Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The survival of the circuit board fragment

[What follows is taken from an item posted on this blog on this date in 2010:]

'Flaws' in key Lockerbie evidence
An investigation by BBC's Newsnight has cast doubts on the key piece of evidence which convicted the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

Tests aimed at reproducing the blast appear to undermine the case's central forensic link, based on a tiny fragment identified as part of a bomb timer.

The tests suggest the fragment, which linked the attack to Megrahi, would not have survived the mid-air explosion. (...)

Newsnight has been reviewing that evidence, and has exposed serious doubts about the forensics used to identify the fragment as being part of a trigger circuit board.

The fragment was found three weeks after the attack. For months it remained unnoticed and unremarked, but eventually it was to shape the entire investigation.

The fragment was embedded in a charred piece of clothing, which was marked with a label saying it was made in Malta. (...)

Newsnight has discovered that the fragment - crucial to the conviction - was never subjected to chemical analysis or swabbing to establish whether it had in fact been involved in any explosion.

And the UN's European consultant on explosives, John Wyatt, has told Newsnight that there are further doubts over the whether the fragment could have come from the trigger of the Lockerbie bomb.

He has recreated the suitcase bomb which it is said destroyed Pan Am 103, using the type of radio in which the explosive and the timer circuit board were supposedly placed, and the same kind of clothes on which the fragment was found.

In each test the timer and its circuit board were obliterated, prompting Mr Wyatt to question whether such a fragment could have survived the mid-air explosion.

He told Newsnight: "I do find it quite extraordinary and I think highly improbable and most unlikely that you would find a fragment like that - it is unbelievable.

"We carried out 20 tests, we didn't carry out 100 or 1,000, but in those 20 tests we found absolutely nothing at all - so I found it highly improbable that you would find anything like that, particularly at 10,000 feet when bits are dropping into long wet grass over hundreds of miles."

[RB: John Wyatt’s findings were later comprehensively discredited: see especially John Ashton's Megrahi: You are my Jury, and the comments that follow the blog item Lockerbie: 25 years on. Was the bomb really planted in Malta?]


  1. I don't know how John Wyatt's evidence can be "comprehensively discredited", unless it was countered by evidence that the fragment had a high probability of surviving the explosion.

    The point deliberately missed to excuse the defence is even if the fragment could have survived the explosion, reasonable doubt would have required the defence to take a closer look, which they failed to do, hence negating claims to be a defence team.

    Its not good enough to say because it could theoretically have survived, we'll just meekly accept it as true.

  2. I understand that John Wyatt, with the best of intentions, miscalculated the effects of the several explosions with which he experimented. In fact, several fragments survived his tests. It would have been indeed conclusive if he had been correct in his hypothesis. Sadly it wasn't.

    The good thing about all this is that when Feraday's notebook became available for scrutiny, his own hand-written entries proved that he gave false evidence to the trial judges. Whether this was negligence (he had a record of such in other cases) or deliberate perjury, we may only guess. A second appeal by Al-Megrahi would have subjected Feraday to severe cross-examination. That seems not now possible.