Saturday, 13 February 2016

The Heathrow break-in evidence

[What follows is the text of a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2002:]

A former Heathrow Airport security guard has said he found a baggage store padlock "cut like butter" the night before the Lockerbie bombing.

Ray Manly was giving evidence at the appeal by Abdelbasset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi against his conviction for murdering 270 people in the 1988 bombing.

Al-Megrahi's defence team argue that the bomb could have been placed on Pan Am Flight 103 at Heathrow.

At his trial, one of the key areas of the prosecution case was that the bomb was loaded onto a feeder flight from Luqa Airport in Malta, where al-Megrahi worked.

Evidence about the reported break-in was not introduced at the trial and is only now being heard for the first time.

Mr Manly was on a night shift in Terminal 3 on the night of 20/21 December 1988.

He told the Scottish Court in the Netherlands that the doors separating landside from airside were unmanned at night after they had been locked.

During his rounds, he spotted that a padlock securing the doors had been broken.

'Deliberate act'
"The padlock was on the floor. In my opinion it was as if it had been cut like butter - very professional," he said.

The court was shown Mr Manly's security report, written soon after the incident in which he described the break-in as "a very deliberate act, leaving easy access to airside".

Mr Manly informed his colleague Philip Radley and police were called.

But Mr Manly said he did not see any police officers that night and was only interviewed by anti-terrorist squad officers about the incident the following January, after the Lockerbie disaster.

Giving evidence, Mr Radley told the five appeal court judges that Terminal 3's landside area, where passengers arrived to check in, was separated from airside by two thick rubber doors at the end of a corridor. Access to the airside area was restricted to staff.

The doors were secured by a 4ft long iron bar and a heavy duty padlock and security guards were on duty on each side of the doors.

Mr Radley said he was on the nightshift on 20 December when his supervisor called to tell him that the padlock on the doors had been broken.

A guard was placed on the doors - designated T3 2a and T3 2b - until the morning, when a replacement padlock was found.

Log book entry
The court was shown Mr Radley's log book for the night including an entry recorded at 35 minutes past midnight on December 21: "Door at T3 2a lock broken off."

Questioned by Alan Turnbull QC, for the prosecution, Mr Radley explained that baggage handlers working airside would pass through the doors when starting their shift and leave the same way - unless they were delayed and the doors at T3 2a and 2b had been locked for the night.

In that case, he said, baggage handlers would have to take a longer route out of the terminal and there had been complaints about having to do so. On the night of 20 December, baggage handlers had to stay late because of a delayed flight, he confirmed.

Mr Turnbull suggested that a member of staff taking a short cut, could have forced the door, breaking the padlock.

Handlers' detour
Questioned by the defence Mr Radley said the detour for baggage handlers if the doors were locked was only "a couple of minutes".

He could not recall any previous incident in which staff had forced open locked doors.

The prosecution has also been allowed to present 11 new witnesses, to counter the new evidence.

Although the court's decision to allow the new evidence to be heard can be seen as a boost to the defence case, under Scottish law the appeal judges have to weigh whether the new testimony, had it been heard at the original trial, would have changed the outcome of that case.

Since his conviction, al-Megrahi has remained at the Camp Zeist compound which is surrounded by a six-metre tall concrete wall.

1 comment:

  1. Questioned by the defence Mr Radley said the detour for baggage handlers if the doors were locked was only "a couple of minutes".

    He could not recall any previous incident in which staff had forced open locked doors.

    That's interesting. I didn't realise that. There are commentaries around that state that staff were in the habit of forcing doors for this reason, and indeed on a couple of occasions critics have said to me, "but wasn't it established that the padlock was broken by members of staff taking a short-cut?"

    So, the padlock was on the land-side side, which makes it hard to see how anyone caught air-side could have broken it no matter how cross they were about the door being locked. And this wasn't a pattern of behaviour anyway. The idea of someone in too big a hurry to walk round deciding to commit what would have been classed as criminal damage was something entirely dreamed up by the prosecution.

    Well well.