The Flight from Justice, in 2001 -  that the attack bore the hallmarks of a Syrian-backed Palestinian terrorist cell which had been caught red-handed with devices equipped to bring down planes.

The excuse for not holding a public inquiry is because the criminal investigation is continuing.  So far investigators only seem to have travelled to Libya – no doubt to see if they can obtain new evidence that might somehow prop up the crumbling conviction.


  1. Well it was revealed to the defence teams long in advance of the trial that there was a fundamental contradiction between page 51 of Dr Hayes notes and photograph 117 but in 19 years nobody on the defence teams, including John Ashton (researcher for two of the teams) noticed this glaring anomaly. Adequately explained by stupidity?

  2. MISSION LIFE WITH THE LOCKERBIE AFFAIR, 2014 (google Translation, german/english)

    Why the Scottish Justice the Truth not will hear ? - because we have forget to ask whether they can handle and bear the Truth...

    by Edwin and Mahnaz Bollier, MEBO Ltd. Telecommunication Switzerland. Webpage:

  3. The chances of a tiny bit of circuit board surviving the explosion, being found and remaining identifiable as coming from a specific batch of circuit boards is so remote, it should have incited reasonable doubt that it was genuine.

    The chances of it being found in the collar of some burnt clothing that survived the explosion that also remained identifiable as a specific item of clothing from a specific shop is so remote it should have incited reasonable doubt it and the clothing was genuine.

    The idea that a shopkeeper could identify the specific clothing and the specific person who brought the clothing 3 years after the event is so remote that it should have incited reasonable doubt that the fragment, clothing and witness were genuine.

    In short the defence should have questioned the whole chain of evidence and not just whether it was raining on a particular day!

    In short they could have simply asked for a look at the fragment and without any tests, seen it was fake by the absence of burn marks!

  4. "The chances ... should have incited reasonable doubt that it was genuine."

    Small pieces of everything will be found after an explosion [in a suitcase]. Numerous parameters, mixed up with pure chance, determine how small the fragments are, and how they are positioned among or inside other debris.

    As for the value of the argument at the trial, I believe that for each expert in explosives that the defense could have found who'd would claim that the timer fragment or clothes would have been unlikely to survive...

    ... the prosecution would have been able to find twenty ditto that would say that no such thing could be concluded with any justified certainty by anyone on the planet.

    So the defense did not make a mistake on that one. There are enough loose assumptions in this case already.
    See the verdict for more.

  5. Well yes, but you would expect reasonable doubt to have incited some, rather than no questions about the forensics!

    And there is also reasonable doubt the prosecution could find many experts to back their case as qualified as the ones they had!

  6. This is a bit like the argument that nobody ever wins the lottery.

    How can you claim you won the lottery? The chances of that are about 14 million to one. You've no chance of being believed against my accusation that you got that money from dealing drugs.

    Except - someone wins the lottery pretty much every week. In the same way, many bits of something close to the explosion will be lost, but a few will be found. That's why they searched the countryside, and searched it very carefully. It's not really all that surprising if an exercise like that actually bears fruit, you know.

  7. Dave, will you please give this one a rest.

    It's a sad fact of human history that there have been enough explosions to know that fragments even of things close to the explosion can survive. If that doesn't fit with your intuitive understanding of what goes on in an explosion, I would respectfully suggest that it's your understanding which needs to change, not the real world.

  8. Arguing that something is theoretically possible does not excuse, not applying reasonable doubt to the evidence, particularly when such a test is standard procedure in court cases.

  9. Clearly, in Dave's world, the police wasted countless man-hours conducting fingertip line searches of the area, because anything they found was just going to be dismissed with "it's very unlikely you would have found that"!

  10. If the prosecution say they have found the vital needle in a haystack, you would expect any defence to ask for a look at the needle!

    And if they didn’t you would expect the defendant to make this basic request!

    Alas following advice from his defence team Megrahi did not go into the witness box!

  11. Also the finger-tip search of a very wide area did not find the fragment.

  12. They said it did. How do you know that's wrong?

  13. It was found in some burnt clothing in the evidence room!

  14. Some burnt clothing that was picked up in the big field beside Blinkbonny farmhouse, during a fingertip search. Or are you implying something different?

  15. I'm implying reasonable doubt!

  16. It wasn’t [as you confirm] found in the finger-tip search of a very large area, but later inside the evidence room and the fragment wasn’t what the prosecution claimed it to be.

    Or are you implying its genuine?

  17. I'm pointing out that you have no proof at all that the discovery didn't happen exactly as claimed. Lots of things that were involved in the explosion were prised out of other things after the items had been picked up from the ground.

    It would have been entirely inapprporiate for the cops to have poked around in these items and disturbed the evidence of the blast, right there out in the open.

  18. Yes but as usual your dissembling because saying the fragment could survive the explosion and saying the way it was discovered can’t be disproved does not excuse not applying reasonable doubt, which would have revealed the truth about the fragment at Zeist.

  19. Have to say I have serious doubts the timer fragment was ever on board Pan Am 103.

  20. You know the truth about the fragment? Do tell!

    I think you have the wrong end of the stick as regards the place of "reasonable doubt" in Scots (and indeed English) law. It is not a test that has to be applied to each individual piece of evidence.

    To get back to your original point, such as it was, the answer is simple. There was a thorough and co-ordinated fingertip search of the crash site, concentrating especially on the area around Newcastleton where it was realised that pieces of explosion-damaged debris were being found. Searchers were told, "If it isn't growing, or a rock, bring it in."

    This was done to maximise the likelihood of recovering anything of evidential importance that might have landed somewhere accessible. No doubt some items landed in inaccessible places. One can imagine all sorts of useful fragments that weren't recovered. It was to be expected, though, that some useful ones would be recovered, and indeed that was the case.

    You can't dismiss this exercise and all its fruits simply by declaring "It's unlikely that particular piece would be found." As I said, it's the same as saying, "It's unlikely you would have won the lottery," after you've won it. Someone's going to win the lottery, after all. And some useful pieces of evidence are going to be picked up.

    The only thing we know about that fragment is that it wasn't part of one of the 20 MST-13 timer instruments supplied to Libya by MEBO. We don't know how or when it got into the evidence chain. It may have happened exactly as the police claimed.

  21. My last message was of course a reply to Dave.

    Scott, that's the $64,000 question, isn't it? Did that fragment fall from the sky, or didn't it? (Together with who made it, and why?)

    We can suspect all we like and speculate all we like but we don't have a conclusive answer to any of that.

    I also have serious doubts that it fell from the sky, but there's a good case for its being in the chain of evidence at a pretty early date, possibly even on 13th January 1989. I really don't like where that train of thought leads.

  22. The truth about the fragment was, it wasn’t what the prosecution claimed it to be and the defence failed to contest the forensics.

    The rest of your message was a diversion away from this central point that by not applying reasonable doubt and demanding an examination of the fragment was an abdication of duty by the defence.

  23. The defence missed a trick with the forensics, without any doubt. The defence missed a lot of tricks and we'd be here all night if we started listing them.

    That doesn't however mean that there is proof that the fragment didn't fall from the sky, or wasn't in the piece of cloth which was picked up in the field on 13th January.

    It might have been, it might not have been.

  24. "I really don't like where that train of thought leads." - no, me neither Rolfe.

    "The truth about the fragment was, it wasn’t what the prosecution claimed it to be and the defence failed to contest the forensics." - Dave there was a huge amount of evidence for defence to wade through. Things were bound to get missed/overlooked. I mean a massive police enquiry seems to have overlooked all the evidence pointed to the Samsonite starting its journey at Heathrow.

  25. The defence and the experts they employed didn't understand the significance of the metallurgy results, due to a large extent to some critical documents not being disclosed. I refer mainly to the Williamson memo and Feraday's hand-written examination notes.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The defence missed an awful lot though, and if we start going through it all we'll be here all week.

    As far as the very early planting of the fully-loaded shirt collar is concerned (and if you consider that you also have to start wondering about the Claiden fragment too), it has to raise the spectre of a MIHOP (make it happen on purpose, that is that the US authorities were complicit in the plot to bring the plane down). I know some people believe this to have been the case.

    I don't, and I'm very reluctant indeed to go there. There are a number of quite good reasons for arguing that that didn't happen. On the other hand there are some reasons for proposing that it might have happened, and being honest I have to acknowledge that it's something that might have to be confronted one day.