Thursday 11 September 2014

Story breaks of Heathrow baggage area security breach

[What follows is a report from The Mirror newspaper published on this date in 2001:]

Pan Am's Heathrow baggage area was broken into hours before Flight 103 was blasted apart over Lockerbie, The Mirror has found. But a statement on the incident made to police by security guard Ray Manly 12 years ago was lost and the crucial information never revealed in court. Mr Manly found a padlock cut open, leaving the way clear for a bomb to be planted in an area where luggage was ready to be loaded. The lock, which could yield clues, is also missing. Mr Manly, 63, said: "I can't believe the statement was lost. It's just incredible."

The new evidence throws doubt on the murder conviction of Libyan Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, 49. Prosecutors said the Flight 103 bomb was flown from Malta to Heathrow. The defence said it was more likely the bomb was introduced at Heathrow. Heathrow security guard Mr Manly was stunned when his evidence of a potential bomb threat to Pan Am's Flight 103 was ignored by the Lockerbie trial. The reason was simple - a statement he made to police disappeared and his information was overlooked. As a result, neither prosecution or defence knew a break-in had taken place. Shocked Mr Manly discovered a professional had sliced through a heavy duty padlock protecting Pan Am's baggage area at Heathrow's Terminal Three hours before the doomed flight took off.

It left the way clear for terrorists to steal a luggage tag and plant a suitcase bomb among baggage already X-rayed and ready for loading. Although Mr Manly reported the break-in, it was NOT investigated before take-off. Anti-terrorist police only questioned him about the incident the next month and never questioned him again. And, 12 years later, there is no sign of the statement or padlock which could hold vital forensic clues. The new evidence could now play a crucial role in the appeal of convicted bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohamet Al Megrahi, 49, who is serving life for the outrage which killed 270. Mr Manly, 63 - who has since been questioned for three hours by prosecutors - told a friend: "I can't believe my evidence was not part of the trial and my statement went missing.

"A terrorist who wanted to put a bomb on that plane would have gained access to the perfect place. The luggage would not be checked again before being loaded on the plane. "Although police took a statement, I never heard from anyone afterwards. When there was no mention of my evidence at the trial I rang police who put me in touch with the defence. "They told me no one knew about my statement or the break-in. I find that just incredible. "My statement has disappeared and so has the padlock. No one can even tell me if it was tested for fingerprints. "This has been weighing on my mind for over 12 years. At last someone is taking it seriously." The Mirror has obtained copies of two sworn affidavits Mr Manly, who has arthritis, made to defence lawyers.

They will form a key part of Al Megrahi's appeal next year. Mr Manly may be called to give evidence. The guard discovered the security breach at 12.30am on December 21, 1988, seventeen and a half hours before Flight 103 was ripped apart at 31,000ft. At the time, he was in charge of four staff stationed at numbered control posts on the public side of the airport to ensure only those authorised could enter the airside section. One control post - CP2 - was on the ground floor of the terminal, less than 50ft from the Pan Am check-in desk. It was next to the entrance to a Pan Am baggage area on the airside used for luggage too big to be processed by normal check-in procedures. There was a door in a corridor linking the check-in area and the control post. But it was never locked. A guard would be posted outside the rubber doors of the baggage entrance at all times when they were unlocked. When there were no more bags to check in, the doors would be locked and a padlocked metal bar placed across. Mr Manly, of Surbiton, Surrey, was making his rounds when he found the broken padlock.

He said in his statement to lawyers: "Position CP2 had been interfered with. The doors were closed. "However, the padlock was on the floor to the left of the doors and had been cut through in a way which suggested bolt cutters had been used. I reported my discovery to my night duty officer, Phil Radley and stayed at the post until I could be relieved. "I did not search the area or enter into the airside through the door. No other person came to the scene. "In the area airside of CP2, baggage containers for use inside aircraft were left. Loose baggage tagged for loading on to flights would also be left. "In the check-in area Pan Am baggage labels of various types were left unsecured in desks. "I believe it would have been possible for an unauthorised person to obtain tags for a particular Pan Am flight then, having broken the CP2 lock, to have introduced a tagged bag into the baggage build up area."

Now retired Mr Manly told his friend: "It was the most serious security breach that I came across in 17 years at Heathrow. "This was a professional job. It would have allowed an intruder direct access to the area where Pan Am bags were stored. "The bags had come from other flights and would already have been tagged and X-rayed." Mr Manly - who recorded the incident in a log book and an incident report form - reported back to his supervisor who alerted police at the airport. He was told to stay at CP2 until he was relieved two hours later. In that time, neither his supervisor or police arrived. Amazingly, Mr Manly was not interviewed by anti-terrorist police until the following month. He said: "I was interviewed by a Mr Robson who took a statement. He had the broken padlock in his possession."

After learning that his evidence was lost, Mr Manly was quizzed in March by a lawyer from Scottish prosecutors. He said: "He wanted to know why I hadn't come forward before. I told him I'd given my evidence to police and assumed it had gone forward to the court. "No one has been able to explain why that didn't happen. "It was lucky the airport authorities were able to find the log book and incident form I'd filled in. Otherwise I doubt anyone would have believed me."

Al Megrahi was jailed for a minimum 20 years in January by a Scottish court sitting in Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. Alleged accomplice Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, 44, was cleared. Prosecutors claimed the Libyans placed a suitcase bomb on a flight from Luqa airport, in Malta, to Frankfurt. The case was then "interlined" on to a connecting flight to Heathrow where it was stored before being loaded on Flight 103. But Al Megrahi's defence, Bill Taylor QC, insisted there was no direct evidence of this. Instead, he said, a terrorist could have introduced the bomb at Heathrow as there would be less risk of the device being lost.

Peter Walker, Pan Am baggage supervisor at Heathrow, told the £66million hearing six interline bags were loaded on the flight along with luggage from Frankfurt and Heathrow passengers. At the time, Heathrow did not have guards based inside the airside baggage build-up area. There was also no system to prevent unaccompanied bags being loaded on planes. At first, it was believed Palestinian terrorists carried out the attack on the orders of Iran. Suspicion fell on Megrahi and Fhimah after the CIA received information from a Libyan spy. The Procurator Fiscal's Office in Edinburgh, which brought the case, said last night: "As an appeal is pending it is inappropriate to comment."

[The concealment from Megrahi’s defence team of the evidence relating to the Heathrow break-in is the subject of one of Justice for Megrahi’s allegations of criminal misconduct in the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and trial that are currently under investigation by Police Scotland.]


  1. "As an appeal is pending it is inappropriate to comment."

    Aye, right chaps. Same old, same old.

    Dear Prof,

    May I congratulate you for the on-going history lessons. The pressure must be kept up.


  2. Right, I also read with great interest these previous pieces.
    And of course - until they have been properly answered, they remain as relevant as when they were written.

    "Now retired Mr Manly told his friend: 'It was the most serious security breach that I came across in 17 years at Heathrow. This was a professional job. It would have allowed an intruder direct access to the area where Pan Am bags were stored. The bags had come from other flights and would already have been tagged and X-rayed.'"
    "I told him I'd given my evidence to police and assumed it had gone forward to the court. "No one has been able to explain why that didn't happen."

    No, isn't that odd? Or maybe not. If you want to convict a fellow for a burglary, where his only options would be a complicated scheme involving a helicopter and entering through the chimney, it would not support the prosecution's theory if somebody told the court that the front door of the house was broken wide open.

    And it might also be a bit embarrassing for the police that they sort of had missed out on investigating that little detail.