Friday, 8 January 2016

Getting to the truth about the Lockerbie disaster

[What follows is the text of a letter from Dr Jim Swire that was published in The Herald on this date in 1998:]

Mr [Philip] Mulvey's letter, Getting to the truth about the Lockerbie disaster (December 30 [1997]), raises important issues. We look hard and often at Langley (the CIA). They are heavily involved in linking the hard-won evidence from the crash site to ''items only available to Libya''.
Vincent Cannistraro, the head of Reagan's CIA unit charged with convincing the American public of Libya's total involvement in any terrorist outrage, was also put in charge of the CIA's input to the Lockerbie investigation.
The question of the baggage belonging to McKee and Gannon may well be crucial to understanding the motives for a major cover-up by US authorities. The removal of their possessions and the activities of ''American agents'' with their white helicopter(s) were a factor which helped draw Tam Dalyell, MP, into this tragedy in the first place.
Mr Mulvey may also be aware of the strange case of Police Surgeon David Fieldhouse. He found, and certified death in, a number of bodies before the site was fully organised and before the helicopters had left.
Later it transpired that among the bodies he found were those of McKee and Gannon. His meticulous records show one more body in that immediate area which was never recorded in the police data. Were there in fact 271 killed, not 270, and if so who was the missing person? The discrepancy has never been explained.
It would seem likely that the answer to this mystery could indeed only come from Langley, that both Dr Fieldhouse and the police got their counts correct, and that those in the ''unmarked helicopters'' removed one body, as well perhaps as other ''evidential material''.
One would have thought that the Crown Office would have done everything possible to provide an answer to this part of the riddle, which occurred on their patch. It might well be crucial to understanding the American actions.
[Philip Mulvey’s letter contains the following:]
With respect to Mr Dalyell, Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter died in the crash and who speaks for the victims' relatives, and your front-page report, may I suggest that people trying to get to the truth are facing the wrong way? (...)
They should ask why, in the aftermath of the crash, when a ban on all but military helicopters was imposed, was an - unmarked - white civilian helicopter able to hop from field to field looking for a specific piece of luggage? And why, when Pan Am was trying to be as unhelpful as possible to the press, were there so many of its ''staff'' in Lockerbie, wearing company baseball hats, who seemed to know little about the company - and less about planes?
Please be assured I am not a conspiracy theorist, nor an Internet anorak - just a reporter who seems to be putting the two and two together that others are starting to do as well.
[What follows comes from the obituary of Philip Mulvey published in The Herald on 5 September 2002:]
Scottish journalism has lost a unique talent with the tragically early death of Phil Mulvey at 45. (...)
In 1978 he moved to the Aberdeen Evening Express, then regarded by Fleet Street as one of the best training grounds in the UK for talent. By1984 he was off again, this time to achieve his schoolboy ambition of working on the Daily Record.
He shone there, but was particularly remembered for his superb coverage of the Lockerbie disaster inquiry. His skill at taking such a complex issue and turning it into a ''good read'' without deviating from the facts was hugely admired by all, including the advocates and families of the victims.


  1. Jim Swire's letter was written in 1998,two years before the Lockerbie trial.

    During the trial it was discovered that McKee's suitcase had been removed from the crash site, carefully cut open with a rectangular hole 10cm by 4, the contents removed, and new, specious contents placed into it. The case was then re-inserted into the evidence chain to be "discovered" by Dr Thomas Hayes, on which he made a brief note, but no comment on the fact that a criminal interference with evidence from a murder scene had taken place.

    When challenged by the defence team, in Hayes' words, the interference was not significant, and he could offer no explanation as to what had occurred.

    A clue as to what was in the case is contained in the minutes of the 1987-88 Tower Commission which examined various members of the Reagan and Bush Sr administrations following the Iran-contra debacle.

    They referred briefly to a four hundred page document recording the admissions under torture of Former Tehran Station chief William Buckley, captured during the 1979 Iranian revolution. They noted that whenever the document was mentioned, former Iran-Contra controller Colonel Oliver North would become "quite emotional".

    Reliable sources have become convinced that that document, with a blue hard cover, had been obtained by McKee's team through his contacts in Beirut. Copies are said to be safely locked away in Washington and Tel Aviv as well, of course, in Tehran. It is said to contain a detailed record of CIA activities and mis-deeds spanning two decades of US presidencies.

    Can we ever be sure of the truth? The Lockerbie story holds a universe of smoke, mirrors, and carefully framed deniability. What is certain is that the US authorities will never - repeat never - allow any form of meaningful inquiry into what really happened at Lockerbie.

    1. McKee's case was indeed acquired by US agents and its contents removed, and some items of clothing were possibly returned to the investigators with it, but there are two different stories about how this happened.

      A longstanding narrative originally published by David Johnstone of Radio Forth describes the case being removed from the field by US agents and returned minus its contents, to be found by the regular search teams. This was later linked to the description of a "hole cut" in the case in the forensic notes.

      However, sight of the actual case reveals that the hole in question isn't 10 cm x 4 cm, and isn't really big enough to get a finger in. It's just beside the handle and the SCCRC determined that it was probably what was left when a retro-fitted combination lock was dislodged by the blast which blew out one lower corner of the suitcase.

      The SCCRC also uncovered a different story of the removal of the case. They interviewed the policeman who found it on the grass and he said the contents were still inside at that time. He knew this because the corner had been blown out of the case and papers and documents were sticking out of the hole. (There were no papers or documents in the material sent to the forensics lab.) Interviews of the custodians of the property store revealed that after the item was lodged in the store the SIO John Orr had ordered it to be removed and handed over to the Americans, and no record to be made of this in the property store log. John Orr had a convenient attack of amnesia when asked about this, but the policemen concerned remembered it perfectly well.

      The SCCRC also pointed out quite sensibly that nobody would have needed to cut a hole in the case to gain access to its contents, because - one bottom corner had been blown out and the contents were easily accessible that way.

      What actually happened? I have no idea but the SCCRC's story sounds highly plausible.

      All these years people have been obsessing about that bloody slot where the combination lock was dislodged, and completely ignoring the whacking great hole in the lower corner. The hole whose position proves without doubt that the bomb suitcase wasn't on the second layer of luggage as Feraday maintained, but was the one on the bottom. The one Bedford described being there an hour before the feeder flight landed.

    2. I still find the SCCRC's conclusion on this somewhat puzzling. If you can explain it, I would be deeply grateful.

      Here is a relevant extract from the trial transcript. Hayes is firm in the opinion that the hole by the handle was not caused by blast or explosive damage.

      ""KEEN. Dr. Hayes. If you look to the top of the case, in the vicinity of the locking mechanism, is it not apparent that a hole has been sawn into the case?
      HAYES. I can agree with your observation. Yes, there is a hole apparently cut.
      KEEN. I wonder if the macer might actually show Your Lordships what the witness is referring to. It may be apparent to Your Lordships that there is a rectangular hole sawn into the top of the suitcase in the vicinity of the locking mechanism.
      LORD SUTHERLAND: I'm not sure, from the view we had of it, you could necessarily say that it was sawn into it, but we will accept certainly there is a cut, a defined rectangular hole.
      KEEN: Cut into it perhaps might be appropriate. I think the term you employed in your note, Dr. Hayes, was hole cut, was it not?
      HAYES. That's correct, sir.
      KEEN. A rectangular hole has been cut in the top of the case, and that cannot be attributed in any form to blast damage or impact damage in the disaster, can it?
      HAYES. No, it cannot.

    3. Hayes is a supercilious, arrogant creep. You can see from the photos of the case and the drawing he did that the hole is quite small. There's no sign he even thought about what had caused it. Obviously it's too regular to be blast damage. Once you see the SCCRC report it becomes perfectly clear that both McKee's cases had had combination locks fitted retrospectively. The Tourister still has its lock in position, and its fitting conforms exactly to the hole in the Samsonite. It looks as if the overpressure inside the Samsonite caused by the blast entering the bottom corner of the case caused the retrofitted lock to blow out.

      The pattern of the blast damage to the bottom corner of the case is far more interesting. And nobody even noticed for nearly 25 years, so enchanted were they with the irrelevant "hole cut" note.