Monday 23 June 2014

The Lockerbie forensic scientific evidence

[Fourteen years ago, the Crown’s principal forensic scientific witness, Allen Feraday, had just completed his evidence in the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist.  Here is a contemporaneous commentary from the website The Lockerbie Trial which was edited by Ian Ferguson and me:]

As one of the Crown's key witnesses gave his testimony this week in Camp Zeist at the trial of the two Libyans accused of the bombing of Pan Am 103, one man, Hassan Assali watched news reports with interest as Allen Feraday took the witness stand.

Assali, 48, born in Libya but who has lived in the United Kingdom since 1965, was convicted in 1985 and sentenced to nine years. He was charged under the 1883 Explosives Substances Act, namely making electronic timers.

The Crown's case against Assali depended largely on the evidence of one man, Allen Feraday. Feraday concluded that the timers in question had only one purpose, to trigger bombs.

While in Prison Assali, met John Berry, who had also been convicted of selling timers and the man responsible for leading the Crown evidence against Berry was once again, Feraday. Again Feraday contended that the timers sold by Berry could have only one use, terrorist bombs.

With Assali's help Berry successfully appealed his conviction, using the services of a leading forensic expert and former British Army electronic warfare officer, Owen Lewis.

Assali's case is currently before the [English] Criminal Cases Review Commission, the CCRC. It has been there since 1997. Assali believes that his case might be delayed deliberately, as he stated to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw in a fax in February 1999: "I feel that my case is being neglected or put on the back burner for political reasons."

Assali believes that if his case is overturned on appeal during the Lockerbie trial it will be a further huge blow to Feraday's credibility and ultimately the Crown's case against the Libyans.

There is no doubt that a number of highly qualified forensic scientists do not care for the highly "opinionated" type of testimony, which is a hall mark of many of Feraday's cases.

He has been known, especially in cases involving timers to state in one case that the absence of a safety device makes it suitable for terrorists and then in another claim that the presence of a safety device proves the same, granted that the devices were different, but it is the most emphatic way in which he testifies that his opinions are "facts", that worries forensic scientists and defence lawyers.

In his report on Feraday's evidence in the Assali case, Owen Lewis states, "It is my view that Mr. Feraday's firm and unwavering assertion that the timing devices in the Assali case were made for and could have no other purpose than the triggering of IED's is most seriously flawed, to the point that a conviction which relied on such testimony must be open to grave doubt."

A host of other scientists, all with vastly more qualifications than Feraday concurred with Owen Lewis.

A report by Michael Moyes, a highly qualified electronics engineer and former Squadron Leader in the RAF, concluded that "there is no evidence that we are aware that the timers of this type have ever been found to be used for terrorist purposes. Moreover the design is not suited to that application."

Moyes was also struck by the similarity in the Berry and Assali case, in terms of the Feraday evidence.

In setting aside Berry's conviction in the appeal Court, Lord Justice Taylor described Feraday's evidence as "dogmatic".

This week in the Lockerbie trial, Feraday exhibited that same attitude when questioned by Richard Keen QC.

Keen asked Feraday about Lord Justice Taylor's remarks on his evidence, but Feraday, dogmatically, said he stands by his evidence in the Berry case.

He was further challenged over making contemporaneous notes on items of evidence he examined. Asked if he was certain that he had made those notes at the time, he said yes. When shown the official police log book which showed that some of the items Feraday had claimed to have examined had in actual fact been destroyed or returned to their owner before he claimed to examined them, his response, true to his dogmatic evidence was the police logs were wrong.

Under cross-examination though, it did become clear that Feraday completed a report for John Orr who was leading the police Lockerbie investigation and in that report he stated he was,  "Completely satisfied that the Lockerbie bomb had been contained inside a white Toshiba RT 8016 or 8026 radio-cassette player", and not, as he now testifies, "inside a black Toshiba RT SF 16 model."

As recently as May [2000], the leading civil liberties solicitor, Ms Gareth Peirce, told the Irish Times that the Lockerbie trial should be viewed with a questioning eye as lessons learned from other cases showed that scientific conclusions were not always what they seemed.

Speaking in Dublin Castle at an international conference on forensic science, Ms Peirce said she observed with interest the opening of the Lockerbie trial and some of the circumstances which, she said, had in the view of the prosecution dramatically affected the case.

She asked herself questions particularly relating to circuit boards which featured in the Lockerbie case and also in a case that she took on behalf of Mr. Danny McNamee, whose conviction for conspiracy to cause explosions in connection with the Hyde Park bombings (another case in which Feraday testified) was eventually quashed. She asked herself whether the same procedures were involved.

Danny McNamee may be the most recent Feraday case to be overturned, Hassan Assali believes his case will be the next.

[RB: Hassan Assali’s conviction was quashed in July 2005. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, stated that Allen Feraday “should not be allowed to present himself as an expert in the field of electronics”.]


  1. It wasn't just the electronics where Feraday was unjustifiably dogmatic in his Lockerbie testimony.

    At the FAI he told the court that the bomb suitcase cound not possibly have been the one on the bottom of the stack of luggage in the container. He had two other possible positions he thought it might have been in. When Peter Fraser pointed out to him that one of these positions, the one he appeared to favour, was actually impossible based on other details of the forensics, he just shuffled and said he'd have to look at that more closely. He never did, and his final report on that aspect submitted over a year later was unchanged in its wording from the prelimnary report to the FAI.

    However, he was sure the bomb wasn't in the suitcase on the bottom. So sure that when he read the transcript of his evidence to the FAI, he approached the bench and asked for the wording to be altered. The transcript seemed to indicate that his assessment of "not the case on the bottom" was a matter of probability. He wanted it made clear that he was "adamant" it wasn't that one. Not probably, but completely certain.

    Well, it was that one. That much is clear from other evidence. His dogmatism on the point seems to me to be highly suspicious. That one opinion was what deflected the FAI away from looking at Bedford's evidence in more detail. (Well, that and the fact that the police were telling the sheriff they had definite evidence they couldn't present in court to show that the bomb had come from Malta.)

    Another big Lockerbie question. When Feraday categorically excluded the case on the bottom, did he know the case in that position was one that had come from Heathrow while the other positions were occupied by cases from Frankfurt? It's hard to believe he didn't, but that's never mentioned in the forensic reports.

    Did he know the case in that position had been described as a brown Samsonite hardshell? Or that none of the legitimate luggage loaded into the container in the interline shed was a brown Samsonite hardshell? Or that no other brown Samsonite hardshell (apart from the bomb suitcase itself) had been recovered on the ground with evidence of having been near the explosion?

    Really, someone in a position to demand answers needs to ask every one of the chorus who were singing from the "not the bag on the bottom" hymn sheet why they adopted that position, and whether anyone suggested to tham that this was a desirable conclusion.

    Just as they need to aske Hayes why he never did the analysis of the positions of the damaged suitcases, which would have shown that the bomb suitcase was the one on the bottom.

    And they need to ask these questions soon, before any of the people concerned falls off his perch.

  2. MISSION LIFE WITH THE LOCKERBIE AFFAIR, 2014. (google translation, german/english):

    Technical / forensic evidence distinguishing

    It indicates that decisive facts in the EXAMINATIONS report 181 of Dr.Haye & Feraday, is a "ocean of lies" and a Toshiba radio-recorder model RT-8016 SF, as well as an MST-13 timer, must be excluded in the Pan Am 103 bombing...

    The two real radio-recorder Fragmente (AG/145), with the legend "L106...101" und legend "O2" (in white printed characters) allegedly found mid-January 1989 from Thomas Claiden (AAIB) and registered under the collection number: "AG/145" und Nr."O2"=(PT/30) thus existed earliest from 2nd May 1989 !

    > Clearly visible are the two copper rings on the fractured fragment, which were not soldered, but are blank, meaning that it had no electronic devices with "solder" have been soldered..

    > Another oddity is that both (AG/145) and "O2"= (PT/30) would go about the same direction in the blast wave - out from the center in all directions.
    In this case the "slanting" sides from both fragments should be visible on the back side (green solder-stoplack-side). On Fragment "O2"=(PT/30) the 'angular' sides are visible on the brown front side.. (fake)...

    > Some "sloping" breaking points of the fragments' AG/145 "and" O2 "= (PT/35)" betrayed "clear that the circuit boards have not been thrown by an explosion from the radio-recorder, but 100% from a "blank" print plate were specific broken off with a plier!

    by Edwin Bollier, MEBO Ltd Telecommunication Switzerland. Webpage:

  3. The Wrongful Convictions Blog -

  4. I have previously asked why the defence didn’t apply reasonable doubt and question the forensics and been told that a fragment could survive the crash!

    An evasive response, because it implies that because something could happen, you don’t ask if it really did.

    And doubly evasive, because it implies that the defence made an innocent rather than deliberate mistake in not questioning the forensics!

    But on reading the article above I must conclude it was deliberate, because how can you spend time questioning the credibility of the expert but not the forensics?

  5. "Under cross-examination though, it did become clear that Feraday completed a report for John Orr who was leading the police Lockerbie investigation and in that report he stated he was, "Completely satisfied that the Lockerbie bomb had been contained inside a white Toshiba RT 8016 or 8026 radio-cassette player", and not, as he now testifies, "inside a black Toshiba RT SF 16 model."

    Is his report to John Orr in the public domain?
    The whole colour/model change of the radio cassette I find odd. Especially as it ended up being a model almost exclusively sold in Libya.

  6. I've only seen these quotes from that report, but I'm sure the people involved with Megrahi's defence have the whole document.

    I agree with you that there's something deeply strange about the whole radio thing. The change of mind from it being a white 8016 or 8026 to a black SF16 is just one thing. Add the mystery of the piece of manual that Mrs Horton may or may not have found. What she remembered finding was very different from what was produced in court, and while memory can play tricks it's almost impossible to imagine someone picking up that scrap of paper which was almost torn through and retaining a memory of having picked up an intact page which was just singed around the edges.

    Then there's the weird coincidence of Toshiba having given two radios the "Bombeat" name, a mono and a stereo, and the PFLP-GC using the mono model while it was the stereo model that was implicated in Lockerbie.

    I can't help feeling there's more to this than meets the eye.

  7. "The whole colour/model change of the radio cassette I find odd. Especially as it ended up being a model almost exclusively sold in Libya."


    - from Baz' "the Masonic Verses" - I see photograph of numerous bits and pieces of pages of a manual.

    The edges are totally blown. (if it had been loosely attached, and they had been separated during further investigation, there must have been non-burned, but cut, edges.

    Would anyone imagine that these pieces could stick together (let alone after falling 11 km), and then, when found, could be 'picked up' by somebody in one single location?

    But of course we wouldn't even need Ms. Horton's statement about 'one piece'. If they didn't stick together, well, throw out N pieces of anything make of paper from a plane in the altitude of 11 km and ask a single person to find them, in his/her lifetime. Happy walking (*)

    What we would need was statements that numerous fractions had been found on numerous locations, and then being pieced together, OK.

    But that is not what happened, as then the whole dialogue with Ms. Horton would make no sense.

    Baz' further analysis clearly underlines the nasty answer to this question.


    Ms. Horton: "When I found the piece of paper it was more or less intact - a bit tatty around the edges but it definitely had Toshiba written across And it was in one piece, where this is in several pieces."

    Narrator: "The police say the evidence had become degraded because it had undergone hundreds of forensic tests."

    Did that include burning the entire manual into small fragments with all-burnt edges which clearly could never have stuck together?

    Comprehensive testing indeed.

    Do we have a photograph of the manual in its original state, before being burned?

    Do we have anything to contradict the massive evidence that points to fraud?

  8. I think the original manual had eight leaves, and what the Hortons found was two stuck together. It was a wet night so I don't really have an opinion on whether it was impossible for two pages to remain adherent to one another.

    There are serious discrepancies surrounding the accounts of its condition when found. Mrs. Horton remembered a larger piece of paper which wasn't torn across but just singed around the edges. The explanation for that was destructive testing. I do not believe a word of that explanation.

    First, the policeman who received the paper from the Hortons testified at Zeist that he remembered the paper and it was the exhibit in front of him. I don't believe him either, actually. The Hortons handed in two carrier bags full of what was essentially litter picked up from their field. We don't know if that policeman sorted the items and bagged them individually - if he did that has not been recorded. Nevertheless, what are the chances of him remembering one bit of paper out of two bagfuls? And out of how many other bagfuls handed in by local people, all of whom had been asked to do a sweep of their property? To put it politely, I think he didn't have a clue and merely acceded to what he was told he must have done/received. However, his evidence indicated that the item as recovered was the exhibit in front of him, and Mrs. Horton said it wasn't. This discrepancy was never explored, never mind resolved.

    The paper was definitely photographed at RARDE before it was sent to the Met for the fingerprint testing. I always wondered why someone didn't say, well please can we see the pre-testing photos so that Mrs. Horton can identify them, and we can see how much damage the testing did. (But of course the policeman DID positively identify the photos shown in court, so explain that, please.)

    Having seen the photos in the Joint Forensic Report, which are the photos shown in court, I am quite sure that THESE ARE THE PRE-TESTING PHOTOS. These are the photos that should show what Mrs. Horton picked up. The stuff about destructive testing is a load of obfuscatory hooey introduced to gloss over the embarrassing fact that the witness didn't identify the exhibit. (It may be that the testing damaged the paper still further of course - I don't believe we have seen any evidence of the condition of the paper after testing.)

    Of course 11 years is a long time. Memory becomes corrupted. Mrs. Horton might have remembered an intact page, when she actually picked up a fragment. Conceivably. The problem though is the condition of the fragment. It's torn almost through. I just don't see how you could pick this torn scrap up from wet grass, and retain the memory of an intact page. Either it was already torn, in which case it would have been difficult to pick it up without it tearing completely through, or it tore when it was picked up. Either way, surely you'd remember that?

    I have very grave doubts that the scraps of paper in the photos exhibited in court were what Mrs. Horton picked up on the morning of 22nd December 1988.

  9. I didn't mention the radio or the manual in my book, because I was trying to keep the scope of the narrative reasonably compact, and because it's not an aspect that has had a huge amount of public attention. I think it's really important though. Including the fact that both Toshibas were called "Bombeat" although they were completely different models. I don't actually know what it all means, I just think it's important!

    As far as evidence of fraud is concerned, it's circumstantial and I don't think there's a real smoking gun (thought PT/35b comes close). I'm getting a sense that the Yanks and the Brits were both "at it", but separately, and pursuing different agendas, at least in the early stages.

    The Yanks clearly wanted to blame Libya, even at the beginning (Reagan's outburst, the "catch-letter" and so on). This was overwhelmed in fairly short order by the mass of evidence pointing to the PFLP-GC, and had to go on the back burner only to surface again in late 1990 when the pursuit of the Palestinians had run into the sand. However, did they do anything in the early stages to facilitate putting the blame on Libya? The catch-letter? PT/35b? The radio model? And remember that Tony Gauci repeatedly described the clothes purchaser as Libyan. This is all a wee bit rat-scented.

    I don't think the Brits had the slightest problem with blaming the PFLP-GC. They did have a problem with Heathrow airport taking the blame for the security lapse though. Pay no attention to that suitcase John Bedford described! Ray Manly's evidence is unimportant, no need to tell anyone about it, just file it. And everybody has to say the explosion wasn't in the suitcase on the floor of the container, got that?

    And because of the ignoring of the Heathrow evidence, and the chasing of a red herring down a blind alley to Malta, the pursuit of the PFLP-GC ran into the sand and produced nothing. This allowed the Yank end of the investigation to reintroduce the Libya card, using PT/35b - which had been in the chain of evidence for a while, and was quite possibly picked up in the shirt collar in January 1989. Think about that for a wee minute.

    I get a sense of a British investigation in the hands of people who weren't as smart as they thought they were, and were being steered away from Heathrow either explicitly or covertly. At the same time there's a Yank investigation in the hands of the FBI who are also bumbling around more or less honestly, but with the political will and the CIA trying to steer things towards blaming Libya.

    In the end both sets of interests came together in settling on Megrahi at Malta being the solution to the problem. And thereafter they were working to the same objective.

    This is pure speculation and I could be completely wrong, but that's the sense I'm getting of the broad narrative. If I was proposing this as the plot of a thriller I think I'd can it as being too complicated.

  10. I wrote:
    > Do we have a photograph of the manual in its original state, before being burned?

    This should have been written more clearly:

    Do we have a photograph of the manual in its original state as handed in by Ms. Horton, before being burned and torn to pieces by the 'forensic tests'

  11. I understood, sfm, and I may have explained it in the posts that have only just been approved.

    Having seen the Joint Forensic Report photos, I have come to the conclusion that the photos exhbited in court were the pre-testing photos. The exhibited photos were the JFR photos, and there is absolutely no reason at all that post-testing photos would have been included in that report in preference to the pre-testing ones.

    It's also clear in the detail that's included. The fragments are photographed together with the equivalent intact pages, and guide lines drawn to show where the fragments fit on the pages. It's absolutely certain this exercise would have been carried out before any potentially-destructive testing was contemplated.

    So these small-ish fragments, torn almost completely across, are indeed supposedly what Mrs. Horton picked up from the wet grass. How anyone could pick that up and retain a memory of an almost-intact page beats me. It's a wonder it didn't tear through completely at the time.

    (Bear in mind the Northumbrian policeman said the exhibited photos did show what Mrs. Horton handed in to him the day after the crash. I seriously question how he could have remembered this item out of all the rubbish that was being brought to the police station, but it was an inconsistency that wasn't explored further in court.)

    We don't have any post-testing photos as far as I know.

    I seriously doubt that the pages of manual as displayed in court were what Mrs. Horton picked up. This could be a pure mix-up, due to the amount of rubbish being indiscriminately handed in from the north of England, but then again it might be something quite different.

  12. Dear Rolfe,
    I see my last posting crossed your two previous.
    Thank you!

    As soon as we start to scrutinize each piece of evidence it falls apart.

    A new trial has long started, and unlike for the case against Megrahi, the accused is the police and the evidence is strong.

  13. It's tricky. As far as I know, the new appeal doesn't make an issue of investigator corruption, or of legal incompetence, because these are far harder to prove than the facts showing the evidence to be dodgy. And the SCCRC don't seem well-disposed to applicants who allege police corruption or inadequate legal representation unless these are clear-cut. So I don't know how much the police really are on trial as regards the appeal.

    I also don't know how strong the evidence is to prove deliberate misdirection. It's all circumstantial. There's no documentary evidence to prove someone knew something or someone planted something.

    However, if the conviction is quashed including as part of the reason that the bomb can be seen to have been introduced at Heathrow, that opens a can of worms. They won't be able to claim that they were right all along and it's just a pity the evidence didn't quite stand up in court. Questions Will Be Asked.

  14. "I didn't mention the radio or the manual in my book"

    You can always cover that topic in your Lockerbie sequel Rolfe :-)

    Mrs Horton's manual seems to have been exposed to some heavy duty forensic tests if her evidence at Zeist is anything to go by.

  15. Hopefully, someone else will write the next book....

    There is evidence that the manual was sent to the Met for a certain type of fingerprint testing which could/would damage the item, but we have no evidence as to the extent or the nature of the damage that occurred. Mrs. Horton's evidence doesn't illuminate that.

    Mrs. Horton was shown photographs of the pages she was alleged to have picked up. She didn't recognise the photographs as what she remembered picking up, and said so. She remembered something about eight inches square, essentially intact, just a bit singed around the edges. The photograph is of pages considerably smaller than that with very ragged edges and torn almost right through.

    The rationalisation for this discrepancy was the suggestion that the ragged state of the exhibit was a result of the invasive fingerprint testing done by the Met. However this was never explored in detail or even apparently checked to see if the explanation stood up to scrutiny.

    One problem was that the policeman who accepted custody of the item did identify it. (Maybe that's why they handwaved Mrs. Horton's reservations away, but that's not really justifiable as she actually picked it up and had some memory of doing so, while he only took possession of a couple of carrier bags full of litter - and maybe many more such bags from other local people who answered the call to go out and recover debris.)

    The main problem is that we know that high quality photographs of the pages were taken at RARDE before the pages were sent to the Met. The obvious solution to the dilemma would have been to produce these photos and show them to Mrs. Horton. Nobody seems to have suggested doing this.

    However, when you drill down into it, it appears that the photos exhibited in court, of the smaller, ragged, torn pages, were the photos taken before the thing was sent to the Met. We have no idea how much further it was damaged by them.

    I'm inclined to discount the English policeman's evidence. I think it's extremely unlikely that he would have remembered one particular piece of litter among so much stuff, and was merely giving the evidence he'd been asked to provide.

    It's possible that Mrs. Horton's memory was faulty and that she did ondeed pick up a smaller, ragged piece of paper. I doubt that because of the deep tears in the paper. It seems impossible to pick up something more or less holding together by a thread, from wet grass, and remember an intact piece of paper. Or if it tore almost through when it was picked up, again this argues against a memory of an intact sheet.

    It could be a complete bugger's muddle, with the exhibit actually being something picked up by someone else and a subsequent mix-up resulting in the wrong person being called to identify it. That's reaching a bit though.

    Mrs. Horton did think she remembered picking up a piece of paper relating to some sort of electrical item, but that's about as far as it goes. It's difficult to know how much detail was added later during precognition statements and interviews when she would be asked about the item and maybe people suggested details to her.

    The whole thing is deeply unsatisfactory. It wasn't explored by the defence, partly I think because the defence were asleep at the wheel for much of the trial, and partly because exploring it would lead down the path of alleging investigator misconduct and possible planting of evidence, which isn't somewhere you necessarily want to go unless you have an unassailable case. The defence were more inclined to hint at doubt and leave the hints hanging than to attempt to clarify anything.

    The whole business of the radio and the manual and the two "Bombeat" models is really peculiar. It's possible a lot of it can be explained by Feraday being basically as thick as mince and a lot of the forensic investigation being very sloppy. I don't know, though.

  16. David Howard - belated thanks for that excellent link.

    Since David didn't elaborate, I'll explain that it's an article dated 23rd of this month using the Conlon case as the starting point for an overview of the shocking number of blatant miscarriages of justice that have been identified worldwide, often involving the investigators deliberately framing a suspect. It goes on to discuss the work of the "Innocence Network", a group dedicated to providing pro bono legal services to the victims of miscarriages of justice.

  17. In discussing Sir Alan Feraday's evidence in other cases I am surprised his critics overlook the case in which his evidence was most widely criticised, and in which his evidence so wholeheartedly supported the Government line the Gibraltar inquest in the "Death on the Rock" case. As I have often pointed out the main objective of the Libyan solution to Lockerbie was to disarm the IRA.