Thursday, 27 April 2017

Police coached Lockerbie witness to identify Libyan as bomber

[This is the headline over a report published in The Guardian on this date in 2009. It reads as follows:]

The key witness in the Lockerbie bombing trial was coached and steered by Scottish detectives into wrongly identifying a Libyan sanctions buster as the bomber, his appeal lawyers claim.

Lawyers acting for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi will tell an appeal court that Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, was interviewed 23 times by Scottish police before giving the evidence that finally led to Megrahi's conviction for the bombing in 1991.

Their allegations are central to Megrahi's appeal, which begins in Edinburgh tomorrow, against his conviction for the murder of 270 passengers, crew and townspeople when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie on 21 December, 1988.

The first stage of the Libyan's lengthy appeal, which may take until next year to complete, will focus on his claims that the original trial judges were wrong in law to convict him and wrong to discard crucial evidence which undermined their guilty verdict.

Gauci identified Megrahi as the purchaser of clothes at his shop on Malta which were later allegedly packed in the suitcase carrying the Lockerbie bomb. But the Libyan's lawyers will claim there is now substantial evidence undermining the credibility of Gauci's testimony.

Megrahi's lawyers now believe Gauci received a "substantial" reward from the US government after his conviction thought to be as much as $2m - a payment not disclosed at the trial. The case against Megrahi hinges on Gauci's claim that the clothes allegedly packed into the suitcase bomb were bought on 7 December - the only day when Megrahi was in the area. Megrahi's lawyers say they can now prove they were bought up to two weeks before then, when the Libyan was not in the country.

Megrahi's lawyers will claim that in nearly two dozen formal police interviews, Gauci gave contradictory dates of purchase, changed his account of the sale, and on one occasion appeared to identify the Palestinian terrorist leader Abu Talb as the purchaser. Gauci's evidence is made unreliable by "undisputed factors", the appeal court will hear. They include an "extraordinary" delay in Gauci recalling the events of December 1988 and naming Megrahi; the "extraordinary amount of post-event suggestion to which the witness was subjected"; and his exposure to photos of Megrahi.

The appeal, which Megrahi is expected to watch live on a video link from Greenock prison near Glasgow, is being contested by the Scottish prosecution service, and the British government.

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