Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Unsafe and unsatisfactory

[On this date in 2001, I contributed to an article headed The Reasons for Convicting Megrahi. It reads as follows:]

In paragraph 89 of the Opinion of the Court the judges say: “We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications.  We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seem to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified.”

The danger may have been recognised.  But it has not been avoided.

i.    Who was the purchaser of the clothing and when did he do it?
The judges held it proved (a) that it was Megrahi who bought from Mary’s House in Malta the clothes and umbrella which were in the suitcase with the bomb and (b) that the date of purchase was 7 December 1988 (when Megrahi was on Malta) and not 23 November 1988 (when he was not).

As regards (a), the most that the Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, would say (either in his evidence in court or in a series of police statements) was that Megrahi “resembled a lot” the purchaser, a phrase which he equally used with reference to Abu Talb, one of those named in the special defence of incrimination lodged on behalf of Megrahi.  Gauci had also described the purchaser to the police as being six feet tall and over 50 years of age. The evidence at the trial established (i) that Megrahi is 5 feet 8 inches tall and (ii) that in late 1988 he was 36 years of age.  On this material the judges found in fact that Megrahi was the purchaser.

As regards (b), the evidence of Tony Gauci was that when the purchaser left his shop it was raining (or at least drizzling) to such an extent that his customer thought it advisable to buy an umbrella  to protect himself while he went in search of a taxi. The unchallenged meteorological evidence established that while it had rained on 23 November at the relevant time, it was unlikely that it had rained at all on 7 December, and if it had it would have been only a few drops, insufficient to wet the street.  On this material, the judges found in fact that the clothes were purchased on 7 December.

ii.    Did the bomb start from Malta?

The judges held it proved that there was a piece of unaccompanied baggage on Flight KM 180 from Malta to Frankfurt on 21 December 1988 which was then carried on to Heathrow.  The evidence supporting that finding was a computer printout which could be interpreted to indicate that a piece of baggage went through the particular luggage coding station at Frankfurt used for baggage from KM 180 and was routed towards the feeder flight to Heathrow, at a time consistent with it’s having been offloaded from KM 180.  Against this, the evidence from Malta Airport was to the effect that there was no unaccompanied bag on that flight to Frankfurt.  All luggage on that flight was accounted for.  The number of bags loaded into the hold matched the number of bags checked in (and subsequently collected) by the passengers on the aircraft.  The court nevertheless held it proved that there had been a piece of unaccompanied baggage on Flight KM 180.

iii.   Where did the fragment of timer come from?

An important link to Libya in the evidence was a fragment of circuit board from a MST-13 timer manufactured by MeBo.  Timers of this model were supplied predominantly to Libya (though a few did go elsewhere, such as to the Stasi in East Germany).  This fragment is also important since it is the only piece of evidence that indicates that the Lockerbie bomb was detonated by a stand-alone timing mechanism, as distinct from a short-term timer triggered by a barometric device, of the type displayed in the bombs and equipment found at Neuss in the Autumn Leaves operation.  The provenance of this vitally important piece of evidence was challenged by the defence, and in their written Opinion the judges accept that in a number of respects this fragment, for reasons that were never satisfactorily explained, was not dealt with by the investigators and forensic scientists in the same way as other pieces of electronic circuit board (of which there were many).  The judges say that they are satisfied that there is no sinister reason for the differential treatment.  But they do not find it necessary enlighten us regarding the reasons for their satisfaction.

These are some of the many factors that lead me to be astonished that the court found itself able to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of Megrahi, and which equally convince me that his conviction is unsafe and unsatisfactory.


  1. I have a document from the F.B.I dated 8/90 stating that the fragment had a printed reference number on it M580 and not Mebo as stated by Tomas James Thurman this document was made before Alan Farraday finding of 1991 how did the F.B.I get hold of the fragment and analize it before Alan Farraday?.

  2. The fragment was with RARDE in Kent from 12th May 1989 until late January 1990. They did bugger-all about tracing its origin apart from a wee memo sent to the Scottish police in September. Feraday had every opportunity to analyse it then, but didn't bother.

    In January 1990 they gave it back to the Scottish police, who did analyse it, in a very detailed manner. However, they failed to identify the manufacturer. In June 1990 Thurman got hold of it (or a photo) and he and Jack Christie seem almost immediately to have found the match to an almost identical board in a timer they had in the CIA files.

    The "MEBO" which was initially misread as "M580" wasn't on the fragment and in fact it wasn't on the identical circuit board in the timer the CIA had either, it was on the other circuit board - the timer had two. That timer had been recovered from a dodgy source and someone had tried to scratch off the maker's mark, presumably to make it harder to trace. But it's still recognisably "MEBO" if you look closely.

    In 1991 Feraday finally got down to doing the analysis he should have done in 1989. He also confirmed that the tinning wasn't alloy, just as the Scottish tests had done in 1990. But by that time they were all so damn sure it was one of the MEBO timers because of the extremely close visual match, they disregarded the anomaly.

    How much of this you believe is up to you, but that's the official story and so far nobody has been able to disprove any of it with any degree of certainty.

  3. According to Stewart Henderson and Richard Marqis the fragment has never left the shores of the United Kingdom or been in the F.B.I laboratory in Washington D.C someone is telling not telling the truth about this fragment.

  4. Stuart Henderson was ambushed by a documentary maker and forced to speak about something that happened 20 years earlier, with no warning. Marquise was also somewhat backed into a corner and he gets shouty when that happens. I don't think either of them remembers these details. They're getting on a bit. And instead of saying honestly, look Mr Levy this was 20 years ago, I can't recall these details now, they stammered and appeared shifty and contradicted themselves.

    What was actually said by people who had a chance to check their facts was that the fragment never left the custody of the Scottish police. As far as I can make out, it was taken to the USA but was always in the custody of a Scottish policeman during that process. I don't know why they can't just say so.

    I think Thurman and Christie initially had high-resolution photographs, but when they came up with the matching corner in the circuit board of the MST-13 timer, it was taken to the USA to allow a direct comparison to be made. I'm open to correction by people who have better details than I have.

    This stuff about the fragment going to the USA, or not going, or whatever, is a distraction. It's the same fragment in the high-resolution photos taken before and after its alleged peregrinations. The metallurgical analysis was done both before and after and it's the same both times. I'm not sure what the big mystery is supposed to be, beyond that Gideon Levy thought he'd found an anomaly and decided to make a film about it.