[What follows is excerpted from a report published in the Maltese newspaper The Sunday Times on this date in 2009:]
A German expert has raised fresh controversy on a crucial piece of evidence in the conviction of Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi as the Lockerbie bomber.
The verdict relied heavily on the judges' acceptance of a brief computer printout of the baggage movements at Frankfurt airport. The prosecution had argued it proved an unaccompanied bag containing the bomb was transferred from Air Malta flight KM180 to the Pan Am flight 103 to London on December 21, 1988.
The expert who helped design the baggage system in place at Frankfurt airport in 1988 and familiar with the operating software has now said: "The Lockerbie judges got it wrong, they simply got it wrong."
In the original trial, the Crown could offer no evidence of how the bag got aboard the Air Malta flight in the first place. Malta had presented records showing that no unaccompanied baggage was on the Air Malta flight in question.
The baggage reconciliation system at Malta's airport did not only rely on computer lists. Personnel also counted all pieces of baggage, manually checking them off against passenger records. Maltese baggage loaders had been prepared to testify, yet they were never called as witnesses.
In spite of a lack of evidence that the baggage containing the bomb actually left Malta, the judges concluded that it must have been the case, based on an interpretation of the computer print out from Frankfurt.
The hotly disputed computer printout was saved by Bogomira Erac, a technician at Frankfurt airport. She testified at the original trial under the pseudonym Madame X. One of the reasons this computer printout was so controversial was that although Ms Erac thought it important to save, she then tossed it in her locker and went on holiday.
Only on her return did she hand it to her supervisor who gave it to the Bundeskiminalmt (BKA), the German Federal Police. The BKA did not disclose this printout to Scottish and American investigators for several months.
The German expert has now examined all of the evidence that related to the Frankfurt baggage system placed before the court in the original trial. The expert, who agreed to review this evidence on condition of anonymity, spent six months examining the data.
Although he demanded anonymity, he agreed that if a formal approach was made by Mr Al-Megrahi's lawyers or the Scottish Criminal Cases review commission, he would meet them.
He was puzzled when he saw how short the printout out was and explained that there was no need to print a very small extract from the baggage system traffic, as a full back-up tape was made. This would have shown all the baggage movements at Frankfurt airport that day.
When it was explained that the court heard that the system was purged every few days and that no back-up tape existed, he said: "This is not true."
"Of course it is possible no back-up tape was made for that particular day but that day would have been the first and only day in the history of Frankfurt Airport when not one piece of baggage or cargo was lost, rerouted or misplaced," he added.
He went on to say that FAG, the company that operated Frankfurt Airport, needed these tapes to defend against insurance claims for lost or damaged cargo.
The expert maintains that even with his expert knowledge of the system he could not draw the conclusion reached by the Lockerbie trial judges in 2001.
"They would have needed much more information of the baggage movements, not this very narrow time frame," he said.
Questions are now raised about why Mr Al-Megrahi's legal team at the trial in the Netherlands decided to accept and rely upon a report on the baggage system compiled by a BKA officer and not find an expert on the system. The Scottish police also did not seek to interview those people who designed and installed the system.
Jim Swire, whose daughter lost her life in the bombing and who has been campaigning relentlessly for the truth to emerge, explained there was a break-in at Heathrow airport, early on December 21, 1988, in the relevant area of Terminal 3. This was followed by the sighting (before the flight from Frankfurt had even landed) of an unauthorised bag within the very container where the explosion later occurred.
"What we need now is an equally clear explanation as to why the information about the Heathrow break-in was concealed for 13 years," he said.
Dr Swire added: "At last, the time has come to turn away from Malta and Frankfurt and look a lot closer to home at Heathrow airport for the truth, for that is what we still seek.