Saturday, 22 July 2017

US jury awards damages against Pan Am over Lockerbie

[This is the headline over a report published on the website of The Independent on this date in 1992. It reads as follows:]

In the first of what could be scores of damages trials stemming from the Lockerbie bombing, a US jury yesterday awarded $9.23m (£4.8m) to the family of a Pepsi-co executive.

The award, reached after a trial in Brooklyn federal court, was less than the $25m sought by the family of Robert Pagnucco. The family won the liability portion of the civil suits on 10 July with a verdict that Pan Am committed 'wilful misconduct' by failing to detect a bomb on Flight 103.


  1. Damages were paid because the US court decided Kurt Maier had missed the bomb on his x-ray scanner, he wasn't properly trained, and scanning wasn't an adequate substitute for passenger/luggage reconciliation anyway. They were right about the last bit but not about the first bit.

    The US court founded to quite a large extent on the Scottish FAI having decided the bomb had come in on the feeder flight, without realising that the FAI had been told to come to that conclusion without seeing any of the evidence for it. The US court did see the evidence and how shaky it was and one of the judges issued a blistering dissenting opinion. (see "Conflict of opinion" quite near the end).

    Poor Maier seems to have taken this rather badly. He certainly took to the bottle and was found collapsed in his apartment surrounded by empty bottles about the time the court case at Camp Zeist was starting. I suspect the thought of going through all that again was a bit much for him. I don't think we often remember that Maier was as much unjustly blamed for this disaster as Megrahi was.

    Pan Am were quite justly blamed though. The security failings in their Heathrow operation were even worse than at Frankfurt. Neither Bedford nor Kamboj nor Parmar seemed to have any notion of keeping a watch on that container while it was parked in the interline shed. (Nothing like that happened at Frankfurt, with its automated hands-off baggage transfer system.) Kudos to Bedford for having owned up to seeing the bomb suitcase and not blowing the whistle on it, but really, he should have done that. (I don't believe him when he says Kamboj told him the case had been x-rayed.) I think if Walker hadn't just told him that he could knock off an hour early, he might have done. But if he'd called security on that case he'd at least have had to wait for someone to do something.

    I sometimes wonder if Pan Am's lawyers at the FAI and even at the Platt hearing in the US realised that the case Bedford saw was the bomb. Even if they had done, there was nothing to be gained from pointing that out. A bit like saying, no my client didn't stab the victim to death m'lud, actually he shot him. So all they could do was attack the Frankfurt evidence as non-probative without saying, look you clowns, there was the bomb at Heathrow.

    Of course there was nothing to prevent Megrahi's defence at Camp Zeist from doing that. They tried to, but not nearly rigorously enough. All a bit unfortunate really.

  2. Thank you for this!

    You wrote:
    "Kudos to Bedford for having owned up to seeing the bomb suitcase and not blowing the whistle on it, but really, he should have done that."

    Well, yes, but be make our own evaluation of realities and act accordingly. If something in 99.99% of cases are false positives, we take our guards down.
    There is also a difference in what would be formal requirements and what the airport really wants to live with.
    The incentive drops even further if there are other potential weaknesses in a system.

    This is one huge problem with any security system that also have to work in reality.
    The bottom line is of course that we are not that secure.

    "Of course there was nothing to prevent Megrahi's defence at Camp Zeist from doing that. They tried to, but not nearly rigorously enough. All a bit unfortunate really."

    Certainly, but with judges as willing as they were to cherry-pick, there is no reason that it would have made the slightest difference in the "convincing pattern".

  3. That's a moot point I suppose. The judges were hard-wired to accept the Malta ingestion theory, so what would it have taken to get them to turn away from it? Quite a lot I suppose.

    In my view the crucial error was accepting Feraday's baseless assertion that the exploding suitcase wasn't on the floor of the container. That can be shown to be false. The defence came fairly close with the suggestion made to Feraday in the wotness box that case was on the bottom but with the left-hand side angled up into the overhang section. Which is actually the right position. Feraday, having been "adamant" for 10 years that the bomb case had to have been either flat on the second layer or sitting upright entirely in the overhang section (a position which was itself impossible, and this was pointed out to him at the FAI), said well he hadn't thought of that, he'd really have to look at it in more detail, but really he didn't think you could get the centre of the explosion high enough.

    Well of course you can get the centre of the explosion high enough. But this wasn't pursued. Come on, ten years after the investigation and the forensic guru admits he simply didn't think of this position? And then is it any great surprise he tries to brush the suggestion aside? But nobody really pursued it.

    In fact it is possible to prove the bomb suitcase was in that position. The defence forensic consultant (who suggested the position) should have seen this and worked it out, but he didn't. He simply put it forward as a suggestion. What was needed was for him to show the proof that that was the correct position and then go into the witness box as a defence witness and explain to the court that the original forensics were mistaken. Doing that after Feraday's unconvincing "I didn't actually think of that" line would have been a show-stopper. I think that might have done the trick.