Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Heathrow baggage-handling evidence

[What follows is excerpted from the report of proceedings at the Lockerbie trial on 25 August 2000 published by the University of Glasgow’s Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit:]

Mr [Sulkash] Kamboj, a security agent with Alert Management in 1988, based at Terminal 3 in Heathrow, gave evidence. In December 1988 he worked in the interline shed and was responsible for scanning the baggage from connecting flights other than Pan Am flights. In the interline shed was situated a scanning machine. After baggage had passed through the scanning machine a security tag was placed on the bag. The scanning machine was an x-ray which was black and white. Both airline and security workers were in the interline shed. The airline staff gave the baggage to the security staff for scanning. If the suitcase was destined for a Pan Am flight sometimes either Alert Security or Pan Am staff would take the bag off the belt. Following scanning the airline worker would put the bag into a container. There would normally be 2 staff members from Alert in the interline shed. 1 worker would watch the screen and the other placed a sticker on the bag. The witness said that Alert staff would sometimes place bags into containers if it was a quiet time or the airline worker was in the rest room or away, but this was not the normal routine. Mr Palmer was working in the interline shed with Mr Kamboj that day.

The witness did not remember Mr Bedford working in the interline shed that day. He remembered that a Pan Am flight was due to leave for New York that afternoon.  By late afternoon it was quiet in the interline shed. Mr Palmer and the witness finished at the same time. The witness was asked to accept that Mr Bedford was working that day and he then confirmed that it was Mr Bedford's job to load the Pan Am luggage that afternoon. The witness said it was possible that he had helped Mr Bedford by loading 2 bags but that he didn't remember. He accepted that if Mr Bedford said this he would accept it, but that the bags would have gone through the appropriate security procedures. Mr Kamboj confirmed that the luggage in the interline shed was from different airlines which were connecting to various flights.

The Advocate Depute [Alan Turnbull QC] asked if the scanning machine allowed the witness to see electrical items e.g., tape recorders or radios. The witness said it was hard to distinguish radios and tape recorders but that you could tell that there was an electrical item. It was not easy to identify a suspicious item using the machine. If an item looked normal no action would be taken. If abnormal it would be sent to the gate to be investigated. He also said it would be normal to see an electrical item every day.

In cross-examination Mr [Jack] Davidson [QC, for Fhimah] asked the witness if he recalled having a break that afternoon and on his return to the shed Mr Palmer left for the day. He said he did not. He confirmed it would be usual for a container to be loaded in the interline shed with bags bound for New York and then that container would meet the Frankfurt flight. Mr Davidson then asked if it was normal for the container to be taken first to baggage build up for some time before going to meet the Frankfurt flight. Mr Kamboj said he was not sure. He confirmed that the interline area was open and was not sure if it was locked at night. He could not recall if he was the last person to leave the interline shed that night. He confirmed that the bags reached the machine on a belt which started outside the shed and that he had not seen security there. He denied that he had been aware of the 'Toshiba Warning' before December 1988 or that he had been asked to look out for a fake Toshiba radio. He was asked again whether he ever loaded luggage onto a container. He said he remembered being interviewed by the police but did not recall what he said. A police interview on 6 January 1989 was referred to wherein the witness said that Mr Bedford had brought a metal tin into the interline shed to transport luggage for flight PA 103. He told the Police that he did not place any luggage in that tin. In a statement made to Police on 28 December 1988 the witness did not refer to putting any bag in the container on 21 December 1988 and stated that this would not be done as it was not part of his job. The Fatal Accident Inquiry transcript revealed that when giving evidence at that time, the witness said he would not have put bags into the tin container. Mr Davidson referred to the statement by the witness during the examination in chief by the Advocate Depute where he indicated that if Mr Bedford's account of 21 December included that he, Mr Kamboj placed 2 bags into container 4041 that he would accept this. This clearly contradicts statements given around the time of the disaster to the Police and the court at the Fatal Accident Inquiry.

Mr Kamboj did not recall what shift Mr Bedford worked that day or seeing the container leaving the shed. He did not recall being asked by Police officers how many bags came through Interline that day or how many were in Mr Bedford's container that day. Previous statements were referred to where the witness said he thought that there were 5 cases in Mr Bedford's container when he drove it away but that this was just a guess.

Mr Bill Taylor [QC, for Megrahi] , [in] cross-examination, referred to the lack of security at the interline shed which would have allowed anyone to drop a bag onto the belt which carried luggage into the shed to be x rayed. The witness accepted that this was the case. The witness stated that the information he gave to the police and the Fatal Accident Inquiry was truthful and accurate.

The judges asked Mr Kamboj if only Pan Am bags would come into the interline shed. The witness said that bags for all airlines would be carried on the same conveyor belt. Pan Am flights are identified by the Pan Am tag and these are picked off by the airline employees and sometimes security employees when they are beside the x-ray machine. Mr Kamboj said he did not remember seeing Mr Bedford leaving the shed with the container.

Mr [John] Bedford then gave evidence that bags were loaded by a company White onto the conveyor belt that carried them into the shed. A Pan Am employee would then take those bags bound for a Pan Am flight and give them to Alert Security staff to be x rayed. Some of the other airlines did x ray but this was not done by the Alert workers. The shed was reasonably quiet in the afternoon. The people who worked for Alert sometimes helped to identify which bags were bound for a Pan Am flight. Once x rayed the bags were put into containers and occasionally Alert staff helped to do this.  Flight 103 was the last Pan Am flight to be dealt with that day. By 2pm he was the only Pan Am employee in the shed. Messrs Kamboch and Palmer, Alert employees, were also there. The baggage for flight 103 was put into container 4041 but the witness cannot remember how many bags were put into the container and said it was a few rather than many. He told the court he loaded these bags into the back of the container, spine down with handle up.

After putting bags into the container that afternoon the witness said he went to Mr Walker's office, his supervisor who gave evidence yesterday, and had a cup of tea.  He left the container in the interline area for approximately half an hour while he was away. When he returned to the interline area the container had 2 more bags at the front of the container laying down. Mr Kamboj said that he had put these 2 bags in the container. The container was taken from the interline shed to the build up area to his supervisor Mr Walker. The witness said he expected that the container would be taken to the 103 inbound flight from Frankfurt, loaded up and then to the 103 outbound flight to New York. He said that on container AVE 4041 he filled out a record sheet on the side of the container with the flight number, the container number and the type of bags. The witness could not recall what he had entered for the type of bags. He said that the container was not full when it left the interline shed and he estimated there were 8 or 10 bags. He told the court that he had not placed any bags on top of the two bags at the front.

The judges asked Mr Bedford if a photograph, which is a production, showed his usual method of loading a container. He said that it did and from his recollection this is how the container was loaded on 21 December 1988. This photograph was taken on 9 January 1989 and shows Mr Bedford beside a container similar to 4041 containing luggage stacked the way he described 4041 having been stacked.

Mr Davidson referred to this photograph in his cross-examination of Mr Bedford. He put to the witness that the method of loading would vary and that the witness has no recollection of the precise number of bags put into container 4041. The witness accepted this and that no record of this was kept by either himself or the interline shed and recollection of such details would be difficult. Mr Davidson referred to 2 bags in the photograph being in the 'angle' area of the container (where it is believed the case containing the bomb was located). Mr Davidson asked how the witness could be so sure that he did not put any bags on top those at the front of the container. Mr Bedford said when he returned from tea with Mr Walker he took the container to baggage build up. Mr Bedford was unable to explain why Mr Kamboj had denied putting the cases into the container to Police Officers and the Fatal Accident Inquiry.

Mr Davidson referred to a police statement given on 9 January 1989 where Mr Bedford said that the bags at the front of the container were 2 Samsonite type suitcases one of which was brown and the other was of a similar colour.  Mr Bedford said he did not recall saying it but accepted that he did.


  1. That report is itself quite spun in terms of what was presented at the trial. It very much underplays the fact that Kamboj really didn't think he put any cases in the container, and had consistently said he didn't do that in all his early statements. It makes that suspicious suitcase seem quite ordinary.

    They don't even seem to know the name of Kamboj's colleague, which was Harjot Parmar, Not "Mr. Palmer".

  2. Sometimes I wonder what goes on inside the mind of these people.

    Somewhere they seem to think that with more words you can somehow get closer to the truth, regardless of how thin the evidence is.
    In fact it is nothing more than a way of preparing yourself for a self deception. "We have really analyzed this thoroughly, the conclusion is well founded."