[This is the headline over a report published on this date in 2009 in the Maltese newspaper The Independent. It reads as follows:]
In a bid to clear his name before his death, terminally-ill convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi yesterday began publishing documents that were to have featured in the appeal case he dropped days before he was granted a release from Scottish prison on compassionate grounds.
The papers, he insists, provided enough grounds to have secured his release on appeal, if the appeal had not been dropped.
The first 300-odd pages of documents were published online yesterday on www.megrahimystory.net, and Malta and the testimony of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, not unexpectedly, play a central role in al-Megrahi’s arguments in support of his alleged innocence.
The documents challenge three “crucial inferences” reached by the court: that al-Megrahi was the purchaser of the clothing that was found wrapped around the bomb that exploded Pan Am flight 103; that the date of purchase was 7 December 1988; and that the suitcase containing the IED was ingested into the airline baggage system in Malta.
The documents charge that the overall case against al-Megrahi was “inherently weak”, that it had relied upon “circumstantial evidence… made up of various strands which did not fit together sufficiently coherently and were not substantial enough to carry the weight of a guilty verdict” and that there were “yawning gaps in the picture painted by the trial court”.
While more papers are to be released by al-Megrahi on Monday and over the coming weeks, yesterday’s batch, which were to have been presented at appeal, claims his identification by Gauci, fundamental to al-Megrahi’s conviction, was erroneous, that there was insufficient evidence to prove the date of the purchase of clothing from Mary’s House, Sliema and they also question the claim that the bomb had been first planted on an Air Malta flight out of Malta.
In a statement yesterday, al-Megrahi said, “I have returned to Tripoli with my unjust conviction still in place. As a result of the abandonment of my appeal, I have been deprived of the opportunity to clear my name through the formal appeal process. I have vowed to continue my attempts to clear my name.”
Documents published by al-Megrahi claim Gauci had at first failed to identify him as the purchaser of the clothing items, but did so only after he was urged to look again.
The documents also claim that Gauci had picked him out of an identification parade on the basis that he merely resembled the shopper, although somewhat younger, while also underscoring that Gauci had even been shown a photo of al-Megrahi before he identified him in the dock.
Moreover, in addition to complaining of pre-trial press publicity and irregularities during the identification process, the al-Megrahi documents observe that 27 months has passed between the purchase and the identification, which was in itself 12 years before the actual trial and the second identification.
The dossier describes the court’s finding that the purchase of the clothes took place on 7 December 1988 was “hopelessly confused” and attempt to cast doubt on the date of purchase as established by the court.
The documents observe how, “Various and unrelated pieces of evidence and circumstances were looked at in order to conclude that the date of purchase was Wednesday 7th December 1988 – this included evidence about football matches, Christmas lights and the weather.
“The Trial Court relied on dates of football matches watched by Tony Gauci’s brother, Paul, at the time - but it was not properly established that he was in fact watching football at the time. Paul Gauci did not give evidence. The evidence about whether the Christmas lights were up or on at the time [on Tower Road, Sliema in the vicinity of Mary’s House], was hopelessly confused and no reasonable jury could draw conclusions from this evidence.
The papers also cite “significant problems” with the inference that the suitcase containing the bomb was loaded in Malta, pointing out that there were opportunities to do so during transit at both the Frankfurt and Heathrow airports.
They furthermore allege that records and witnesses contradicted computer records that suggest an unaccompanied bag was on the flight between Luqa and Frankfurt. “Finally, there was an inconsistency in the evidence about whether there was an unaccompanied bag on the flight from Luqa to Frankfurt,” the documents allege. “While there were computer records from Frankfurt which could be interpreted as suggesting that an unaccompanied bag was loaded at Luqa, there was unchallenged evidence from records and witnesses from Luqa which suggested that this did not happen. Both cannot be correct.”