[This is the headline over an article by Kenneth Roy in today’s issue of the Scottish Review. It reads in part:]
Three of the key figures in the tangled politics of Lockerbie have now died within four years of each other: Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person ever to have been convicted of the bombing (died 2012), Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the Lord Advocate who initiated the criminal proceedings against al-Megrahi (2013) and Tony Gauci, the chief prosecution witness (a few days ago). To say that all three left unanswered questions would be one of the under-statements of our time.
Gauci was the owner of a clothes shop in Malta called Mary’s House. It was alleged that on 7 December 1988, a fortnight before the atrocity, al-Megrahi bought some clothes and an umbrella from his shop, that the clothes were wrapped round the device which brought down flight 103, and that al-Megrahi, a former head of security at Libyan Arab Airlines, collaborated with an official of the airline to breach the security at Luqa Airport and get the device on the first stage of its journey as an interline bag to Frankfurt.
But how reliable was Gauci? His credibility took a battering four years after the trial in a remarkable newspaper interview with Lord Fraser. The words attributed to Fraser – he never denied using them – were: 'Gauci was not quite the full shilling. I think even his family would say he was an apple short of a picnic. He was quite a tricky guy. I don’t think he was deliberately lying, but if you asked him the same question three times he would just get irritated and refuse to answer’.
When his successor as Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, read this assessment of the Crown’s star witness, he asked Fraser to clarify his opinion of Gauci; others, including Tam Dalyell and al-Megrahi’s counsel, William Taylor QC, spoke out more strongly. If Fraser did clarify his opinion, the world was not made aware of it at the time.
Three years later, however, he gave Gauci a friendlier character reference in a television programme about the Lockerbie case: 'I have always been of the view, and I remain of the view, that both children and others who are not trying to rationalise their evidence are probably the most reliable witnesses and for that reason I think that Gauci was an extremely good witness’.
How this statement could be reconciled with his earlier disobliging view of the witness, Fraser did not divulge. But the remarks received little attention, for the story had moved on dramatically: al-Megrahi was now on his way home to Tripoli, released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, after serving eight years of a life sentence for mass murder.
Fraser’s re-evaluation of Gauci as 'an extremely good witness’ looked ridiculous on close scrutiny. When the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission had a detailed look at the case, it concluded that there was 'no reasonable basis’ for the judges’ opinion that the purchase of the clothes from Mary’s House took place on 7 December; the commission decided that they have must have been bought on some unspecified date before then.
This was an encouraging finding for the many defenders of al-Megrahi (myself included) who believed that 7 December was the date of his only visit to Malta. But in 2014, in a documentary for American television, Ken Dornstein, whose brother died at Lockerbie, produced evidence which undermined the case for al-Megrahi’s innocence. During 15 years of patient investigation, Dornstein discovered that al-Megrahi had been in Malta in the weeks leading up to the bombing, and that he had company: a Libyan bomb-maker, Abu Agila Mas’ud, who was among those who greeted him on his return to Libya. (...) [RB: It was never disputed that Megrahi had been in Malta earlier in 1988. What was disputed -- and what has never been proved -- is that he was there on 23 November, the other possible purchase date. On the Dornstein films, see John Ashton here and Kevin Bannon here.]
A number of fascinating secrets now go to the grave and seem destined to stay there. We shall never know what Peter Fraser really thought of the witness who was to prove so vital to his successful prosecution. We shall never know how much Tony Gauci was paid by the American authorities in return for his helpful evidence (or how much the Scottish authorities knew of the deal). And we shall never know what al-Megrahi was doing in Malta with Mas’ud if he was not there to facilitate the planting of the device.
There is a fourth 'we shall never know’ that can be stated with a sense of growing probability: that with the passage of time, and as the important players in the saga continue to fall off their perches, we shall never know the truth about Lockerbie.