Saturday, 28 January 2017

Treats for Crown witnesses interfere with course of justice

[What follows is the text of a report that was published in The Guardian on this date in 2002:]

An investigation has been demanded following a claim that a witness in the Lockerbie trial enjoyed police hospitality in Scotland.

Evidence given by Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopowner, helped to convict the Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. It is alleged that Mr Gauci was brought to Scotland five or six times, taken salmon fishing and hill walking, and put up in an expensive hotel.

He is also said to have been taken to Lockerbie, to see where the wreckage of the bombed Pan Am airliner landed in 1988, before last year's trial got under way.

Yesterday the Labour MP Tam Dalyell said he would raise the issue as a matter of urgency with the prime minister and foreign secretary.

The claim comes days after the start of al-Megrahi's appeal. Last January the Libyan former intelligence officer was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the bombing, which killed 259 on flight 103 and 11 on the ground.

Last week his legal team said a rebuttal of Mr Gauci's evidence would form a plank of its case.

Mr Gauci was the sole witness to link al-Megrahi directly to the bombing of Pan Am 103. He told the trial that al-Megrahi "resembled a lot" a man who bought clothes from Mr Gauci's shop that were later discovered to have been packed around the bomb.

Yesterday the Scottish Mail on Sunday reported that an undercover investigator had travelled to Malta and secretly taped conversations with Mr Gauci, owner of Mary's House clothes shop in Sliema.

Mr Gauci claimed that police had flown him to Scotland on five or six occasions, and taken him to Lockerbie to be shown the damage. He also claimed that the hospitality of the Scottish police had been extended to four others in his family.

He talked in the tape of being taken into the mountains, visiting Aviemore ski resort, fly-fishing for salmon, and bird-watching. On at least one occasion he stayed at the Hilton in Glasgow.

Dumfries and Galloway police and Strathclyde police refused to discuss the claim yesterday, saying only they could not comment on issues concerning witness protection.

Mr Dalyell said that the reports, if true, would have profound implications for al-Megrahi's appeal. "If Gauci was brought to Scotland before the trial at Zeist, why were the defence and the judges not told? If Gauci came after the trial, what is the purpose of the ongoing relationship?"

Robert Black, professor of law at Edinburgh University, said that Mr Gauci's trips needed to be investigated during al-Megrahi's appeal, adding that he knew of no other Scottish murder trial witness being taken on fishing trips by police.

[RB: The previous day a long article on the subject had been published in The Mail on Sunday. It contained the following:]

Robert Black, Professor of Scots Law at Edinburgh University, said the matter of Gauci’s trips had to be fully investigated during the course of Megrahi’s appeal.

Prof Black added: “As far as I am aware, this is not normal practice. I do not know of any other witness in a Scottish murder trial to have been taken on holidays and fishing trips by the police.”

He said that if a witness in a trial had been offered “treats” by one side, the other side ought to have the opportunity to cross-examine him to establish whether he might have been motivated to “improve” his evidence in favour of those giving the “treats”.

He added: “If it transpires that Gauci was being treated in this way before or during the trial, or indeed understood that he would be given trips after the trial, it would require his credibility as a witness to be re-examined and could alter the outcome of the case.

“Senior police officers and prosecutors worked very closely on this case.  If the prosecution was aware of the arrangement, it ought to have alerted the defence.”

One of Britain's most senior retired judges said he regarded the matter as “wholly improper”.

The judge, who refused to be named because he feared it would seem “impudent” to criticise the conduct of a Scottish trial, said: “If I learned that a crown witness had been treated and spoiled by the police or prosecution, I would be very concerned that it might have interfered with the course of justice.

“The defence would be entitled to know and to question the credibility of the witness. If such a matter emerged after a guilty verdict, it would be a valid point of appeal. Whether it succeeded would be determined by the weight of other evidence.”

[RB: I can now at last reveal that the retired judge in question was the Rt Hon Lord Murray (amongst other things a former Lord Advocate and lecturer in Evidence Honours at the University of Edinburgh). Lord Murray died on 27 September 2016 at the age of 94. The Herald’s obituary can be read here.]

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