[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Times. It reads in part:]
Prosecutors in Edinburgh and Washington feared the case against the Lockerbie bomber would collapse if their concerns over the integrity of the star witness were made public, declassified documents have revealed.
The papers show that senior Scottish and US officials privately raised doubts over his reliability and are set to trigger fresh claims of a miscarriage of justice.
Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, was sentenced to 27 years by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands after being found guilty of masterminding the 1988 atrocity in which 270 people were killed.
The testimony of Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who claimed he sold clothing — believed to have been wrapped around the bomb — to a man resembling al-Megrahi, proved pivotal to securing his conviction in 2001. However, concerns were raised about the “soundness of Gauci’s identification” and the UK and US feared the case would founder if this became known.
The new information, disclosed last night, on the 33rd anniversary of the terrorist attack, has renewed calls for an appeal against al-Megrahi’s conviction.
Hans Koechler, who served as the UN’s independent observer at his trial, said: “I am even more convinced that a miscarriage of justice occurred.”
A report of a meeting between Alan Rodger, then Scotland’s lord advocate, and Robert Mueller, US assistant attorney-general, in Washington in 1992, states: “If it became known we or the US were sending people to check on the soundness of Gauci’s identification that would signal that we did not have a case on which we could confidently go to trial. The US Department of Justice maintained that they could not go to trial on the present identification.”
Gauci was the sole witness to link al-Megrahi directly to the bombing of Pan Am 103, over the town of Lockerbie.
In 2000 he told a panel of judges that al-Megrahi “resembled a lot” a man who bought clothes from his shop. But in 1992 a letter from the Crown Office to Mueller raised doubt. “Further inquiries concerning the identification made by the shopkeeper Gauci could be seized upon by those in Malta, Libya and elsewhere hostile to the conclusions of the investigation.” In 2007 it emerged that the US had paid $2 million to Gauci.
Robert Black, professor emeritus of Scots Law at Edinburgh University, who masterminded the trial, said: “It is now more obvious than ever that the Megrahi conviction is built on sand. An independent inquiry should be instituted into the case by the Scottish government, the UK government or both.”
The Crown Office said it would be inappropriate to comment further while leave to appeal (by al-Megrahi’s son Ali) is being considered by the UK Supreme Court. Police Scotland have confirmed that their investigation remains live. (...)
The confidential documents also show that British officials threatened to veto Malta’s application to join the EU if they did not back their demands over the Lockerbie bombing.
The UK and US insisted that the bomb which exploded over Scotland 33 years ago was loaded on to Air Malta flight KM-180, which left the island for Frankfurt on December 21. They contended it was then taken to London and transferred to Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Lockerbie with the loss of 270 lives. The Maltese authorities strongly disputed this version of events, insisting it was technically impossible.
Their stance provoked considerable anxiety. A March 1992 memo to the Foreign Office from diplomatic staff in New York states: “We understand that the Maltese government is considering stating publicly that the allegation that the bomb was planted in Malta was not proven and instructed their ambassador to the UN to explain this to non-aligned members of the Security Council. We hope the Maltese government will think carefully on this and reconsider its position. The US embassy here have told us that their embassy in Valletta has been instructed to take action at the highest level.”
The Maltese were then told the UK would not support their attempt to join the European Community (EC), the precursor to the EU. (...)
The following month British officials noted with satisfaction: “Malta will now comply with mandatory sanctions, while not agreeing with them.”
Guido de Marco, Malta’s justice minister at the time of the bombing, wrote in 2010 shortly before his death that there had been “so much room for error” in the British version of events.
Officials ordered to monitor ‘troublesome’ relatives of victims
An independent investigation into the Lockerbie atrocity launched by bereaved family members posed “great potential for trouble” and should be carefully monitored, government officials were told. (...)
In 2018 relatives of the Lockerbie bomb victims told The Times they had been repeatedly bugged by the security services after official documents suggested that they needed “careful watching”.
The Rev John Mosey, a church minister who lost his teenage daughter, Helga, in the bombing, said that after speaking publicly his phone calls were often disrupted and documents relating to the bombing had gone missing from his computer.
Jim Swire, a GP who became the public face of the campaign to secure an independent inquiry into the atrocity, reported similar intrusions and deliberately included false information in private correspondence, only for it to appear in the press days later.
Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed, said: “I cannot believe that a supposedly decent country could behave in such a way towards grieving people whose only crime was to seek the truth.”
[RB: It is no surprise that those at the top of the Lockerbie prosecution team in both Scotland and the United States were gravely concerned about the quality of the evidence that Tony Gauci would give at Camp Zeist. What is surprising is that the prosecution was prepared to proceed to trial in reliance on that evidence, and that the judges at the trial found that Gauci's evidence amounted to an identification of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and that it was credible and reliable. Had they not done so, there was insufficient evidence in law for Megrahi to be convicted.
The most rigorous analysis of Gauci's statements before and during the trial has been provided by Dr Kevin Bannon: https://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-centrepiece-of-case-against-megrahi.html. Here is part of what he found:
"The development of Tony Gauci’s statements from his first police interviews in September 1989 through to his testimony in court, reveal his recollections systematically developing in favour of the Crown narrative, in increasing contradiction of all his freshest recollections.
"... it is not merely the case (as has often been stated) that Gauci’s evidence was contradictory, but that in every aspect, it changed in favour of the Crown narrative, in some instances quite drastically. Gauci’s original, freshest recollections about the appearance of the Libyan purchaser and the time of his visit, would have, and should have, categorically eliminated al-Megrahi from suspicion.
"Gauci’s testimony, the centrepiece of the case against al-Megrahi and, by implication, the principal Libyan connection to the crime, simply has no integrity whatsoever - nevertheless he was given a substantial financial reward for his latter evidence. These discrepancies render the entire case against al-Megrahi invalid."
Had the newly released documents been available before the most recent appeal, it is possible that the Megrahi family's lawyers could have made use of them in their case. But I see no realistic prospect of a further posthumous appeal. It is now more than ever obvious that the Megrahi conviction is built on sand. What should now happen is that an independent inquiry should be instituted into the Lockerbie case by the Scottish Government, the UK Government or both in tandem. There is much evidence now available that has not been considered in any of the Scottish Lockerbie appeals, in part because of the highly restrictive rules governing what material can be made use of in Scottish criminal appeals. Only with an independent inquiry is there a possibility that the false narrative supported by the shameful conviction of Megrahi can be rectified.]