Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A good man, a smear, and the Crown Office

[This is the headline over an article in today’s edition of the Scottish Review by the editor, Kenneth Roy.  It reads as follows:]

There are many reasons to be pessimistic about the outcome of the appeal lodged by the family of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. I have just finished reading one of those reasons.

There has been one, only one, public hearing in Scotland of the facts about Lockerbie. (I disregard the unsatisfactory criminal trial of Megrahi and one other, which took place in the Netherlands, though under Scottish jurisdiction.) This was the fatal accident inquiry heard by Sheriff John Mowat in 1990, two years after the disaster.

The choice of location seems, in retrospect, grimly appropriate: the recreation hall of a psychiatric hospital, converted into a courtroom with seating for 400. When I turned up one morning and reported to the media centre, I found it deserted. There were dozens of desks and cubicles for the international press, but only a handful of them had ever been occupied and there was no need to connect the telephones. Visiting this ghostly place was a strange experience.

In the courtroom itself, the anticipated throng of relatives and interested parties had never materialised: the public benches were deserted. Heavy, dark green curtains, tightly drawn, enabled the proceedings to be conducted in an atmosphere of stygian gloom.
The symbolism was thus complete: in a room shedding no natural light, witnesses presented their testimony to an empty auditorium and, beyond, to a world that had seemingly lost interest. But it is instructive to look back at that under-reported inquiry from the distance of almost quarter of a century – if only for proof that the truth about Lockerbie will probably never be known.

The part of the transcript I had been reading, just before the announcement of the Megrahi appeal, was the evidence of a policeman, a member of the now disbanded Dumfries and Galloway constabulary, concerning the activities of Dr David Fieldhouse.

The name David Fieldhouse may mean nothing to you, yet he is a figure of some importance in the saga. He was sitting in front of the television in his home in Yorkshire on the evening of 21 December 1988 when the first news of the disaster flashed on the screen. His reaction was impulsive. He got into his car and drove all the way from Bradford to Lockerbie, arriving at around 10.50pm.

He immediately contacted the authorities, explained that he was a police surgeon, and offered to help with the search for bodies (there was never any hope of finding survivors). The police accepted his offer and, bearing in mind the Scottish requirement for corroboration, assigned an officer to accompany him. Over the course of the next 24 hours, more than one police officer accompanied him.

Dr Fieldhouse worked through the night and all of the following day; he did so without pausing for sleep and with nothing to eat except a biscuit. It was a heroic one-man undertaking. By the time darkness fell on 22 December, he had found and labelled 59 bodies.

On the morning of the 23rd, he was due to meet a senior police officer at a pre-arranged rendezvous (Tundergarth Church). He waited two hours. When it became clear that the detective chief inspector was not going to show up, Dr Fieldhouse drove back to Yorkshire and compiled a report on his work – an account that he had already given in detail, verbally, on the spot. He was then surprised to learn that his 59 tags had been replaced by 58 'official' ones. There was one missing. It remains a mystery.

David Fieldhouse received no thanks from the police for his act of selfless dedication. He went back to work and, so far as possible, put Lockerbie behind him. Two years later, he was shocked to learn that there had been an attempt by the Crown Office and the police to call his integrity into question.

A police witness at the fatal accident inquiry in Dumfries was asked by the Crown about one of the bodies found and labelled by Dr Fieldhouse.

Q. Would that be another example of Dr or Mr Fieldhouse carrying out a search on his own?
A. It would, my Lord.
Q. And marking the body of the person who is dead without notifying the police?
A. That is correct.

The content of that brief extract is utterly disgraceful on two counts. First there is the innuendo that Dr Fieldhouse was not a doctor at all – that some medically unqualified individual, a mere 'Mr', an imposter in effect, took it upon himself to go looking for bodies. Second there is the specific allegation that he did so without the authority of the police.

Neither the innuendo nor the allegation was true. The police officers who accompanied Dr Fieldhouse confirmed that they were present in every case when he pronounced life extinct, and that the procedures he followed were scrupulous.

Why, then, did the Crown Office, assisted by the Dumfries and Galloway police, spread untruths about him in this way? The only alternative explanation – that it was all the result of some unfortunate misunderstanding – is hard to swallow. The Crown Office had had the best part of two years to assemble the facts; and there were few more central to the purpose of the fatal accident inquiry than the facts about the recovery and identification of bodies. Yet not only did the Crown Office misrepresent what happened on the night of 21-22 December 1988; for no apparent reason they decided to smear David Fieldhouse.

It was left to Dr Fieldhouse to request an opportunity to clear his name. As a late witness, he duly did. But from the Crown Office there was no explanation and no apology. The only person who ever had the decency to apologise was the blameless Sheriff Mowat in his written determination.

The experience of David Fieldhouse is one of the reasons why the truth about Lockerbie will probably never be known. It is a vignette that, like so many vignettes, illuminates a larger canvas.

Put it this way. If the Crown Office was prepared to rubbish the reputation of a completely innocent man, who had acted in the public service for no personal gain whatever, we can expect it to have little difficulty in confirming the guilt of someone over whom a considerable doubt continues to linger – the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

[Dr David Fieldhouse is a signatory member of Justice for Megrahi.]


  1. Dear Mr Roy, Kenneth even,

    Unlike the massively justified complaints that David Fieldhouse has regarding the Lockerbie investigation and his treatment relating to his selfless, instinctive and quite innocent effort to assist the investigators, the question of whether he was referred to as Doctor or Mister by the Crown is unlikely to come high on his list.

    I take it that, as a journalist, of apparent repute, who boasts of such national representation, you are fully cognisant that surgeons can get a bit sniffy about being referred to as mere doctors, thus preferring the title mister. I can assure you of one thing though, David Fieldhouse is unlikely to have given a toss over his title. He isn't that sort of bloke in my estimation.

    Having said all that in adoration of your journalistic analysis, I have absolutely no notion as to what the Crown might have been suggesting. In fact, I am not too sure that they ever did either since they seem to have been making it up as the story progressed. Roulette Justice by any other name. Just so long as the hoodlums run the casino.

    Interesting to see that you are attempting to come back into the warmth of the JFM fold. However, I am probably getting ahead of myself there. That might involve a bit of an unpalatable climb down, wouldn't it?


  2. Those who attended Zeist witnessed a show trial and said so immediately afterwards.

    This was followed by a show appeal, due to the defence’s failure to present suitable grounds for appeal.

    At Zeist [the judges debunked their own verdict] and at appeal [the judges said the grounds for appeal did not allow them to challenge the verdict].

    But whereas the Zeist proceedings and appeal findings are known and debated [debunked] it appears the conclusions of the fatal accident enquiry are not.

    But the description of empty seats despite the venue being prepared for large numbers has the hall marks of a show enquiry. Why were the seats empty?

    And perhaps the lack of witnesses explains why the outcome of the show enquiry draws little attention and criticism compared to the show trial!

    But given the Crown’s discrediting of Dr Fieldhouse [why would they do that] I think it reasonable to doubt the outcome of the fatal accident enquiry as well as Zeist.

  3. Posted in the wrong thread but it should have been here.

    Anyone who thinks that Sheriff Mowatt was blameless has not been paying attention.

  4. Dear Rolfe,

    Spot on as usual.


  5. Was there any public commentary on the fatal accident enquiry proceedings and the published report? [links please].

  6. Pages 48 to 56 of Morag Kerr's book.

  7. Dear Dave,

    Isn't Morag's work good enough for you?


  8. Who attended the fatal accident enquiry and what did they report about the proceedings.

    If a venue prepared for large numbers of public and media attention becomes the Mary Celeste with little coverage, isn’t this odd?

    At Zeist Hans Kochler the UN observer denounced the verdict immediately it was delivered, but who was the UN observer [or their equivalent] at the fatal accident enquiry and what did they say?

    And what was reported in the newspapers [specialist or otherwise]?

    Thus if the news management at the fatal accident enquiry [and lack of scrutiny] is similar to Zeist it is reasonable to doubt the outcome of both.

  9. Dave, you are right that it is surprising if there is so little from this hearing. If press interest was as little as the article indicates.

    Of course it would be strongly preferable if there were openly available sources, or even a complete transcript. If it was an open thing, I don't see why there should not be one, and it looks like it is a failure that authorities do not provide it?!

    A transcript might be read by people that may realize that they have important information or corrections to provide.

    This is indeed a legitimate question to raise, but we are used to be disappointed with the authorities in this case. It is of course easy to get ideas of some deliberate attempt to suppress the truth, but without further evidence it is no more than that, ideas.

  10. A detective not only looks for evidence that is there, but also for evidence that isn’t there, but should be there to establish what really happened.

    You would expect a running commentary at the fatal accident enquiry [particularly when it has been prepared for a large attendance of media and public] and thus its absence becomes evidence [why absent] worthy of further investigation.

  11. > and thus its absence becomes evidence [why absent] worthy of further investigation.

    But what investigation would that be? And how?

    Are you suggesting some deliberately weakened invitation to the press? Even if you were ever so right, it would be impossible to prove. We would not expect to find an explicit written memo "Make sure this hearing is advertised as little as possible", would we?

    Again, I find it fully valid that you raise the matter, but without further evidence the low attention and missed reporting from the hearing may be taken as support, or the opposite, for any theory we could ever come up with.

    Which, I believe, is exactly the business you are in. ;-)

  12. You only have to read the Sheriff's own findings to realise that he was told by the police and the Crown Office that they had incontrovertible evidence they could not reveal to him that the bomb had come from Malta. Therefore he was to find that the bomb flew in on the feeder flight and that it had probably flown into Frankfurt from a third airport rather than originating at Frankfurt.

    Granada TV's documentary "Why Lockerbie?" was shown while the FAI was in session and was quite clear about the Malta connection (Granada was eventually sued for defamation by Air Malta as a result). The fact that the bomb was believed to have come from Malta was public knowledge for nearly a year before that.

    Nevertheless no evidence at all from Malta was led, and indeed the word Malta wasn't even uttered in the courtroom. Indeed, only very sketchy evidence from Frankfurt was led, without even any clear reports of the loading of the 727 or the x-raying of the interline luggage. There was certainly no mention of any computer printout or the tray numbered 8849.

    Thus John Mowat completely overlooked the Heathrow evidence. It was led, and he had sufficient information to have been able to realise there was a high probability the Bedford case was the bomb (only Feraday's evidence contradicted that conclusion). However he was told not to pay any attention to that because the cops didn't believe it was important and the evidence showing the Malta routing was far more definite.

    So he waved Bedford's evidence aside, not knowing that the Malta-Frankfurt evidence was fairy-dust in comparison.

    The FAI started with there being no police suspect. Nobody had ever heard of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi. The day after Mowat presented his conclusions the police on Malta showed the photo of Megrahi that had been given to them by the FBI to Tony Gauci.

    Thus at all subsequent hearings there were two reasons not to take the Heathrow evidence seriously. One was that the FAI had heard it all but had decided to prefer the Malta-Frankfurt evidence (with few if any people realising that had not been led). The other was that the police suspects were on Malta at the time the bomb was supposed to have been smuggled on board KM180. By the time of the US hearings indictments had already been issued against Megrahi and Fhimah based on this modus operandi, so the US court was pretty much led by the nose (though Ellsworth van Graafeiland didn't fall for it).

    Mowat's endorsement of the Frankfurt routing and rejection of Bedford's evidence thus had far-reaching consequences.

  13. "You only have to read the Sheriff's own findings..."

    Thanks for your, as always, tremendous contribution.

    For those who, like me, never did read the findings you refer to, or didn't know a document existed, it is here:

    Thank God you preserved it or it would, for the world, have been lost.

    "vetpath" - very funny, Ma'm! ;-)

    Interestingly, by googling certain exact phrases (done by _including_ the quotes in the search field) it can be demonstrated that the given link is the _only_ full Google-indexing of this document.

    Here is one example:
    "This question was raised by Dr Swire and Ms Larracoechea"

    which comes out with only that single match.

    Googling for other exact quotes shows, that discussions of the text is seen elsewhere, on lockerbiedivide and - but still it turns out that you'd need to have been be an even harder-core Lockerbie-case follower than me to know about the existence of the document.

  14. The [why absent] evidence worth investigating is the evidence that was [or not] presented to the fatal accident enquiry.

    Rolfe comments on the routing of the ‘bomb’, but this is information you would expect to be presented at Zeist.

    I am thinking of the scientific evidence explaining the break-up sequence of the plane and how this was allegedly triggered by a small IED in the luggage hold.

    The extraordinary miscarriage of justice is a matter for lawyers, whereas the break-up of the plane is a matter for scientists and aircraft accident investigators.

    The former did not question the forensics at Zeist and they did not ask the latter to do so either.

    But you would expect specialist publications [expert blogs] and media to be awash with commentary on the FAI proceedings and conclusions!

    So links please!

  15. I got it from a copy that was online in a relatively user-hostile format - posibly a collection of rtf files or something. I can't remember who pointed me in that direction but it was probably Eddie. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of obscure Lockerbie documentation, witness his recent linking to an archive of papers from Marquise's collection.

    I converted it to a normal pdf simply for convenience and legibility. I don't know whether the original has disappeared or if it's just impossible to find by googling because of the file format.

    The transcripts exist. John Ashton has them and he has provided me with a few specific days which include the testimony of Sidhu, Bedford, Kamboj, Parmar and Feraday. They're pdf scans of tatty paper copies but they're perfectly legible.

    Reading Mowat's findings was what absolutely convinced me there were some sort of weird shenanigans going on. Slotting that lot into context post-Zeist it's absolutely clear that the bomb was in the Bedford suitcase and some pretty creative repackaging of the evidence was undertaken to conceal that in 2000.

  16. We know about the “shenanigans” at Zeist, but at the fatal accident enquiry too! It’s enough to incite reasonable doubt about the outcome of both?

  17. It seems that now more than ever even at this late stage, There needs to be a public inquiry into Lockerbie and the points the CIA didn't want revealed (as given to Thacher) looked into very closely.They have clearly been involved in this right from the very start.Why?