Tuesday 24 January 2017

Lockerbie evidence 'misunderstood'

[This is the headline over a report that appeared on the BBC News website on this date in 2002. It reads in part:]

The Lockerbie appeal has heard that the trial judges who convicted a Libyan man of the bombing misunderstood and misinterpreted crucial evidence.

The claim was made by the lead lawyer representing Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who was found guilty in January 2001 of murdering 270 people.

He was jailed for life with the minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Lawyers for the Libyan are attempting to overturn the verdict and are focussing during the second day of the appeal on legal precedents to support their case that there has been a miscarriage of justice.

Bill Taylor QC, for al-Megrahi, told the court on Thursday that new evidence had emerged in recent months that could "tear holes" in the trial judges' ruling.

A BBC correspondent at the court described the second day's proceedings as "pretty dry stuff". (...)

Al-Megrahi's team has lodged a nine-page document with the court, setting out the grounds for the appeal.

Mr Taylor raised the evidence given by Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who identified al-Megrahi as the man who bought clothes from his shop on 7 December 1988.

He pointed out that Mr Gauci only saw the Libyan once and 12 years went by before he gave evidence at the trial.

Mr Taylor said that although Mr Gauci had been a credible witness and done his best to tell the truth, the question of how reliable he was, was a "different matter".

He said the trial judges had wrongly used evidence which showed al-Megrahi was staying in a hotel near Mr Gauci's shop at the time to infer that he was the buyer of the clothes.

The only other identification came when Mr Gauci pointed out al-Megrahi in court as being "similar" to the man who he had seen in his shop and when he was shown photographs of him taken from newspapers.

Mr Taylor pointed out that there was "considerable publicity" by that time connecting his client with the investigation into the bombing.

He also rebutted suggestions by the Crown that the question of what date al-Megrahi was in Malta was irrelevant to the issue of identification.

Mr Taylor said on Wednesday he wanted to introduce new evidence relating to a security guard who says there was a break-in at a baggage area at Heathrow Airport on 21 December 1988, the day Pan Am Flight 103 took off for America.

The prosecution says the suitcase carrying the bomb which blew up the plane was loaded onto a plane in Malta.

From there it was transported via Frankfurt to Heathrow, where it was loaded onto Pan Am flight 103.

Al-Megrahi's defence team insists the case was more likely to have been placed on board the plane at Heathrow.


  1. In his 2016 memoirs Former Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacKaskill wrote "Megrahi was not the man who bought the clothes..." We do not know the evidence basis of this statement, but if true, then Gauci never met Megrahi. How then could he identify him from photographs and in a police line-up?

    Just one of many paradoxes and odd features of the Lockerbie trial evidence.

  2. "Megrahi was not the man who bought the clothes..."

    A pearl! I laughed the first time I saw this statement, and many times since.
    Nobody can know how much McAskill wrote himself, and how much was done by a ghostwriter - but they failed miserably in having somebody with just a minimum of proper knowledge about the case to read it carefully through before publishing.

    For anyone trying to maintain the guilt of Megrahi, (and the honesty of authorities involved, as you point out) this is a blunder of unimaginable magnitude.

    What is left of the case is: Megrahi, a Libyan, was in the airport on a coded passport the day LM180 took off, allegedly with a Libyan-made bomb.

    You could not even hold the man back as a suspect on that one.

  3. At one of the book promotion events I attended Kenny was reduced to blustering that we don't know what the outcome of the appeal would have been, maybe the judges would still have held that there was enough evidence against Megrahi without the clothes purchase. There were people in the audience who knew better than that and tried to tell him. I tried to explain that the very finding that the bomb was introduced at Malta depended on the belief that the man who bought the clothes was present at the airport when KM180 departed. Water off a duck's back.

    I believe that the Crown Office had a backup position for the expected eventuality that the second appeal succeeded on the grounds that Megrahi could not be proved to have bought the clothes. Well it's a pity that Tony Gauci's memory wasn't accepted as reliable because of the time lapse, and of course it's unfortunate that the Americans gave him all that money because that tainted his evidence. But Megrahi was a Libyan spook and he was at the airport on a false passport when the bomb was put on the plane so really, the police aren't looking for anyone else (except Megrahi's accomplices of course).

    The Crown Office didn't have to use this line of course, because the second appeal was withdrawn, but I think Kenny absorbed that message from the discussions at the time, and of course he may be dim but even so he realises how bad the clothes purchase evidence actually is.

    So he had it in his mind that this was the actual position and simply put it in the book without thinking it through. And getting a buzz out of saying something that demonstrated his special knowledge.

    The authorities really goofed when they failed to vet that book. But you know, if he had a ghost writer, why is the style and the use of English so appalling?

  4. Al-Megrahi's defence team insists the case was more likely to have been placed on board the plane at Heathrow.

    And so it was. But I wonder if the defence team really believed that or if it was just part of the scatter-gun approach where they tried to nitpick everywhere and anywhere in the evidence. It's not very effective when the prosecution has a single narrative that it's constructing and all you're doing is sniping at random from the sidelines. At least it wasn't in this case.

    It seems to me that a defence who really believed the bomb was likely to have been put on at Heathrow would have looked at that evidence in more detail. And if they had, the evidence showing for sure that that was what had happened wasn't all that hard to find. I don't think they were interested in looking, they were only interested in sowing doubt anywhere they could. Which seems to be how defence advocates work anyway.

    On a deeper level, I think there's an interesting psychological effect at work here. I think the sheer obviousness of Bedford's evidence led a lot of people looking at it to assume that the investigation surely must have looked into that and eliminated the case. And rationally, it's almost inconceivable that they didn't. Even Leppard in his 1991 book, although he mentions it, then goes on to give a spurious explanation for the elimination of the case, as if he can't quite believe that nobody would have followed up a lead like that in detail. What puzzled me initially was why the court apparently hadn't been told on what basis that suspicious suitcase had been ruled out. I wanted to find out the reason. Then I discovered there wasn't one.

    Someone talking about the Libya blame-game said, if you're in the security forces and the word comes down from on high that the superior officers want evidence pointing in a particular direction, then what will then come up from below is evidence that points in that direction. Investigators know that following up other leads or sending up contrary evidence will just be ignored and it won't do their careers any good.

    I suspect something similar might have happened in the Scottish inquiry in January/February 1989. The word from on high said that it was politically expedient not to blame Heathrow, even that for unstated reasons Heathrow wasn't believed to be the origin of the bomb, and then everything that emerged from below was talking about the feeder flight.

    Who knows. The Heathrow evidence is so striking and so coherent and so incontrovertible it's hard to see how an investigation that was capable of tying its own collective shoelaces could have missed it.

  5. "I think the sheer obviousness of Bedford's evidence led a lot of people looking at it to assume that the investigation surely must have looked into that and eliminated the case."

    Reminds me of a story of a CEO who managed to conceal some year-old important papers during a beginning police raid, simply by discretely moving them from the locked bottom drawer to his desktop, opening them and putting his pen and glasses on them. Absolutely everything else was checked...

    The defense - I know that JfM are not happy with it, and who would I be to have any idea about anything. What I do know is, that there will never be a defense in a large case where there will not be numerous reasons for justified criticism.

    Against judges that can accept a testimony like Gauci's there can not be any sufficient argumentation. "There are situations...", right?

    And the Bedford case is easily nonsensed away, as you have pointed out so many times.

    "It was argued on behalf of the accused that the suitcase described by Mr Bedford could well have been the primary suitcase, particularly as the evidence did not disclose that any fragments of a hard-shell Samsonite-type suitcase had been recovered, apart from those of the primary suitcase itself. It was accepted, for the purposes of this argument, that the effect of forensic evidence was that the suitcase could not have been directly in contact with the floor of the container. It was submitted that there was evidence that an American Tourister suitcase, which had travelled from Frankfurt, fragments of which had been recovered, had been very intimately involved in the explosion and could have been placed under the suitcase spoken to by Mr Bedford. That would have required rearrangement of the items in the container, but such rearrangement could easily have occurred when the baggage from Frankfurt was being put into the conton the tarmac at Heathrow. It is true that such a rearrangement could have occurred, but if there was such a rearrangement, the suitcase described by Mr Bedford might have been placed at some more remote corner of the container, and while the forensic evidence dealt with all the items recovered which showed direct explosive damage, twenty-five in total, there were many other items of baggage found which were not dealt with in detail in the evidence in the case."

    When things are too obvious, there must be a natural other explanation: