Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Forensic folly

[This is the heading over two letters published in today’s edition of The Scotsman:]

Few forensic-based cases have caused greater concern than the Lockerbie trial, with the review commission deeply concerned by the prosecution’s tactics of disinformation (your report, 23 December).

The lead prosecutor, Colin Boyd, was also involved in an earlier forensic disaster when the fingerprint evidence against Detective Constable Shirley McKie was thrown out and the she was acquitted.

One of the foremost critics of the trial is the famous criminal lawyer Michael Mansfield, who has long warned against over-reliance on forensic evidence to secure convictions.

He said: “Some of the worst miscarriages of justice in British legal history have come from cases in which the forensic science was later shown to have been grossly misleading.”

The idea of a long-timer bomb starting at Malta in a piece of
unaccompanied baggage before finding its way on to Pan Am 103 is beyond absurdity.

There is no proof it entered at Malta – in fact, Air Malta won a libel action establishing it did not – and the evidence of a 
Heathrow-loaded barometric device is overwhelming.
(Dr) John Cameron

I do not understand the 
Megrahi deniers (Letters, 23 December). If Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was not responsible for Lockerbie that means that after 26 years the Scottish Government has failed to hold a single person accountable for the murder of 270 
people in Scotland’s worst terrorist atrocity.

That surely is a definition of “miscarriage of justice”.

This is compounded by the fact that it prematurely released the person it thought was 
responsible and then sought to spin the news of his release by writing to Nelson Mandela et al to encourage them to endorse the decision.

Miscarriage of justice compounded.
Neil Sinclair


  1. From: John Cameron’s Blog – Forensic Report on the Lockerbie Bombing – Fourth paragraph down.

    The police discovered that the baggage container AVE 4041 had been loaded with interline baggage at Heathrow. The baggage had been x-rayed by Sulkash Kamboj of Alert Security; an affiliate company of Pan Am. John Bedford, a loader-driver employed by Pan Am told police that he had placed a number of cases in the container before leaving for a tea break. When he returned he found an additional two cases had been added, one of which was a distinctive brown Samsonite case. Bedford said that Kamboj had told him he had added the two cases. When questioned by the police, Kamboj denied he had added the cases or told Bedford he had done so. This matter was only resolved at the trial when under cross examination Kamboj admitted that Bedford was telling the truth.

    If the last sentence is true [Rolfe says it isn’t] then this means Kamboj loaded the two cases but told Bedford he hadn’t! But why?

    Could it be that Kamboj had loaded the cases and told Bedford he had to reassure him they were ‘legitimate’ but then said he hadn’t because he didn’t want to officially own up to loading the cases? But why?

    Could it be he was either the ‘Lockerbie Bomber’ or because he had smuggled some cases on board and was forced to admit this on oath at the trial?

    John Cameron’s Blog does not follow this by providing the answer to the next obvious question, Kamboj, what was in the cases? Or has Kamboj been told to maintain the strictest confidence and not answer further questions on the matter?

  2. Read the trial transcript, Dave. Cameron is mistaken. If you can't go as far as reading the transcript, read my book. The relevant passage is quoted in full. Kamboj didn't remember, and said so, repeatedly. It was nearly 12 years in the past by then.

    If you read Kamboj's police statements, taken a couple of weeks after the event, his memory is surprisingly good at that time. He remembered the correct incoming airlines for the suitcases Bedford placed in the container (Cyprus Air and British Airways), and he remembered handling a "large and heavy maroon case" which fits with Michael Bernstein's suit carrier which was a maroon soft-sided Samsonite recorded by BA as weighing 22 kg. He also volunteered other details about the incoming luggage and got them right. Given that, why would he have forgotten about placing luggage in the container?

    If you're suggesting he was complicit in the bombing, then maybe he would have deliberately lied about it. But why should he? Rather than draw attention to himself by failing to back up what he originally said to Bedford, it would have been far more logical (and remember he had a couple of weeks to think about it) to hold to the same line and say that he had indeed loaded the cases which had come in by the usual route. That would have thrown suspicion away from Heathrow and outwards to other satellite airports, in just the same way as Frankfurt was able to hand the blame over to Malta.

    But he never backed down on his original statement of not loading anything into the container. By 2000 he had forgotten that day, and said so repeatedly. John Cameron is mistaken.

  3. No, if Bedford’s account is accurate then complicity in smuggling would be a rational explanation for Kamboj’s clear memory when questioned by police and forgetfulness at trial.

    But if Kamboj didn’t handle the cases then this makes Bedford an unreliable witness!

  4. I don't think there's a witness alive who can be unquestioningly relied on to give a 100% accurate account of anything.

    What to do, then?

  5. Well in a court they apply beyond reasonable doubt! Either both are telling the truth! One of them is telling the truth or both are lying.

    Under oath Kamboj said he couldn’t remember! What did Bedford say?

  6. He couldn't remember either.

    You have introduced a false dichotomy, the fallacy of the excluded middle. A witness may not be lying, but still not recounting the factual truth. He may be honestly mistaken.

    Of course, a single witness may be lying, honestly mistaken, and relating the factual truth, all in one appearance in the witness box, at different times.

    What to do, then?

  7. Apply common sense explanations before jumping to conclusions to fit a theory!

    There is a mundane explanation for Bedford and Komboj’s accounts called ‘breaking the rules in the workplace to get the job done’. Breaking the rules in the workplace is standard practice and this is why industrial disputes often involve a ‘work to rule’, because this action means hardly any work gets done!

    But if things go wrong, breaking the rules becomes a sacking offence or an excuse by insurance companies to avoid pay-outs. Thus workers under direction from Employers or Trade Unions will deny breaking the rules.

    If under oath both Bedford and Komboj couldn’t remember [despite their earlier clear statements to police] then this improbability could mean neither wanted to admit to breaking the rules. I.e. both were aware the ‘suspect suitcases were legitimate’ but neither wanted to admit they hadn’t followed the correct rules regarding the loading of the cases, particularly in such a high profile case!

    PS. Rolfe says both said they “couldn’t remember”, but this is not clear from the transcript of their comments on the Lockerbie Divide website!

  8. If you want to know what I think, read my book. I'm not typing all that again.

  9. If Bedford [not to mention Kamjob] saw the two new suitcases in the container then the far-fetched ‘Heathrow theory’ becomes even more implausible, if that’s possible!

    So let’s get this right, one person or more smuggles into an almost empty ‘Heathrow container’ [bound to be noticed] a suitcase containing a small IED hidden in a radio cassette and clothing from a Maltese tourist shop that would allegedly have devastating consequences if it explodes at the right time, but only if put in a specific position and not moved when the baggage container was loaded.

    As opposed to a large bomb being planted and hidden in a specific deadly place on board the plane – as opposed to being left in a crowed foyer!

    And the ‘plot’ relies on the loader of the container being reassured about the appearance of not one, but two prominent suitcases by a work colleague who inexplicably says they put the cases in the container!

  10. Yup. You've got it now, Dave. Well done. That is exactly what the physical evidence shows happened.

  11. Except you would need the credulity of a Zeist Judge to believe such a ‘plot’!

  12. Except of course the Zeist judges didn't believe it.

    There's a saying, "If it happens, it must be possible." There's no use looking at clear evidence that something happened and protesting, but I think it was really unlikely that would have happened, so it didn't.

    The physical evidence shows that the plane disintegrated as a result of a fairly small Semtex bomb disguised as a radio-cassette recorder, packed in a brown-ish hardshell Samsonite suitcase. The suitcase was positioned in the bottom layer of the front left-hand stack of cases in container AVE4041. That is beyond any reasonable doubt.

    The proximate cause of the very rapid break-up of the plane was rupture of the skin in a number of places remote from the relatively small hole caused by the explosion, due to propagation of the overpressure caused by the expansion of the explosive gases through internal spaces and ducting in the construction of the aircraft.

    Bedford told the investigators that he saw a case in that position, an hour before the feeder flight landed. He said that on 3rd January. On 9th January he said the case was a brown Samsonite hardshell. This was all before the investigators themselves were sure what the bomb case had looked like. There is no evidence at all that the case Bedford saw was moved, and a lot of evidence that says it wasn't.

    All the legitimate cases loaded into that container in the interline shed were found at Lockerbie, and none of them was a brown Samsonite hardshell and none of them was the bomb suitcase. There were six of these. The evidence of the baggage handlers demonstrates that there were in fact seven cases in the container when it was towed out of the shed. The extra one, the one that can't be reconciled to a legitimate case, is the one Bedford saw in the position of the bomb suitcase.

    And for the final cherry on the cake, none of the cases recovered on the ground could possibly have been the one Bedford saw - except the one that had the bomb in it.

    That's what happened, and whatever Bedford or Kamboj said about what they did or didn't say to each other is secondary. It's interesting when trying to figure out who put the case there and how they did it, but it's not relevant to the actual fact that Bedford saw the bomb suitcase in position in the container, an hour before the feeder flight landed.

    Also of interest to the commentator is the series of back-flips performed by the investigators and the Crown prosecution to try to conceal this evidence. The concerted effort to place the bomb in the second layer, not the bottom layer, and so provide a reason for everyone to ignore the case Bedford described, is remarkable. This worked for ten years, apparently because it was in nobody's interests for that case to be identified as the bomb, and nobody ever analysed the evidence disinterestedly.

  13. Then, finally, they realised that the 10-year-old flannel wouldn't work. In court, the defence would surely want to know whose case it was that Bedford saw, and which one it was of the damaged cases recovered on the ground. The strong possibility that the case was actually the bomb couldn't be excluded, and they were looking at an acquittal on the grounds of reasonable doubt.

    So they flipped the scenario. Instead of their case relying on the fact that the Bedford case hadn't been moved (and since the bomb wasn't on the bottom then it wasn't the bomb, only of course the evidence they relied on to say the bomb wasn't on the bottom was pretty flaky), they decided it had been moved after all. They covered up the evidence that it hadn't been moved. They never explained why they'd spent so much time and money trying to prove the bomb had been in the second layer, if the Heathrow and Frankfurt cases had been shuffled anyway. They said, that case Bedford saw could have been put anywhere, so we don't have to decide which one it was of the recovered items. And they also concealed from the court the evidence that would have shown that none of the legitimate Heathrow cases was the case Bedford saw.

    That's all kind of interesting too.

    It wasn't till a lot later, 2012 to be exact, that an independent analysis of the damaged luggage, baggage container and airframe proved that the bomb suitcase was DEFINITELY the one on the bottom layer. The physical evidence itself proves that there was no case under it. The evidence that the case Bedford saw almost certainly wasn't moved was recovered. That kills the Crown case stone dead. The Crown is currently doing a remarkable impression of Wile E. Coyote after having run off the cliff and before he looks down. Even Frank Mulholland will have to look down in the end, if he isn't reshuffled first.

    And it's what happened. It's what the physical evidence and the passenger and baggage records and the statements of the people who were there show. And saying "but that's not very likely, something else is more likely" doesn't change that.

    It happened. It was therefore possible.