Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Judge questions Maltese bomb link

[This is the headline over a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2002. It reads in part:]

An appeal court judge has questioned whether the evidence presented at the Lockerbie trial was sufficient to have convicted a Libyan secret service agent.

Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was appealing at a special court in the Netherlands against his conviction for mass murder.

One of the five judges hearing the case, Lord Osborne, said the bomb which brought down Pan-Am Flight 103 may not have been loaded in Malta as the trial had heard.

But Alan Turnbull QC, for the Crown, insisted that there was enough circumstantial evidence to prove the Maltese connection.

Al-Megrahi was found guilty last year of loading a suitcase bomb in Malta, which was then transferred via Frankfurt onto Pan Am Flight 103. (...)

During the appeal hearing, Al-Megrahi's defence team argued there was doubt that the bomb started its journey in Malta.

The defence suggested that it was more likely to have been loaded at Frankfurt or Heathrow.

Lord Osborne accepted there was evidence that Al-Megrahi had worked for the Libyan secret service in Malta and had bought clothes there, fragments of which were found in the Lockerbie wreckage.

But he said that despite this, it was another matter to suggest the bomb had got onto the flight in Malta.

He said: "It is quite difficult, rationally, to follow how the [trial] court took the steps it did in saying we don't know how it got on to the flight, but it must have been there."

However, Mr [Turnbull] said that documentation from Frankfurt appeared to suggest the carriage of an unaccompanied bag.

"All that is left is the reconcile two apparently contradictory portions of evidence," he said.

"This is a criminal act, not an act of negligence. Procedures exist at airports to prevent this event occurring.

"This event did occur, procedures were subverted, the only question is where those procedures were subverted."

Lord Osborne then asked if a terrorist was more likely to draw up a plan which minimised the risk of flights being delayed or the bag getting lost in the system.

"Surely if one is determined to effect a criminal purpose of this kind, one would wish to take all reasonable steps to ensure that venture succeeded?" he asked.

Mr Turnbull said: "It is in the nature of an act of terrorism that it implies the ability and desire to take risks, both of detection and of failure."

He also dismissed defence claims about Heathrow being a more likely point of infiltration as "entirely subjective comment."

[RB: Here is something that I wrote in May 2011 when Lord Osborne retired from the bench:]

The judge in question, Lord Osborne, asked many penetrating questions during the course of the appeal and had the Crown struggling to provide answers.  Regrettably, the restricted compass within which Megrahi's then legal team chose to present the appeal meant that the court could not give effect to the weighty concerns raised by Lord Osborne and his colleague Lord Kirkwood.

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