[Print and broadcast media yesterday and today offer lots of reports about the death of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci. What follows is excerpted from the report in today’s edition of The National:]
A Maltese shopkeeper whose evidence helped secure the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing has died at the age of 75. Tony Gauci was said to have died from natural causes.
He ran a clothes shop in Malta at the time of the bombing in December 1998, and claimed Megrahi had bought clothing there that was found wrapped around the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103, killing a total of 270 people.
Gauci’s evidence helped secure the conviction of Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, but doubts have been raised about his reliability.
Megrahi was convicted in 2001, but maintained his innocence until his death in 2012, three years after the Scottish Government released him from a life sentence on compassionate grounds.
Gauci was reportedly paid a $2 million reward for evidence against the only man convicted of the atrocity.
The Libyan lost an appeal against his conviction in 2002. Then, in 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) found six grounds where it was believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, paving the way for a second appeal.
The commission questioned evidence about the date on which the prosecution said the clothes were bought from Gauci’s shop.
The SCCRC also said evidence that cast doubt on Gauci’s identification of Megrahi had not been made available to the defence – in breach of rules designed to ensure a fair trial.
There was also evidence that four days before he identified Megrahi, Gauci had seen a picture of him in a magazine article about the bombing.
Megrahi dropped a second appeal in 2009 before being released due to his terminal prostate cancer.
In his last interview, he insisted he had “never seen” Gauci and had not bought clothes from him.
In 2014 the then Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, reaffirmed his belief in Megrahi’s guilt. (...)
In a statement, the campaign group Justice for Megrahi (JfM), told The National: “JfM members are sad that Mr Gauci has passed away.
“While he will no longer be able to appear in person as a witness, under the Criminal Procedure Scotland Act 1995 all the statements he has previously given to the police and prosecution are likely to be admissible during any future court proceedings.
“All of these statements have of course been available to the ongoing major police inquiry, Operation Sandwood.”
Aamer Anwar, the Glasgow lawyer who acts for the Megrahi family, told The National: “Tony Gauci went to his grave knowing that he had always been accused of falsifying his evidence to convict al-Megrahi who until his dying breath maintained he was innocent.
“It is sad that we were unable to test his ‘unreliable identification’ evidence at appeal, however the Megrahi family remain determined to return to court one day to overturn the conviction of their father Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.”
George Thomson, who worked for Megrahi’s defence team, said the Libyan would look forward to meeting his accuser.
He told The Times of Malta: “When I last spoke to Baset on his deathbed he spoke of the day that he and Tony might meet in another place, where Tony would have to face him and answer for the lies he said against him.
“I personally hope that Tony is in a better place and that he is now at peace because he must have led a tortured life knowing that he had jailed an innocent man for money.”