Thursday, 3 November 2016

Lockerbie relatives fated never to know truth

[This is the headline over an article by Magnus Linklater that appears in today’s edition of The Times. It reads as follows:]

After the death of Tony Gauci, the chief prosecution witness, those who could shed light on the tragedy are dwindling

One by one, the key players in the Lockerbie drama fade from the scene, taking with them its secrets. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi himself, prime suspect; Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Lord Advocate, who brought the case against him; and now Tony Gauci, the chief prosecution witness, who died last week. As Kenneth Roy, the editor of the Scottish Review, noted in his obituary: “To say that all three left unanswered questions would be one of the under-statements of our time.”

Gauci, who owned a clothes shop in Malta, where, on some disputed day in 1988, a man came in to buy the items of clothing later found burnt and shredded around the bomb in Lockerbie, did not have a good press. An unsure witness at best, his testimony about when and by whom the clothes were bought, seemed to change each time he was questioned; and he was questioned a lot — 17 times by Scottish and Maltese police, many more by prosecuting counsel, and later by journalists. Was the man who ordered such an odd assortment of clothes — shirts, jackets, trousers, baby clothes, without checking on their sizes — tall and dark-skinned, as Gauci seemed to remember, or medium-built and light-skinned as Megrahi turned out to be? Did he come into the shop two weeks before Christmas, or in late November? Was it raining, or merely dripping? Were the Christmas lights on or not? Which football match was his brother watching on the day? Gauci tried and tried to remember, and each time seemed to retreat further and further from the truth.

All that has led his detractors to mock his evidence, and dismiss him as a witness of no worth. Lord Fraser notoriously once described him as “not quite the full shilling,” though he was more generous later on.

Those who believe Megrahi was innocent, and the prosecution a charade, point to Gauci as its weakest link. As chief witness for the prosecution, they claim that if his evidence falls, then the entire case collapses. One member of the defence team, hearing of his death, said that he went to his grave carrying responsibility for Megrahi’s wrongful conviction.

That is a dishonourable epitaph for a decent man. The more one re-reads Gauci’s evidence, the more one warms to him as a character. A simple man, the only things he really cared about were his clothes business, and his pigeons. When, on several occasions, he was taken to Scotland for his safety by police, he worried more about the pigeons, and who was minding the shop, than whether the scenery was beautiful, or his hotel comfortable. The one thing he was sure about was that the clothes found at the bomb site were bought from his shop, and on that he never wavered. Who could forget a man who bought such a strange assortment of clothes without bothering to check on their sizes?

Much has been made of the alleged rewards offered to him by police or intelligence agencies. No one, however, has been able to prove that money was a motive for Gauci. [RB: A more accurate account of Tony Gauci’s attitude towards “compensation” is to be found here.] His struggles to remember dates, times and descriptions may sometimes be laughable. But they are honest attempts, not those of a bribed man. Here he is, trying to remember whether or not he had had a row with his girlfriend on the day of the purchase: “We had lots of arguments. I am asked whether I had a girlfriend at the time of the purchase of the clothing. I do not recall having a girlfriend in 1988 but I am always with someone. It is possible that I had an argument with my girlfriend that day. My girlfriend would cause arguments by suggesting a wedding day or suggesting that we buy expensive furniture . . . it is possible that in 1988 I had a girlfriend, but I am not sure.” He is like that with days of the week, or the size of the man who bought the clothes. “I did not have a tape measure to measure the man’s height,” he complains.

For all his confused recollections, the trial judges liked him: “The clear impression that we formed was that he was in the first place entirely credible, that is to say doing his best to tell the truth to the best of his recollection, and indeed no suggestion was made to the contrary,” was their verdict. When the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission later came up with six reasons for suggesting that there were grounds for an appeal, they did not dismiss Gauci himself, but said that some of his evidence, and the circumstances in which it was given, were withheld from the defence. Whether that would have altered the outcome will never now be known.

In the end, what are every bit as important as Gauci’s evidence, are undeniable facts: Megrahi’s presence in Malta on the day before the bomb was loaded; his departure back to Tripoli the morning after; his use of a false passport supplied by Libyan intelligence — one he never used again; the large sums of money in his bank account; and now, the evidence uncovered by Ken Dornstein. [RB: If, as Dr Morag Kerr has conclusively established, the bomb suitcase was ingested at Heathrow, not Luqa Airport, none of this is of the slightest relevance.]

Mr Dornstein’s brother died at Lockerbie, and, after 15 years of investigations, he discovered that during his trips to Malta in the weeks leading up to the bombing, Megrahi was accompanied by a man called Abu Agila Mas’ud, a convicted terrorist, who today sits in a Libyan jail. Quite what he and Megrahi were doing there, only Mas’ud can reveal, though Abdullah Senussi, the former Libyan intelligence chief who is also languishing in jail, would be able to shed much light on it as well. [RB: Analyses of the revelations in, and omissions from, Ken Dornstein’s film can be found here and here.]

That light, however, is fading. One by one, the witnesses are disappearing. All that remains are the memories of those who lost loved ones at Lockerbie, and who are destined never to know the full truth.

[RB: What follows is extracted from a comment by Morag Kerr on Kenneth Roy’s Scottish Review article:]

It's odd how this type of article keeps resurfacing. Someone has died, who either told everything they possibly knew about it to the authorities years ago and who could not conceivably have remembered anything further, or who knew nothing at all about it in the first place. But now he's dead, oh the secrets he has taken to his grave!

Tony Gauci appears to have served someone connected to the bombing in his shop. His police statements and his evidence at Camp Zeist are in the public record. So too is the diary of Harry Bell, which recounts the (mis)handling of Tony as a witness and the money that was apparently dangled before his eyes. Three separate expert witness reports take this entire sorry episode apart forensically, but even so they only reinforce what common sense tells us - that a shopkeeper cannot possibly be expected to recognise a customer he saw once, for about half an hour, after the extraordinary lengths of time involved in this case.

We don't need Tony to realise that whoever the man was, it was not Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Not only was the day of the transaction (almost certainly 23rd November) one when there is no evidence at all that Megrahi was on the island, the multiple discrepancies between Tony's initial description of the purchaser and Megrahi's actual appearance are glaring.

All this happened almost 28 years ago. Even if we had someone who was now alleged to have been that purchaser, and Tony Gauci was still alive, there is no chance whatsoever that a positive identification could be made. What else could Tony tell us? How much money he was paid? What he did with it? Could he give us any real insight into his thought processes when he repeatedly said Megrahi resembled the purchaser but declined to say he actually WAS the man? I doubt it.

So what has the case lost with the death of Tony Gauci? I'd say nothing at all.


  1. Well, for a Linklater it is a bit better than expected.

    Funny to see somebody still putting anything at all into Gauci's evidence.
    Wrong all along the way, and corrected until he said close enough to the right thing. Then he wasn't asked or corrected anymore.

    "After the death of Tony Gauci, the chief prosecution witness, those who could shed light on the tragedy are dwindling."
    Laughable. It is hard to believe that Linklater really should believe that Gauci could contribute anything that he hadn't done already. What would it consist of?
    Remembering something else after 30 years?

  2. The Authorities are trying hard to push this under the carpet. Gauci's death does not make a lot of difference. The truth can not be covered up "Forever" and certainly not while there are honest people still wanting the "Appeal" to be heard.A big well done to Robert Black for his timely comments and in not letting him get away with his version of the story.