Thursday, 13 November 2014

The case for a public inquiry remains overwhelming

What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on 13 November 2009:

The latest from Private Eye

The police “review” of the Lockerbie case appears to be little more than a sop to head off demands for a full public inquiry.

Any meaningful reinvestigation would involve another force being brought in to carry out the review – not an officer involved in the original investigation into the bombing of Pan Am 103. It would also surely include a thorough review of the evidence upon which the independent Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) decided that Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi may have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice… But this is not to be.

Another new key area of concern is the forensic evidence underpinning the entire case: notably a small fragment of a circuit board for a bomb timer found in and among fragments of a man’s shirt recovered from the site. The shirt and other clothing recovered were said to have been traced back to Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who said he had sold them to a man who resembled Megrahi.

The prosecution has always claimed that these tiny fragments were identified by Dr Thomas Hayes at the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (Rarde) on 12 May 1989. There was concern at the time of the trial that the label on this crucial piece of evidence had been altered. Further, the pages in Hayes’ notes relating to this evidence had been curiously renumbered. Eye readers may recall that the work of Hayes and other Rarde scientists has subsequently been criticised in a series of high-profile miscarriage-of-justice cases involving IRA terrorism – in particular the inquiry by Sir John May into the wrongful conviction of the Maguire family, where scientific notebooks were found to have been altered.

Lawyers for Megrahi have now uncovered a similar pattern of inconsistencies, alterations, discrepancies and undisclosed material that again calls into question the integrity of the Rarde scientists. It comes from new scientific tests as well as a meticulous examination of evidence that was not disclosed or available at the time. Here are some examples …

* Photographs and evidence suggest that the circuit board and debris from the shirt had not been discovered until January 1990 – seven months later than Rarde claimed.

* Further evidence that scientific notes had been altered.

* Details of simulated explosions carried out in the US in July 1989 were not revealed, but debris from those blasts [was] taken both to Rarde and to Lockerbie for comparison.

* Exhibit labels were being written and attached by police more than a year after the debris was found.

* One man who was asked to put his name to the discovery of pieces of the charred shirt says he does not recall recovering the material. He also says the cloth shown to him by police was not the same grey colour as that identified in court as the shirt bought by Megrahi.

* Evidence to suggest the charred “bomb” shirt was in fact a child’s shirt.

* A wealth of conflicting evidence surrounding the discovery of charred pieces of a Babygro – also said to have been packed in the bomb suitcase and sold to Megrahi. One Babygro collected by investigators for comparison purposes was not accounted for.

The SCCRC which had some but not all of this material, rejected suggestions that the evidence had been deliberately fabricated. But it fell short of conducting its own forensic tests.

If this is a cock-up or incompetence, it is on such a scale that it recalls the verdict of Sir John May in the Maguire inquiry that the scientific basis on which the prosecution was founded should not be relied upon. Taken with Gauci’s highly dubious identification evidence …, the case for a public inquiry remains overwhelming.

[The above is the text of an article that appears on page 28 of the current edition (1249) of Private Eye. It does not feature on the magazine's website.]

On the same date Rolfe posted the following comment on the blog:

It would be nice to know the sources for these assertions.

It seems that the author is alleging, or at least suggesting, that the entire shebang contained in that evidence bag was fabricated, probably using material generated during the test detonations carried out in the USA in the summer of 1989. However, as I've said before, the existence of the red-circle photo would seem to argue against that hypothesis.

New viewers may start here.

Thomas Hayes's notes dated 12th May 1989 describe his examination of the contents of the bag in question. In the course of that examination he teased out a five-sheet-thick fragment of compacted paper (from the Toshiba manual) also found within the shirt collar.

The red-circle photo of the contents of the bag shows the timer fragment quite clearly - indeed, so clearly that it's possible to identify it as the same item as was exhibited at the trial in 2000. It also shows the fragment of paper - still compacted. Thus, unless it has been falsified, that picture was taken on (or before) 12th May 1989. And it shows the timer fragment.

The photo is not a polaroid, and thus should have a negative, which should establish the provenance of the photo to the date in question.

Or not, as the case may be.

Has anybody checked this out? Does the negative show up in a roll of film shot at the right time? This is absolutely crucial to the entire case, and I'd dearly love to know the answer.

My main sticking point on this issue is my doubt as to whether a group of law enforcement who were up to no good around Christmas 1989 would dare try to introduce this picture into the evidence trail retrospectively, with all the problems of negative provenance. The picture was circulated to the press, I believe - are we really to believe nobody noticed the negative wasn't from the date it was supposed to have been taken?

Nevertheless, this article seems to be suggesting they have exactly that sort of evidence.

Photographs and evidence suggest that the circuit board and debris from the shirt had not been discovered until January 1990 – seven months later than Rarde claimed.

Is this for real? Do they know something we don't? Or is this just Chinese Whispers and speculation?


  1. Well, time passes, water flows under bridges, and more detail emerges. Five years is a long time in politics, and the SCCRC report has emerged since then.

    From what I've seen of Hayes and Feraday's behaviour, it isn't that of men who knew PT/35b was a fabrication. And they would have known, if it was introduced in 1990, because they would have had to fake the retrospective provenance. In my opinion they were at it, but not in that way.

    The provenance of pages 50 and 51 in Hayes's notes is extraordinarily suspicious, but his notes and his page numbering system were an absolute dog's breakfast of interpolations and inconsistencies so it's very difficult to be sure of anything.

    Photograph 117 is quite the stumbling block. It's not so much the negative, which seems to have been dated late May (when the film was developed?) but the scraps of the radio manual pages. They seem to have been photographed in detail, after being teased apart, right back in May. It's really quite hard to figure out how that photograph could have been faked up in 1990 in the light of all that.

    I think we need to keep our minds open to all possibilities, or we're going to overlook something important.

  2. f.y.i. The photographs of PT/2 taken after being teased apart were (according to the Police log) taken on the 19/6/89. (Photograph 117 was, according to the Police log, taken on the 22/5/89 although the SCCRC claimed or implied this was the date when the film came back from Boots.).