Thursday, 1 September 2016

Eyewitness testimony in the Lockerbie bombing case

[1 September 1989 was a crucial date in the Lockerbie investigation. What follows is excerpted from an important article written by Professor Elizabeth Loftus, doyenne of US psychologists of memory and identification:]

Al-Megrahi had allegedly purchased trousers, pyjamas, and other clothing from Mr Gauci at Mary’s House in November or December of 1988. Those items were thought to be packed in the Samsonite suitcase that contained the explosives which themselves were hidden in a Toshiba radio cassette player.

Mr Gauci was first interviewed on 1 September 1989, nearly 9 months after the clothing purchase (...). The police reports reveal that, upon being shown pyjamas with a distinct pattern, Gauci recalled that one day in winter 1988 he had been working alone in the shop when a man came in shortly before the 7 pm closing time. The man did not seem to care what he bought, saying that the items were not for him. The shopper paid in cash, about 56 Maltese pounds. He walked out of the shop with his umbrella opened as it was raining. The man returned, and then the two of them brought the purchases out to a taxi. Gauci described the shopper as six feet or more in height, big chest, large head, clean shaven, wearing a dark-coloured two-piece suit, and speaking Libyan. Gauci couldn’t remember the day or date but thought it was a weekday. He went on to say that he thought he would be able to identify the man.

Less than 2 weeks later, on 13 September 1989, Gauci went to the police headquarters and tried to make a photofit likeness of the shopper. After viewing the photofit created by the office, Gauci felt the hair and forehead were close, as were the nose, mouth, shape of face, and thickness of neck. The shopper’s eyes were a bit bigger than in the photofit. Gauci said that the shopper was about 50 years old and the man in the photofit looked to be between 45 and 50. The photofit construction is shown in Figure 1a.

Later that same day Gauci worked with a police artist to produce a sketch, which he felt was slightly better than the photofit. Later he said the artist sketch looked quite like the shopper, with exactly the same hair, nose, and eyebrows. That sketch is shown in Figure 1b.

A day later, on 14 September 1989, Gauci again went to police headquarters and looked at two cards of photos, containing a total of 19 photos. He identified one man as similar but said that he was too young to be the shopper. If only older by 20 years, the man in that photo would look like the shopper. The photo that Gauci selected was in the second card, top row, #2, shown in Figure 2.

[RB: The photographs and sketches referred to above can be viewed here. The concluding section of Professor Loftus’s article reads as follows:]

My analysis identified a number of areas in which Gauci changed his testimony from one point in time to another. More specifically, the statements he gave relatively early on (9 months after the crime) before Al-Megrahi was a suspect differed in many respects from what Gauci would recall later, after Al-Megrahi was a suspect. While the defence attorney did, at trial, point out some of the changes, it might have been useful to compile them and show the entire collection. Since one of the major reasons why someone’s testimony changes from one point in time to another is that they have been supplied with new details, it would have been important to try to discover the new details to which Gauci had been exposed. After investigators began to look for Libyans, and began to suspect Al-Megrahi, what kind of information did Gauci receive, either deliberately or inadvertently?

This information, and more, was presented to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, a commission that reviews cases post-conviction and did so in this case. The Commission is an independent public body, which was established in 1999 and bears the responsibility for reviewing alleged miscarriages of justice in Scotland. The Commission has the power to refer to the High Court of Justiciary any conviction regardless of whether appeals of that conviction have been heard previously. The Commission refers cases when it believes that a miscarriage of justice might have occurred. In Al-Megrahi’s case the Commission expressed deep reservations about the conviction and concluded that it might have been a miscarriage of justice (...). Much of the world knows less about this development, but much more about a different development, namely that Al-Megrahi was released from prison in 2009 and sent back to Libya on compassionate grounds because of advancing cancer. Public outrage was sparked. Al-Megrahi lived with his cancer for a few years and, as noted earlier, died in 2012. One cannot help but wonder whether the outrage over his release might be tempered if those angry individuals were to seriously examine the suspicious eyewitness testimony that led to Al-Megrahi’s conviction in the first place. My examination has led me to seriously wonder: Is the Lockerbie bomber still out here?

1 comment:

  1. After this first interview with Scottish police, Gauci again met them on the 14th and 26th of September. In his police diary - which he deliberately concealed from the trial judges and defence team - chief investigator Harry Bell wrote on 28th September: "The US Department of Justice are prepared to offer unlimited money to Gauci with $10,000 available immediately." In other words, if he wanted some spending money, Gauci could draw on the $10,000. Bribery writ large and undeniable.