Friday, 26 December 2014

Forensic folly and cultural collusion

[The following are two letters published in today’s edition of The Scotsman:]

Dr John Cameron (Letters, 24 December) is right to observe similarities between the Lockerbie and Shirley McKie investigations. An in-depth analysis of both cases reveals, however, that they had more than Colin Boyd in common.

Not only were a number of Crown Office, police and forensic witnesses involved in both cases but there was particular interest shown by foreign governments through agencies like the FBI.

More importantly, a common culture appeared to bind these people and agencies together.

Their “conviction at all costs” mentality, regardless of the contrary evidence staring them in the face, brooked no opposition and of course erroneous forensic evidence, which still bears the mantle of infallibility, was extremely helpful to the cause.

It’s not for me to judge their motivation but it was this realisation that led to my joining Justice for Megrahi, the organisation currently locking horns with the Lord Advocate in the face of his latest outrageous outbursts in relation to past and ongoing Lockerbie enquiries.

“Forensic folly” indeed but also “cultural collusion”.

Through this continuing rejection of the reality staring him in the face the Lord Advocate, Scotland’s independent prosecutor in the public interest and a member of the Scottish Government, has severely compromised his constitutional position of independence and neutrality.
Iain A J McKie

Forensic evidence is not perfect but is the best form of evidence we currently have. All other forms of evidence have their risks, including confessions, witnesses and even film or digital recording.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was released on the basis of medical evidence that he would die within three months.

When he failed to die for 30 months we did not conclude that all medicine was therefore wrong. Dr Cameron criticises forensic evidence whilst citing narrative evidence.

Forensic evidence, being scientifically based, usually fails in human interpretation of the science rather than the science itself. We need to improve the scientific basis of forensic evidence rather than abandon it. Even DNA evidence is subject to interpretation and hence contains a risk of error.
Neil Sinclair


  1. Mr. Sinclair is bang on the money. The forensic evidence collected by the Scottish police and others in the weeks following the disaster at Lockerbie contains the information that clearly shows Megrahi to be innocent. In fact, it shows that the crime was committed in the late afternoon in London, when Megrahi was verifiably a thousand miles away in Tripoli.

    The fault is not in the physical evidence as such but in its interpretation. This was carried out in such a cack-handed, cavalier and indeed negligent manner by scientists from RARDE that the pretty elementary conclusion was entirely missed. You don't need a fancy conspiracy theory to see this, or any allegations of tampering with evidence. All you need is the witness statements, the photos of the damaged suitcases, and some basic skill in assembling jigsaw puzzles.

    Frank Mulholland knows this of course. Why he is continuing to deny the bleedin' obvious is for him to explain, eventually,

  2. Of course forensic evidence provides vital information, but it still needs to be examined by the ‘defence team’, to establish its true meaning. At Zeist the ‘defence team’ were allowed to say ‘someone else did it’ but not ‘what caused it’! Hence their failure to question the forensics!

    From a professional point it has been argued that lawyers are not scientists and thus not qualified to question the forensics! But if so, they are ‘defending their careers rather than their client’, because you do not need to be a scientist before applying some common-sense reasonable doubt to the evidence! And a failure to question the forensics becomes a particular problem if the ‘forensic labs’ are under pressure to provide the prosecuting authorities with the ‘information they need’ to convict!

    That said you also need to look for the evidence that isn’t there, to reveal what really happened! E.g. the absence of a distress signal from the Captain tells you the cock-pit detached from the plane in [3] seconds and you would need a large bomb rather than a small ‘pot-luck’ placed IED to achieve that!

  3. “Overpressure” - or the old plane was at high altitude when a malfunction triggered the cargo door to open by a fraction. And the extremely powerful slip-stream along the frame of the plane ripped the door off resulting in catastrophic explosive decompression and this would explain the cockpit detaching in 3 seconds to the cargo door side and knocking off engine 3.

    A straight forward explanation by John Barry Smith and the reason why no public enquiry was held! And the rest of the 'run-around' stems from this initial cover-up that 'becomes worse than the crime’!

  4. John Barry Smith's explanation is completely at odds with the actual evidence. I once thought Dave would read the evidence and realise that, but it seems as if that's not going to happen.

  5. JBS is an independent aircraft accident investigator who out of professional pride and calling has spent considerable amount of time [with an extensive website] pursuing a ‘bee in the bonnet’ explanation for crashes due to outward opening cargo doors, a ‘design fault’ he wants addressed!

    Just as Professor Black has a ‘bee in his bonnet’ about restoring the integrity of the Scottish Judiciary, when others want to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’!

    The evidence that reveals all is the cock-pit detaching from the plane in 3 seconds towards the cargo door side knocking off engine 3 and recorded on radar.

    To proffer an ‘alternative Heathrow theory’ of a small ‘pot-luck’ IED [based on burnt clothing and fake fragment evidence] is similar to Rolfe’s brazen time on 9/11 blogs defying the law of physics by saying 2 planes destroyed 3 towers!

    And it’s become clear that all the years the obfuscation, dissembling and lies is adequately explained by an initial refusal to hold a public enquiry in the ‘public interest’, at the behest of US!

  6. I thought you'd been told to drop this obsession of yours. Your hero can't explain the actual evidence at Lockerbie so sidesteps it to shoehorn the disaster into his pet topic. It's not pretty.

  7. His explanation is convincing and can the tested by an examination of the latch status of the forward cargo that was omitted from the FAI report.

    Whereas your hokum defies reason and physics and has already been examined to show fake testimony and fragment evidence and is presumably made to fit in with the US ‘war on terror’ narrative targeting Syria, Iran and now Russia!

  8. His explanation is nonsense, flying in the face of the evidence. No further comments promoting this rubbish will be accepted. I have said so before. This time I mean it.

  9. Dear Professor Black,

    I appreciate that your priority is overturning the extraordinary miscarriage of justice to restore the integrity of the Scottish Judiciary rather than the secondary matter of what caused the crash.

    But if JBS explanation is nonsense and a distraction, I don’t see how promoting the Heathrow hokum helps matters either!

  10. The Heathrow explanation is not hokum. Dr Morag Kerr's book sets out irrefutable evidence. I suggest you read it. JBS's explanation is hokum, with absolutely no evidential base. This thread is now closed.

  11. Irrefutable? Thanks, I think so. People who have read the book either apologise for being so hostile initially (another one last week) or disappear and refuse to engage (Pagnucci jnr. being the star example). I keep saying to anyone who'll listen, please explain how I'm wrong, but nothing.

    I'm not an idiot. And I've no particular vested interest in proving Megrahi innocent. When I started looking at the case I'd have given you better than evens that he was guilty, mainly on the basis that most conspiracy theories turn out to be a pile of dingoes kidneys. I just wanted to figure out the truth as best I could.

    I soon realised there was something wrong with the judgement, and with the prosecution case, and that something centred on Bedford's evidence. In the end various people kindly gave me access to the evidence that had been withheld from the court and not understood by the defence, and I could see it was conclusive. Or so I believe.

    If someone came to me and said, you're mistaken, here's where you've gone wrong, here's how a correct analysis really shows the bomb came from Frankfurt, I'd accept that if it was a vaild argument. What I will not accept is Frank bloody Mulholland junketing off to New York and making an ex cathedra pronouncement that he has no doubt I'm wrong - no reasons, no explanation, just blatant assertion.

    He must have read the book. It's clearly his duty to read it. Is he too stupid to follow the reasoning? That makes me feel bad because I'm a teacher and I thought I'd explained it with reasonable clarity. Is he simply trying to invoke his high office to assert that black is white? (I heard of a court in the USA in the 19th century that ruled that pi was exactly 3, to make arithmetic easier, so there is a precedent.)

    I'm getting really, really tired of this. The suitcase jigsaw is a whacking great elephant in the Lockerbie room being ignored by the legal authorities and journalists alike. Everyone salivating over that fascinating PCB fragment and throwing around all sorts of unprovable allegations, and the bloody proof is right there. It's not sexy enough for the journalists. They can't make a story out of forensic incompetence and a Tetris puzzle. But our highest legal officials should be better than this. It really is Scotland's shame - or rather their shame and Scotland's curse - that they're not.

  12. SIr,

    Look at the Long town pix. If you still have a problem with over pressure, I'd consider introducing you to nuclear physicists, astrophysicists and the odd mathematician to set you straight.


  13. The cops asked me whether the plane would have disintegrated if the IED had been in the middle of the container, and I had to say I didn't know. They'd have to get an expert opinion. I think the suitcases absorbed the blast very effectively and the main problem with what actually happened was the force of the blast being forced through these conduits that are indicated in the AAIB report, to burst the skin of the plane at locations remote from the actual explosion. But I really don't have the expertise to know whether that would still have happened if the explosion had been in the middle of the container.

    I didn't really understand the importance of the overpressure until I saw Till Nowak's animation of the AAIB report. That was what really did for the plane, not the relatively small hole caused by the explosion. If that hole hadn't existed (because the explosion was in the middle of the container), and so the proportion of the explosive force that dissipated through the hole was added to the pressure inside the plane, would that have blown the plane tight enough for the skin to burst, even if the IED had been further from these counduits? I don't know. (And I don't trust Professor Peel to know either; he was shown up in court as being unable to do sums.)

    But as I said to the police, I very much doubt if Marwan Khreesat knew either. So far as I know, his devices in the 1970s had primarily been used at lower altitudes, exploding after the initial 7-minute climb. The primary hole caused by the IED was the main damage to these planes. (Some of which survived it, of course.) The barometric delay switch was a new enhancement. (The "better, stronger medicine"?) I don't think Khreesat could have predicted what actually happened.

    So one might argue that the terrorists would be wanting to get the suitcase as close as possible to the skin of the plane, hence the hand-loading at Heathrow, not necessarily realising that position might not be crucial. On the other hand Khreesat's initial devices were sent by post, or carried as checked-in luggage by innocent dupes, so they were loaded at random by the baggage handlers, not individually placed.

    We might never know the answer to all this. But there's no doubt that the primary cause of the 3-second break-up of the plane was the overpressure. It's absolutely terrifying.

  14. If you are kicked in the left leg you fall to the left, if kicked in the right leg you fall to the right!


    Before looking at suitcase debris an explanation why the cockpit defied physics and detached to the right [cargo door side] rather than the left [alleged hole side] would be informative, particularly as the latch status of the forward cargo door was omitted from the FAI report!

  15. If you chop down a tree with an axe, from one side only, which side does it fall to? The side you've made the hole, or the other side? Obviously, a structure holds together on the undamaged side and disintegrates on the damaged side.

    That's just an observation, though, to point out Dave's logic fail. Who says the cockpit detached to the right? (It was neither a tree being chopped down nor a person standing on two legs of course.)

    The AAIB report omits an almost infinite number of irrelevant things about the debris of course. What position was the right tail fin in? Oh, they don't say. Quick, accuse someone of hiding something!