Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Inherent implausibility of official Lockerbie scenario

[The Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist was covered for Maltese news media by journalist Joe Mifsud. What follows is an article that he wrote in September 2000 for The Lockerbie Trial website:]

A terrorist, like any other criminal, will do what he can to cover his tracks.  The Maltese origin of clothing in the bomb suitcase does not establish that either the suitcase or the bomb was once in Malta.

The clothing in the bomb suitcase, which was identifiable as having been manufactured in Malta, bore labels to this effect, enabled Royal Armament Research and Development (RARDE) to determine the country of origin as Malta.  So these labels had not been removed by the terrorists.

The Lockerbie investigators established that six items of the clothing and an umbrella, which originated in Malta were new and had been purchased new from the same shop in Malta on the same occasion.

These items of clothing had been purchased from Mary’s House in Sliema, weeks not days before 21 December 1988.  The prosecution is claiming that the clothes were bought on 7 December, while the defense is suggesting 23 November 1988 as the date.

In my opinion the facts and matters set out above are consistent with an attempt by the terrorists to distract the attention of the investigating authorities away from Frankfurt or Heathrow to Malta in the event of the bomb being detected or as in fact happened of the bomb exploding above land and debris from the bomb and the bomb suitcase being recovered.

It is inherently unlikely that terrorists would have tried to place the bomb suitcase on board Air Malta KM 180 on 21 December 1988 for the following four reasons.

1.  Terrorists do not expose themselves and their plans to any unnecessary risk of detention or of error;

2.  Accordingly the terrorists responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103 would not have routed the bomb suitcase through Frankfurt and chosen to run the risk of it passing undetected through the security systems of three different airports on two different airlines when Air Malta during that period flew only three flights each week to Frankfurt but ten flights each week to Heathrow.

3.  Further if the bomb consisted of a timer device, terrorists would not have run the unpredictable risk of the passage of the bomb suitcase being delayed in one or more of the following ways:
a)  on the ground at Luqa as a result of mechanical failure, poor weather, security alert, air traffic control or any other reason;
b)  by being diverted away from Frankfurt for any of the reasons at above;
c)  above Frankfurt as a result of air traffic control delays for incoming flights (as in fact happened);
d)  by missing the interline connection at Frankfurt as a result of the bomb suitcase being lost, mishandled or detected in the course of x-ray or baggage reconciliation procedures;
e)  on the ground at Frankfurt for any of the reasons at (a) above;
f)  by being diverted away from Heathrow for any of the reasons at (a) above;
g)  above Heathrow as a result of air traffic control delays for incoming flights;
h)  by missing the interline connection at Heathrow for any of the reasons at (d) above;
i)   on the ground at Heathrow as a result of the connecting transatlantic aircraft being delayed, mechanical failure, poor weather, security alert or any other reason.

4.  Further if the bomb consisted of a barometric pressure device triggered by altitude which itself triggered a timer, terrorists could not have avoided (alternatively would not have risked) the bomb being prematurely triggered on board KM 180 or on board PA 103A from Frankfurt to Heathrow, and then detonating on board either of these flights or on the ground at Frankfurt or at Heathrow.

No terrorist could have predicted in advance the exact altitude at which either flight would have flown or, if such a prediction had been made, no terrorist could have guaranteed that the aircraft would have remained at that altitude and would not have been ordered away from it by air traffic control.  The bomb on board Pan Am 103 exploded approximately 35 minutes after take-off from Heathrow.

It is not clear for me why the Lockerbie investigators choose to blame Malta and Air Malta in this case, when it is so clear that we are the scapegoats for others that lacked security at their airports.

[After a distinguished career at the Maltese Bar, Dr Mifsud was earlier this year appointed as a magistrate (a full-time judicial appointment roughly equivalent to a judge of the Outer House of the Court of Session in Scotland or a puisne judge of the High Court in England).]


  1. This is an entirely logical and convincing analysis based on the facts as known at the time it was written. Later the Heathrow break-in came to light and I wonder what Joe Mifsud would make of that. Could it also have been an attempt to deflect attention away from the perpetrators, by making it look as if planting the bomb had been an outside job? If you wanted to make sure that things went properly surely you would insert one or more likely a couple of agents to work as baggage handlers inside, probably in an airline with a neighbouring baggage bay, a few months before the bombing to observe and perfect the planning?

  2. An entirety sensible analysis, which has been repeated by many others in the 15 years since. Unfortunately the judges were only interested in explanations that supported the prosecution case, however farfetched these might be. Sensible, rational explanation that suggested the accused might be innocent were brushed aside.

    I don't think terrorists would stage a break-in as a red herring. If the authorities had responded properly, security would have been stepped up, which could have made things difficult for them. Also, not much point in arranging decoy clothes from Malta if you're then going to go out of your way to draw attention to Heathrow.

  3. Of course it could have been pure coincidence.

    Heathrow was always in the frame and I don't think a terrorist would have guessed that anyone would devise a theory that the bomb had already flown twice before being loaded, especially with a barometric timer.