Monday, 11 May 2015

Mrs Horton's mysterious manual

[What follows is an excerpt from a report on proceedings at the Lockerbie trial published on this date in 2000 on the BBC News website:]

Gwendoline Horton, a witness, described how she helped gather debris in the fields near her home in Northumberland.

Among her finds was what looked to be "a document relating to a radio cassette player", she told the court.

Ex-police constable Brian Walton, to whom Ms Horton handed in the item, identified it as "pieces of an instruction handbook".

Asked what had struck him about the object, Mr Walton said: "It had tiny bits of singe on some of the edges of the pieces."

[RB: Mrs Horton’s find was both significant and mysterious. Read all about it on Caustic Logic’s blog The Lockerbie Divide here and here.]

1 comment:

  1. The question of the appearance of the manual pages has been clarified since Adam wrote that article.

    Mrs. Horton was dismayed because the item she was shown in court (or the photo, I'm not quite sure if she was shown the actual pages) differed significantly from her recollection of what she picked up. The explanation advanved for this was that the pages had been sent for fingerprint testing and the type of testing used had significantly degraded the integrity of the item. The mystery there was that no attempt was made to show her a photo of the pages before they were sent for fingerprint testing, to allow an assessment of whether this explanation was actually valid.

    I now know that the photos of the pages we are familiar with show them before they were sent for testing. This accords with the nature of the damage to the pages, which doesn't look anything like what might be caused by scientific testing; rather it looks exactly like what might be caused by the pages being partly burned for example by being close to an explosion. (I don't know whether the testing damaged the pages even more, as I've never seen a photo of them after testing.)

    It's always possible Mrs. Horton's memory of what she picked up was faulty, after so many years. After all, the couple picked up quite a lot of paper that morning - two carrier bags full. There's no particular reason she should have remembered one piece accurately. However, the scraps are torn almost right across, apparently by the fire damage. I can't imagine it would have been easy to pick that up from wet grass without it coming completely apart. It seems extraordinarily unlikely Mrs. Horton would have remembered that as an almost-intact page with only slight singeing round the edges.

    I entirely discount the Northumbrian policeman's evidence, as he knew what he was supposed to be identifying and dutifully did it. I really can't imagine that he really remembered that particular scrap of paper among everything in the Hortons' two carrier bags plus everything else being handed in by other members of the public that day.

    Of course it can't be proved that the manual pages as exhibited were not among the stuff picked up in and around Morpeth that morning. However, it doesn't appear that the exhibit is what Mrs. Horton remembered.