Thursday, 29 October 2020

Fourth anniversary of death of Tony Gauci

[The death of Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper whose "identification" of Abdelbaset Megrahi was crucial to his wrongful conviction, was announced on this date four years ago. What follows is a report in the Maltese newspaper The Times:]

Tony Gauci's death means mystery might remain unresolved

Tony Gauci, the Maltese man who determined the outcome of the Lockerbie trial, has died,Times of Malta is informed. 

Mr Gauci, who lived in Swieqi, is believed to have died of natural causes. 

He had pointed at Abdelbaset al-Megrahi as the man who had bought the clothes from his Sliema shop, which were said to have been wrapped around aircraft which killed 270 people over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988. 

This evidence tied together the prosecution's thesis, that the bomb loaded on to the doomed Pan Am flight at Heathrow Airport had first left from Malta before being transferred via Frankfurt. But serious doubts were raised about Mr Gauci’s testimony over the years.

Libyan national Al-Megrahi died in 2012 with the tag 'the Lockerbie bomber’ despite the fact that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission had described Mr Gauci as an “unreliable” witness, putting the onus of the responsibility of the UK’s worst terrorist attack in doubt.

The SCCRC said the Crown prosecution suppressed from Megrahi’s defence team statements showing how much Gauci changed his mind about crucial details over the years.

Documents published later had revealed that the lead investigator in the Lockerbie bombing personally lobbied US authorities to pay Mr Gauci and his brother Paul at least $3 million for their part in securing the conviction of Al-Megrahi.

Mr Gauci never spoke publicly about the case and maintained the media silence that characterised his role in the whole affair. He was last approached for comment for an edition of Times Talk in November 2013.

Mr Gauci's death signals the end of a key witness to a case which continues being fought legally by relatives of victims who believe Mr Al-Megrahi was innocent. 

[A report in The National two days later contained the following:] 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) found six grounds where it was believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, paving the way for a second appeal.

The commission questioned evidence about the date on which the prosecution said the clothes were bought from Gauci’s shop.

The SCCRC also said evidence that cast doubt on Gauci’s identification of Megrahi had not been made available to the defence – in breach of rules designed to ensure a fair trial.

There was also evidence that four days before he identified Megrahi, Gauci had seen a picture of him in a magazine article about the bombing.

Megrahi dropped a second appeal in 2009 before being released due to his terminal prostate cancer.

In his last interview, he insisted he had “never seen” Gauci and had not bought clothes from him. (...)

Aamer Anwar, the Glasgow lawyer who acts for the Megrahi family, told The National: “Tony Gauci went to his grave knowing that he had always been accused of falsifying his evidence to convict al-Megrahi who until his dying breath maintained he was innocent.

“It is sad that we were unable to test his ‘unreliable identification’ evidence at appeal, however the Megrahi family remain determined to return to court one day to overturn the conviction of their father Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.”

George Thomson, who worked for Megrahi’s defence team, said the Libyan would look forward to meeting his accuser.

He told The Times of Malta: “When I last spoke to Baset on his deathbed he spoke of the day that he and Tony might meet in another place, where Tony would have to face him and answer for the lies he said against him.

“I personally hope that Tony is in a better place and that he is now at peace because he must have led a tortured life knowing that he had jailed an innocent man for money.”

[The role of Tony Gauci will feature prominently in the appeal by the Megrahi family that is due to commence in the High Court of Justiciary on 24 November 2020.]

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