Friday, 1 August 2014

Tony Gauci’s Lockerbie testimony

[This essay is based largely on research by its author, Kevin Bannon, for a thesis submitted in 2013 at Swansea University and later successfully defended for the award of the degree of PhD.  It is to be hoped that the thesis itself will soon be more widely available.]

The conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was based primarily on the police statements and court testimony of Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who identified him as the man who bought a number of items from his clothing shop two weeks before the bombing. Identical items were found at the Lockerbie crash site and by their condition, forensic investigators established that they were packed in the same suitcase as the bomb when it exploded.

Police detectives first met Gauci in Malta in September 1989, nearly nine months after the bombing and in his initial statements he firmly recollected and reiterated that the purchaser of the clothes was 50 years old and six feet tall. He said that it was raining at the time of the purchase, prompting the man to buy an umbrella, and in interviews one year apart or more, he asserted that the purchase had taken place in late November 1988 and that the local Christmas decorations were not yet up.

Al-Megrahi was 36 at the time of the purchase and was measured at 5’8” at trial – though both his passports noted him as 170 cm tall – slightly under 5’7”. Records showed that the hanging of illuminated Christmas decorations outside Gauci’s shop was completed on 6 December when they were switched on. It is accepted that Al-Megrahi was not in Malta until 7 December, a day when local meteorological records revealed that it was almost certainly not raining. On the basis of this testimony - Gauci’s freshest recollections - the purchaser was evidently not al-Megrahi. In any event, Gauci was quite certain that the man had not purchased any ‘Slalom’ style shirts, one of which was to prove the most crucial item accompanying the explosive device.

However, during intermittent interviews over the following year and beyond, Tony Gauci modified his recollections and these modifications proved to be entirely in favour of the Crown narrative. Indeed, by the end of his court testimony in July 2000, virtually every aspect of his evidence had changed, and in several instances it had changed drastically. Now the rainfall had been reduced to a brief, light shower – hardly wetting the ground and falling just as the man was leaving the shop. Now Gauci was “sure” the Christmas decorations were up and lit when the Libyan buyer visited his shop. The purchaser visited “about a fortnight” before Christmas – eliminating a November purchase - and Gauci now stated that the man had bought two ‘Slalom’ shirts. In court Gauci said, cryptically, that the purchaser was “...below six feet...he wasn’t small. He was a normal stature.” The descriptions of other items purchased were revised, becoming more similar to those in the suspect suitcase: the colour of the Slalom shirt, the pattern on pyjamas, the motif on a baby’s romper suit, the colour and quantity of cardigans.

Police investigators sought Gauci’s help in identifying the purchaser from photographs. After several previous photo-identification sessions, on 15 February 1991 Gauci inspected a card with 12 photos. This session took place in the company of four police investigators, all of whom knew which picture was of the suspect and the pictures were placed far enough apart for them to be aware which one was being examined by the witness – improper conditions for such a photo-session. At first Gauci had said ‘they are all too young’ but he was advised to allow for the age discrepancy and told that the man he saw ‘could be 10-15 years older’ – a blatantly illicit prompt. Gauci stopped at al-Megrahi’s picture (‘no. 8’ middle row right) and declared “This is similar but is maybe 10-15 years younger” confirming the age discrepancy of Gauci’s early recollections of the purchaser. Police investigators and Camp Zeist judges alike regarded this vague statement as the clinching identification of al-Megrahi. In fact Gauci had twice identified a newspaper picture of Abu Talb as looking like the purchaser. Abu Talb was 15 years junior to al-Megrahi, is more slightly built and has a pronounced limp – obviously quite different to any of Gauci's other descriptions of the purchaser.

As the picture of al-Megrahi was said to be dull and grainy, DCI Harry Bell had the other pictures dulled-down so that the ‘suspect’ photo would not unduly stand out; but al-Megrahi’s picture remains of singularly poor quality by comparison. The thickness of the hair styles on some of the photos appear to have also been graphically enhanced with something like a felt pen. The middle pictures in the bottom row for example make their subjects look ridiculous as if they are wearing theatrical wigs. Presumably the purpose of this exercise was also to equalise the photographs but it gives away that these pictures are the ‘fillers’ and not the image of the suspect. lockerbie photoid.pdf (1).png

By the time Tony Gauci picked out al-Megrahi at an identification parade at Camp Zeist in April 1999, he had been exposed to pictures of him in the international media. A Maltese police officer present at the parade admitted in defence precognition that he himself would have been able to pick out al-Megrahi though never having met him - such had been the media coverage. Therefore neither this parade nor the photo-session had been properly controlled identification processes – quite the opposite.

In 1990 police investigators described Gauci as confused and ‘difficult to believe’ but this was not disclosed in court. Nor was it revealed that they had become concerned at the apparent suggestibility of Gauci, noting that he had been ‘trying to please’ them. The US Department of Justice fell over themselves to please Gauci, eventually paying him ‘in excess of $2m’ as a reward for his assistance with the investigation.

In court the details of a six feet tall, 50 year old purchaser in Gauci’s freshest recollections, were skipped over by Defence counsel and brushed aside in the judges’ deliberations. In their 80 page explanation of their verdict, the judges admitted to having a ‘major difficulty’ with the introduction of the bomb at Malta’s Luqa airport, which remains unexplained – as was its subsequent, automatic transit through Frankfurt airport and Heathrow. Nevertheless the judges cited Tony Gauci’s evidence as ‘accurate’ and ‘entirely reliable’ - one of the many absurdities to emanate from Camp Zeist.


  1. Heartiest congratulations to Dr. Bannon.

    The entire thrust of the police exercise from January 1991 seems not to have been to figure out whether or not Megrahi had been the man who bought the clothes, or even whether it was remotely likely that he had been the man who bought the clothes, but to secure statements from Tony Gauci that could be represented as indicating that he was. This is a huge distinction. It wasn't detective work - trying to work out the truth - it was an exercise in fitting-up.

    The Zeist judges were very subtle. They made sure to state that they hadn't ignored Tony's original description, while giving every impression of having done just that. However, saying they hadn't made it difficult to appeal on that point. They also said they hadn't attempted to compare the photographs and Megrahi's actual appearance for themselves. Well why the hell not?

    I hadn't picked up on the fact that some of the foil photos were altered to make the hair more in keeping with the suspect's description. I am however very curious about that curved pale flash on the left side of Megrahi's picture. It's not there on the original passport photo, or on the version of the photo considered by Prof. Valentine in his expert report. Where did it come from? Was it really there on the original photospread? If so, does that not make Megrahi's photo stand out to an unacceptable degree?

    Four or five policemen present knew which picture was Megrahi's. John Crawford in his appalling book about the investigation describes sitting close to Gauci during the identification exercise, more or less willing him to pick the right picture. It's inevitable he was giving out body-language clues as to which was the right one. More than that. It has been speculated that Gauci was overtly prompted during the exercise. Given that it wasn't recorded in any way, who can deny the possibility?

    Finally, any objective comparison of that photo to Megrahi's real appearance at the time (as evidenced by other photos of him) reveals it to be a very poor likeness. In fact, the photo as it appears is almost unrecognisable. The original passport photo is however recognisably Megrahi. What happened? It seems that the photospread version was taken from a rather poor photocopy, and that might explain it. However it's quite serious. The aspect ratio of the photospread picture is significantly different from the original, making the face appear wider than it really was.

    Crawford and others like to place that photo beside the photofit Gauci created of his mystery customer, back in September 1989. A photofit Gauci himself said at the time appeared too young. It shows a man with a round face. Megrahi's face was not round, but it appears to be round in that photo due to the change in aspect ratio. Accidental? I do wonder.

    This entire exercise stinks, and not just as regards prompting. Why did the police choose that fuzzy picture anyway, when the FBI also handed over a much clearer photo from a different identification document that looks far more like a real person? Possibly because it couldn't be made to look like the photofit? Was the change in aspect ratio accidental, or deliberate? Where did the pale curved flash (almost saying "hey, pick me!") come from? Why was that photospread, unlike all the others, spaced so wide? Why were all the photos not the same size (Megrahi's is appreciably smaller)?

    And what the hell was the original defence team doing to earn their thousands of pounds a day fees? Sleeping at the wheel? They should have had expert witnesses all over this, but instead Gauci was barely challenged.

    I think there are more books and more theses to be written about all this.

  2. Could be interesting to print out the 16-faces identification picture, and ask around: "Point out the picture that does not look like the others".
    Just that.
    See how many people will identify Megrahi on this basis.

    Dr. Bannon wrote:
    "Indeed, by the end of his court testimony in July 2000, virtually every aspect of his evidence had changed, and in several instances it had changed drastically."

    Isn't that convenient! Let's ask ourselves how likely it is to happen
    - by chance
    - as a process of thought, not guided by forces outside.

    "In any event, Gauci was quite certain that the man had not purchased any ‘Slalom’ style shirts"...

    Oh, yes, he was. In fact he was so certain that he reproduced the entire bill from memory - prices, total, everything.
    (this link should go to
    at the time 33:55)

    With that statement the case falls instantly apart.
    But, despite billing and certainty, whoops, here the shirt comes.

    And the color of the shirt changes from 'beige' to 'gray', and the word 'beige' (that didn't match what was found) falls out in the UK police report - but is kept in the Maltesian one.


    - - -

    Thank you, Rolfe, for your, as always, interesting posting.

    About the defense - it's been up before.

    When something goes wrong we blame those involved, and point to their 'mistakes', i.e. things that would have been better if done differently.

    This is easy enough. It is much harder to prove that
    - somebody else would have done it better
    - at the time of their work, things could not have looked so differently that their wrong turns were justified.

    The defense delivered was overwhelmingly sufficient for a not-guilty verdict.

    At least some of the work was crucial, excellent and took research that will have taken time. An example is the way Giaki was torn apart.

    There is no 'defense' against judges that make conclusions out of the blue on the truth of the elements of the circumstantial evidence.

    A US jury is clearly instructed that they are not allowed to consider any evidence at all if not (separately) proven.

    Trivial - otherwise you get to things like these: He probably bought the gun because he probably is the murderer. And since he bought the gun, he must be the murderer.

    No. That he bought the gun must be totally and independently proven - or this piece of evidence falls out.

    Which of the below would you say that the prosecution managed to prove, and so the defense had failed?

    1. That Megrahi was the man who bought the clothes, at the time claimed.
    2. That Libya was behind the bomb.
    3. That the bomb originated on Malta.
    4. That any other evidence linked the person Megrahi to the bomb plot?

    None of it?
    In that case, the defense was at least sufficient.

    What ever the defense might have brought in addition could easily have been disregarded, and so would have had no impact on the outcome.

    May I suggest

    "There are situations where evidence that strongly seems to falsify a theory turns out to be less important than evidence that supports the same theory, but appears weaker..."

    You know where this is rewritten from.

    That's all they needed, and the God-like insight into exactly when it applies, something they had no problems in granting themselves all the way.

    Against this there was never a sufficient defense.

  3. sfm, I tried that, and my friend didn't pick out Megrahi's picture. I was very surprised, but she didn't. Would be worth trying it on a few more people though.

    We don't know if a better defence would have succeeded. The fact is though that in many areas the defence didn't put up much if any of a fight. At these fees, they should have been all over Tony Gauci.

    I still feel there's something far far too convenient about this whole thing. The unique one-off trousers that still had their label that led to the manufacturer. The manufacturer who had the records showing they were unique, and which retailer they had been supplied to. The shopkeeper who remembered the customer after more than nine months, and could describe him. I can't figure out how it could have been staged though.

    Same with Bogomira Erac and her remarkably convenient souvenir. A lot of the evidence is just slightly too good to be true.

  4. > sfm, I tried that, and my friend didn't pick out Megrahi's picture. I was very surprised, but she didn't.

    Well done.
    I just tried with the Burmese cleaning lady, trying to explain her to find the 'different' picture. She had a hard time understanding what I meant, but finally she pointed at picture number two. Then she looked at me with a big smile and exclaimed "narak ti sud!" (='the cutest')!
    Damn, she misunderstood it completely. :-( She can be happy that I already had tipped her!
    The entry will be discarded in the big "Pick the right guy" contest, to be continued...

    > At these fees, they should have been all over Tony Gauci.

    In my experience, there is quite week correlation between size of fees and how hard people work for them. (That's an issue I better not raise with our good cleaning lady).

    "I still feel there's something far far too convenient about this whole thing."

    Maybe - but that is the same as thinking about "a fairly grand conspiracy".

    OK, on the assumption that Megrahi was innocent, foul play is proven beyond reasonable doubt for e.g. Giaki - is there any way that his statement could have come without coaching (or some kind of clairvoyance into police's postulates)?

    Even without the assumption of Megrahi's guilt, at least "willfully dishonest work" is clearly proven.

    Like for the 'development' of Gauci's testimony, as described in this posting.

    This 'beige'-word thing, coming up. And finally on the typed entry, it all disappears? And all for an absolutely critical word?

    Court statements about the 'similar' timer fragment, from the man who perfectly well knows about a crucial difference - and the attempt to conceal the full content of the Giaki cables.

    All foul play, beyond reasonable doubt.

    - - -

    Bogomira Erac's printout. A plane falls down over Scotland, and someone thinks about making a single printout in Frankfurt - which then comes up 8 months later?

    Here in Thailand evidence which is too easy to fake is frequently disregarded for that reason alone. They expect the possibility. (That at times hardly any proof at all is needed to convict somebody here, that is another matter.)

    It is true it is 'too convenient'. At the same time is is 'probably real'.

    - - -

    There are substantial arguments against a too grand conspiracy, at least an early one, as you have pointed out so often.

    First of all - it could have been done so much better, all of it.

    In fact, some of the police reports show, that at least some of the work was done in good faith.

    How about properly instructing Gauci a little earlier, to show high certainty?

    Why even mention the Sn-only discrepancy in your report if you know you are going to cheat?

    - - -

    The truth is so fragile.

    A little bending and suppressing here and there - and, most of all, judges, lost in their own excellence, facing an unimaginable scandal if no-one is convicted - that's all it takes. Yes, even less can do it, and does it all the time.

    Convictions without smoking guns will always be a highly dubious affair. This one takes the cake, though. At least I hope so.

  5. Not necessarily a grand conspiracy. Possibly the terrorists themselves laying a false trail. And then getting spectacularly lucky.

    I agree there are a lot of arguments against the grand conspiracy theory. I'd just like to know whether this was all wild coincidence or whether someone was trying to misdirect the inquiry. And if so, who?