Response to PBS Frontline ‘My Brother’s Bomber’

The following article appears in today’s Sunday Herald under the headline ‘Linking Megrahi to a new Lockerbie bombing suspect won’t work … he was innocent and his conviction is a stain on Scottish justice’.  It is my first response to the claims made in Ken Dornstein’s three-part documentary My Brother’s Bomber, which is currently being broadcast on PBS Frontline in the US. The series was trailed in this New Yorker article two weeks ago.

Fifteen years ago, three Scottish law lords found Abdelbaset al-Megrahi guilty of the Lockerbie bombing. For many observers, including the majority of the relatives of the attack’s 270 victims, it was an unsatisfactory verdict. Megrahi’s co-accused, Lamin Fhimah, had been acquitted and there seemed little prospect of Megrahi’s alleged Libyan superiors being brought to trial.

For others, myself included, it was unsatisfactory for another reason –– the case against Megrahi was simply not credible. It relied on the claim that he had bought the clothes that were packed into the bomb suitcase from a shop in Malta. The shopkeeper consistently described a clothes buyer who looked nothing like Megrahi, and the evidence suggested that the purchase took place when he was not on the island.

In 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case back to the appeal court on no fewer than six grounds, among them that the trial court judgment was unreasonable. The terminally ill Megrahi abandoned the appeal two years later in order to aid his application for compassionate release, but the prosecution’s narrative has been on a life-support machine ever since.

Now it has been breathed new life by a three-part documentary for the US Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline series. Trailed by a lengthy article in the New Yorker, the film suggests that Megrahi was, after all, involved in the bombing as an accomplice to a man called Abu Agila Mas’ud. I was a paid consultant during the early stages of the film’s production, but I disagree with its conclusions.

It reveals that Mas’ud was named by a German judge as the technician responsible for the bomb that destroyed the La Belle nightclub in Berlin two-and-a-half-years before Lockerbie, killing three people, including two American servicemen. That attack prompted US air raids on Libya ten days later, for which Lockerbie was supposedly revenge.

Megrahi was on the same flight as Mas’ud on at least three occasions prior to Lockerbie, including on the morning of the bombing when they flew from Malta to Libya. It was in Malta that Megrahi was alleged to have put the bomb onto an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, which was supposedly transferred to a feeder flight to Heathrow and again at Heathrow to Pan Am 103. Megrahi and numerous other Libyan witnesses denied knowing Mas’ud, but the film suggests that Mas’ud was in the car that greeted Megrahi on his return to Libya. Earlier this year a Libyan court convicted Mas’ud of making booby-trapped car bombs during the country’s 2011 revolution.

So far, so convincing. Clearly there is a prima facie case against Mas’ud, just as there was against Megrahi. Now that his whereabouts are known, we must hope that he can be brought to trial and the new evidence tested in a Scottish court.

However, if that happens, the prosecution will face far greater difficulties than they did in trying Megrahi. The first is the lack of proof of Mas’ud’s involvement in the La Belle bombing. The main witness to implicate him, Libyan Musbah Eter, who was himself convicted of the bombing, was an extremely tricky customer. A 1998 German TV investigation revealed him to be an asset of the US Central Intelligence Agency — a crucial detail in light of the fact that, at the time of La Belle, the CIA was running a massive covert campaign against Libya in which disinformation was central.

Eter has reportedly now implicated both Mas’ud and Megrahi in the Lockerbie bombing and claims to have heard Mas’ud speak of travelling to Malta to prepare for the attack. It’s easy to imagine what a defence advocate would do with him in cross-examination. “Why did you wait 20 years before volunteering this information Mr Eter?” would be the obvious opening question.

The La Belle prosecution also relied on information held in the archives of the former East German security service, the Stasi. While these files showed that some of the Stasi’s Arab informants corroborated Eter’s account, they also revealed that non-Libyan terrorists were involved in the plot, some of whom were also believed to be connected to the CIA. One of them even claimed to the German TV producers that he had a relationship with the CIA’s close ally, the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.

The US government claimed that intercepted messages sent to and from Libya’s East Berlin Embassy around the time of the bombing proved Libyan involvement. However, former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky claimed in his 1994 memoir The Other Side of Deception that the intercepted messages had in fact been broadcast by an undercover Mossad team in Libya. Mossad never denied the claim, but the German prosecutor responsible for the La Belle case never interviewed Ostrovsky.

Proving the Lockerbie bomb came from Malta would present the Crown with an even bigger problem. The claim relies on documentary evidence from Frankfurt airport that appeared to show that a rogue bag had been transferred from an incoming Air Malta flight to the feeder flight to Heathrow. Megrahi’s prosecutors claimed the bag was further transferred at Heathrow to PA103, but there is no proof that it was. Furthermore, the trial heard that Air Malta employed unusually strict baggage procedures that required the head loader to physically count the hold luggage to ensure the total matched the number checked in. Documents from the flight to Frankfurt on to which the Libyans supposedly smuggled the bomb, showed that the number tallied with the number of legitimate check-in bags. More worryingly for the Crown, since Megrahi’s trial a meticulous investigation by Scottish researcher Dr Morag Kerr has effectively proved that the bomb originated from Heathrow.

The forensic case against Libya is also in tatters. Central to it was a fragment of circuit board, allegedly from the bomb’s timer, which was said at trial to match circuit boards used in timers supplied to Libya. Evidence uncovered shortly before Megrahi’s return to Libya in 2009 showed that it did not in fact match — there was a crucial metallurgical difference that ruled out the fragment originating from one of the Libyan timers.

The dire security situation in Libya would probably make it impossible for prosecutors to gather evidence there. Even if the county was stable, it would likely be a fruitless mission, as nothing has emerged publicly to suggest that Libya was behind the bombing. At the start of the revolution in 2011 the former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that he had proof that Colonel Gaddafi was behind the bombing, but the best he could offer by way of evidence was the fact that the government had funded Megrahi’s legal case. He later claimed that Expressen had misquoted him.

The most persuasive aspect of Frontline’s case against Mas’ud is the denial by Megrahi and other Libyans of his existence. Clearly they calculated that it would be damaging to Megrahi and Fhimah’s prospects if they were to be linked to a man named as a bomb-maker in the indictment against those accused of the La Belle bombing. However, lies do not prove guilt. In fear-governed societies like Gaddafi’s Libya they are the lingua franca.

If Mas’ud received a fair trail for the Lockerbie bombing on the basis of Frontline’s evidence, then he could not be convicted. However, in view of Megrahi’s experience, that’s a big ‘if’, because, as we now know, vital exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defence and the court was misled on a number of key points. The scandal has been worsened by the Scottish government’s refusal to order an inquiry in to the Crown’s conduct. The refusal prompted the Justice for Megrahi campaign group to make formal allegations of criminal misconduct against various Crown officials. No sooner had the allegations been made, than the Crown Office issued a statement declaring them to be “defamatory and entirely unfounded”. Unfortunately for the Crown Office, Police Scotland took them very seriously. Proving criminal intent will be a tall order, but the fact that a major investigation, known as Operation Sandwood, has been running for over 18 months seems to run contrary to claims that the allegations are baseless.

The fear is that the Frontline film’s claims will provide the Crown Office with a smokescreen, from behind which it can brief that Megrahi was guilty all along and that its failures were therefore immaterial. They were anything but and, until it is held to account for them, they will remain a terrible stain on Scottish justice.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Twelve reasons to take Magnus Linklater’s Lockerbie articles with a pinch of seasonal salt

Christmas come but once a year and when it does we can be sure that Magnus Linklater will produce an error-strewn article for the Scottish edition of The Times echoing the proclamations of the Lord Advocate that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was justly convicted, and that the Crown and its representatives have acted with complete propriety throughout. And so it was yesterday.

Mr Linklater’s well-worn trick is to brand Abdelbaset’s supporters as conspiracy theorists who allege that the Crown officials, police, trial judges, governments and intelligence services hatched a grand plot to frame Megrahi and Libya and shift the blame from the original suspects. Having erected this straw man, he slays him with a barrage of half-truths, omissions and non-sequiturs, then cites his death as irrefutable evidence that Abdelbaset was guilty.

Below in italics are extracts from Mr Linklater’s latest articles, each of which is followed by my rebuttal.

  1. A review of the Lockerbie bombing case by Scottish investigators has concluded that there is “not a shred of evidence” to support claims that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, who, I think it’s safe to assume, are rather more independent than the investigators cited by Mr Linklater, found no fewer than six grounds for believing that the conviction may have been unsafe.

  1. Ever since Megrahi was convicted in 2001 there have been allegations that evidence was manipulated to implicate Libya, steering suspicion away from Middle Eastern states.

The central allegations of Abdelbaset’s supporters are not that there evidence was manipulated in order to shift the focus of the investigation away from the real culprits. Rather they are: a) that the evidence against him didn’t stand up; and b) that the Crown withheld crucial exculpatory evidence. Both claims were supported by the SCCRC’s review.

  1. Scottish prosecutors have been accused of deliberately ignoring evidence that the bomb was put aboard Pan Am Flight 103 at Heathrow rather than at Malta, and that the timer fragment, the principal piece of forensic evidence against Libya, was planted or altered.

Wrong again. The central point about the Heathrow evidence was that it was not properly explored at trial while the central points about the fragment are a) that the Crown’s crucial claim that it matched timers supplied to Libya by Mebo can be proven forensically to be false; and b) the Crown failed to disclose evidence that the scientist who spoke to the match had overseen tests that demonstrated a clear disparity between the fragment and those timers. The fragment may, or may not have been planted. There is no evidence that it was altered and, to the best of my knowledge, the only figure of significance to claim that it was is the frequently unreliable Edwin Bollier of Mebo.

  1. Last night Frank Mulholland, QC, the Lord Advocate, said: “During the 26-year-long inquiry not one Crown Office investigator or prosecutor has raised a concern about the evidence in this case . . . our focus remains on the evidence, and not on speculation and supposition.”

The Lord Advocate and Mr Linklater are ignoring the fact that a number of police officers have privately raised concerns about the evidence.

  1. Evidence on the bomb itself, and the crucial timer fragment that linked the attack to Libya, found three weeks after Pan Am 103 exploded, have undermined the conspiracy theory.

Not true: according to the prosecution, the fragment was not found three weeks after the bombing, but five months later, on 12 May 1989.

  1. Critics say the fragment was either planted at the site, exchanged later for another, or was tampered with to show a link to Libya that was never there.

Again, this misrepresents the case made by Abdelbaset’s supporters, which is that: a) the fragment did not, as the Crown claimed, match the timers supplied to Libya by Mebo; and b) the Crown withheld key evidence. In the face of these facts, the provenance of the fragment is secondary. Whilst, when the numerous anomalies surrounding its provenance (all of which Mr Linklater ignores) are taken in to consideration, it is not unreasonable to conclude that it was planted, the case for Abdelbaset does not, as Mr Linklater implies, rely upon that claim. To reiterate, the allegation that the fragment was tampered with or exchanged is Mr Bollier’s alone.

  1. Police are adamant, however, that the fragment was under supervision. They point out that the evidence would have to have been planted within 23 days, requiring knowledge of all the evidence to come — including Megrahi, whose existence was then unknown.

If there was a deliberate plot to frame Libya for the bombing, it would almost certainly have been led by the CIA and the Scottish authorities would not have known about it. Furthermore, it would have begun soon after the bombing. An unnamed US intelligence official briefed the Sunday Telegraph as early as January 1989 that the Libyans were involved. It would have been relatively simple for them to plant evidence early on in the investigation behind the backs of the police. Mr Megrahi’s existence was unknown to the police, but declassified CIA cables revealed at trial show he was known to the CIA well before Lockerbie.

  1. Set against the speculation are facts that have never been disproved: the presence of Megrahi in Malta, carrying a false passport, on the day the prosecution says the bomb went on board flight KM180 to Frankfurt; Fhimah arriving with him; and their subsequent telephone conversations.

None of these facts are disputed and Abdelbaset never sought to disprove them. As Mr Linklater well knows, it is their interpretation that is disputed.

  1. Critics have argued that, because there is no direct evidence to show that the bomb was inserted at Luqa airport in Malta, the more likely theory is that it was loaded on at Heathrow.

A broken padlock found on a security gate during a critical period on the night before the bombing is said to be persuasive evidence that this is when the bomb was inserted into the system.

However, sources close to the investigation are now adamant that the timetable of events is against it. The security gap was between 22.05 on December 20, 1988, and 00.30 on December 21 , when Raymond Manly, a security guard, found the broken padlock. Another 13½ hours were to go by before the loading of a container with luggage for Pan Am 103 began. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for a suspect bag to remain undetected and there is no evidence to show that it did.

The claim that the bomb originated from Heathrow does not rely on the claim that the bombers were responsible for the break-in. Both I and Dr Morag Kerr, who has done more research than anyone on Heathrow, believe that the break-in may be entirely coincidental. The key point about the break-in is that – like so much other evidence of potential use to the defence – it was not disclosed to Abdelbaset’s trial lawyers.

10. Yet there is another aspect of the case that makes the counter-theory even harder to sustain. Most critics claim that the investigation was “directed” to Libya and away from Palestinian terrorists to suit western interests in the Gulf war. For this to make sense, any corruption of the evidence would have had to take place after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

Most informed critics don’t claim that the investigation was steered towards Libya in order to serve Western interests in the Gulf war. We merely believe that the Gulf war provided an additional motive. To reiterate, we do not believe that that motive was share by the police and prosecutors who, for all their alleged faults, sincerely believed they had got the right people

11. Set against all that speculation are hard facts that have never been disproved: the remarkable importation by a Libyan company in the period leading up to December 1988 of 29,700 models of the RTSF16 Toshiba cassette recorder.

The boss of the Electric General Company, which imported the goods, was later identified as Said Rashid, al-Megrahi’s associate who was senior to him in Libyan intelligence.

There is nothing remarkable in an electrical company importing electrical goods. The RT-SF16 model had been in production since October 1985 and in the three years from then until October 1988, only 11 per cent of total global production was supplied to Libya. Furthermore, many of the remainder were sold elsewhere in the Middle East, including in countries in which the original suspects in the bombing, the PFLP-GC, had members.

A possibility that neither the prosecution nor the Libyans were motivated to raise at trial (and which Mr Linklater ignores) was that Libya had supplied one of the RT-SF16s to the PFLP-GC.

Interestingly, one of the declassified CIA cables showed that the CIA knew of Abdelbaset’s relationship with Said Rashid and of the latter’s involvement with the electrical company. Strangely, the CIA had originally redacted this information. Could it be that they didn’t want it known that they had foreknowledge of another element of the Crown’s case? As Mr Linklater would say, we may never know.

12. Then there is the unexplained presence of al-Megrahi himself in Malta on the day the prosecution say the bomb went on board KM 180 to Frankfurt, arriving from Tripoli on December 20, the day before the bombing, carrying a false passport in the name of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad.

Mr Fhimah, his co-accused, the former Libyan Arab Airlines station manager at Luqa, was on the same flight. The next day al-Megrahi, from his hotel room in Malta, called Mr Fhimah at his home.

The following morning “Abdusamad” was checked in on Libyan Arab Airlines flight LN147 back to Tripoli. Thus al-Megrahi was at Luqa airport just as KM 180 was checking in. By the time the bomb arrived at Frankfurt, he was back at home.

No explanation for the false passport was given, although many years later al-Megrahi was to claim that he was on a sanctions-busting trip. However, he never used the passport again.

Abdelbaset’s presence in Malta was is not unexplained: he said that went there to look at Mr Fhimah’s new travel agency business and meet his Maltese business partner, Vincent Vassallo, and to buy a carpet. He may also have had a romantic liaison. Mr Vassallo confirmed the meeting and said that Mr Fhimah had introduced Mr Megrahi under his real name – hardly the actions of men planning a bombing. Mr Megrahi spent the night at the Holiday Inn, which he had stayed at just a fortnight earlier under his real name. Had he been a terrorist, he would surely have lain low at one of the island’s Libyan government-owned hotels.

There is nothing incriminating in someone calling a friend. While it’s true that Abdelbaset never used the passport again, he kept it for eleven years then handed it over as evidence for the trial – again, hardly the actions of a guilty man.




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Eight inconvenient truths about Lockerbie, which the media and authorities are ignoring


Today, the 26th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, the media is full of articles about the case. All report the claims of Scotland’s chief prosecutor, the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC, that a review of the case has confirmed the guilt of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man so far convicted of the bombing. However, Mr Mulholland and – with the exception of a couple of Scottish newspapers – the media have barely touched upon key facts that suggest Mr Megrahi was not guilty.

Before I list these, a bit of background for those unfamiliar with the story. The prosecution case, which was accepted by the Scottish judges who convicted Mr Megrahi, was that on the morning of 21 December 1988, while travelling under a false name, he managed to smuggle a brown Samsonite suitcase containing a bomb onto an Air Malta flight from Malta to Frankfurt. An expert in airline security and alleged senior intelligence officer, Megrahi was said to have labelled the case for onward transfer to Pan Am flight 103A from Frankfurt to London Heathrow and Pan Am 103 from Heathrow to New York.

He supposedly bought clothes for the suitcase at a small Maltese shop called Mary’s House on an earlier visit to the island on 7 December. The shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, who was the prosecution’s star witness, told the court that Mr Megrahi resembled the man who had bought the clothes. The Malta link was confirmed by baggage records from Frankfurt airport, which appeared to show that a suitcase from the Air Malta flight had been forwarded to Pan Am 103.

Another key plank of the case was a fragment of electronic circuit board, found embedded within part of a blast damaged, Maltese shirt. A British forensic investigator told the court that the fragment matched boards in timers supplied to Libya by Swiss company Mebo, which shared its offices with a Libyan company called ABH, in which Megrahi was a shareholder.

Surely open and shut case? Er, no. Here are just a few of the reasons why.

  1. The guilty verdict was “incomprehensible”

Not my description, but that of Professor Hans Köchler, a UN trial observer. He came to this conclusion because, according to the prosecution, Mr Megrahi coud only have carried out the bombing with the help of another Libyan, Lamin Fhimah, who stood trial with him. However, the judges acquitted Fhimah, which begged the question – as yet unanswered – how could Mr Megrahi acted alone?

  1. The clothes buyer was clearly not Megrahi

In his statements to the police, the shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, consistently described the clothes buyer as around 50 years old, six feet tall, dark skinned and with a full head of hair. Mr Megrahi was around 5ft 8 inches tall, light-skinned, had thinning hair and, at the time of the incident, was just 36.

  1. It’s official – the court judgment was unreasonable

In 2007, following a four-year review of the case, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (the official body responsible for examining alleged miscarriages of justice) referred Mr Megrahi’s conviction to the appeal court on no fewer than six grounds. He abandoned the appeal in 2009 when terminally ill with cancer in the belief that it would help smooth the way for his release from prison on compassionate grounds.

Crucially, one of the SCCRC’s six grounds was that there was no “reasonable foundation” for the crucial finding that he bought the clothes on 7 December 1988, which was his only window of opportunity. Why did the commission reach this conclusion? Because Mr Gauci was clear that, as he was leaving the shop, the clothes purchaser bought an umbrella because it had started to rain. Yet meteorological evidence heard by the court demonstrated that there was no rain on 7 December. If Mr Megrahi didn’t buy the clothes on 7 December, the prosecution case collapses, so the SCCRC had come as close as it legally could to saying that the guilty verdict itself was unreasonable.

  1. The prosecution withheld a stack of evidence that was helpful to Megrahi

During their review, the SCCRC found that the prosecution had withheld important documents that cast doubt on their own case. Four out of the commission’s six appeal referral grounds concerned such non-disclosure.

Among the documents were secret police memos noting that Tony Gauci had expressed an interest in receiving a substantial reward, and that he was under the strong influence of his brother Paul, who regularly nagged the police about being rewarded. The SCCRC discovered that Tony was later secretly paid $2 million by the US Department of Justice and Paul $1 million. Among the documents uncovered by the commission was a begging letter from the police’s senior investigating officer to the DoJ, in which in which he acknowledged that the Crown Office was prevented by its own rules from seeking a reward for the brothers, but saw no problem in the police doing so.

  1. The circuit board fragment was not from one of the timers supplied to Libya

Evidence uncovered in 2009 demonstrated that the circuit board fragment could not have originated from one of the Libyan timer boards. The evidence concerned the metallic coating on the fragment’s copper circuitry. Back in 1990, two independent scientists consulted by the police established that the coating was pure tin, but when, two years later, they examined a board from the same batch that was used to make the timers supplied to Libya, they discovered that it was coated with a tin-lead alloy. As neither scientist was an electronics expert, they were unaware of the potential significance of the difference. However, in 2009 Mr Megrahi’s lawyers spoke to the prosecution witness who had made the boards used in the Libyan timers, who was certain that all of them were coated with tin-lead alloy and therefore equally certain that he could not have made the board from which the fragment originated. The lawyers also discovered notes by the prosecution forensic expert who had claimed in court that the fragment matched the boards in the Libyan timers. These demonstrated that he too was aware of the metallurgical disparity, which, as an electronics expert, he should have recognised the significance of.

  1. The luggage evidence points to Heathrow rather than Malta

It was not disputed at Mr Megrahi’s trial that the Lockerbie bomb was packed within a brown Samsonite suitcase. Of all the witnesses who were involved in the loading of the three flights on which, according to the prosecution, the bomb was carried were interviewed by the police. Only one of them could recall seeing such a case – a Heathrow baggage handler called John Bedford. Significantly, it was positioned within the luggage container within which the explosion later occurred, very close to the centre of the blast. Crucially, Mr Bedford went off duty BEFORE Pan Am flight 103A arrived from Frankfurt, which means that the suitcase he saw could not have originated on the Air Malta flight

Researcher Dr Morag Kerr, who has exhaustively studied the luggage evidence, has made an extremely compelling case that the Bedford suitcase contained the bomb. Furthermore, records from the Maltese airport suggest that no rogue baggage made it on to the flight to Frankfurt. (For further details see her book ‘Adequately Explained by Stupidity?’)

  1. There is no reliable evidence that Megrahi was a senior intelligence agent

The claim that Mr Megrahi was a senior intelligent agent originated from a junior colleague in the state-owned Libyan Arab Airlines. At Mr Megrahi’s trial, this witness, Magid Giaka, was revealed to be a CIA informant. Not only that, but the CIA considered him so unreliable that it was on the verge of sacking him before he became useful in the Lockerbie case. Declassified CIA cables examined by the court showed him to be a money-grabbing fantasist. As well as alleging that Mr Megrahi was an intelligence agent, he claimed that colonel Gaddafi was a freemason. The judges rejected most of his evidence, yet chose to believe his unsupported claim about Mr Megrahi.

Mr Megrahi does not deny that travelling on a false passport, which he says was issued to him because he was involved a US sanctions-busting efforts to source spare parts for the airline. Crucially, he kept the passport for eleven years after the bombing and was happy for it to be passed to the prosecution at trial – hardly the actions of a guilty man.

  1. No evidence has emerged from Libya since the fall of Gaddafi

A few days after the start of the Libyan revolution, in February 2011, Colonel Gaddafi’s ex-justice minister, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who was soon to become head of Libya’s National Transitional Council, told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that he had proof that Gaddafi had ordered the bombing. A few days later, he told the Sunday Times that Mr Megrahi had blackmailed Gaddafi into securing his release from prison by threatening to expose Gaddafi’s role in the bombing, and had ‘vowed to exact revenge’ unless Gaddafi complied. However, when, a few weeks later, he was pushed to reveal his proof, the best he could offer was that the Gaddafi regime had funded Megrahi’s legal case. He later claimed that Expressen had misquoted him. The Scottish police and prosecutors hoped that the regime change would yield more evidence about Mr Megrahi’s and Gaddafi’s role in the bombing, but, nearly four years on, no such evidence has surfaced publicly. The only significant document to emerge was a letter from Megrahi to his relative Abdullah Sennousi, which was reported by the Wall Street Journal. In it he stated: “I am an innocent man”. He wasn’t lying.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday Herald article responds to Lord Advocate’s latest claims of Megrahi’s guilt


The Sunday Herald has today published the following article by me in response to the Lord Advocates latest claims that Abdelbaset was guilty of the Lockerbie boming.

The four elephants in the room which suggest the Lord Advocate is wrong

The Crown Office has used the 26th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing to proclaim the safety of the conviction of Abdelbaset al Megrahi, the only man so far convicted of the bombing.

The department briefed yesterday that a review of the case had “confirmed beyond doubt” the Libyan’s guilt, while today its head, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC, has personally reaffirmed that guilt.

Mulholland has been unusually vigorous in denouncing Megrahi’s supporters, who include relatives of the Lockerbie dead, branding them “conspiracy theorists” two years ago. It is hard to imagine his opposite number in England and Wales, the director of public prosecutions, taking to the media to defend a conviction and take on critics. But while this strident tone has raised eyebrows, Mulholland’s statements are more notable for ignoring four large elephants in the middle of his legal chambers.

The first is the ongoing review of the case by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), the statutory body that has the power to refer convictions to the appeal court. As Mulholland well knows, a previous review by the commission referred the case on no fewer than six grounds. The terminally ill Megrahi abandoned the resulting appeal to improve his chances of being granted compassionate release, but was confident that his name would one day be cleared. Remarkably, one of the six grounds was that the three Scottish law lords who convicted him had made a fundamental error of judgment when they found that the clothes incriminating Megrahi had been bought on December 7. In doing so, the commission, in the eyes of some, came as close as it legally could to saying that the guilty verdict was itself wrong.

More seriously for the Crown Office, four of the other grounds concerned its failure to disclose important evidence to Megrahi’s defence team. This included evidence that the Crown’s star witness, Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, had expressed an interest in receiving a substantial reward and was under the strong influence of his brother Paul, who regularly nagged the police about being rewarded. The SCCRC discovered Gauci was later secretly paid $2 million by the US Department of Justice, and his brother Paul $1m.

When, in 2012, this ­newspaper published a leaked copy of the SCCRC’s 800-page review, the Crown Office went into panic mode, anonymously briefing a Scottish tabloid that Megrahi’s case had “more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese” then issuing a press statement that significantly downplayed the commission’s findings.

The second elephant is the two-year-old police investigation, led by Police Scotland’s Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, into criminal allegations made against some of those originally involved in the inquiry by the committee of the Justice for Megrahi group.

When the allegations were first made to the then Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, the Crown Office immediately denounced them as groundless, despite not having seen the detailed dossier of evidence assembled by the committee. Many were shocked by the intervention, believing it might compromise the police inquiry and that it raised serious questions about Mulholland’s independence as the chief public prosecutor. Unfortunately for the Crown Office, the police clearly do not share its contempt for the allegations. If the investigation concludes there was no criminal misconduct, the Crown Office still has to explain why it failed to disclose so much important evidence. In the view of its critics, notably Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the bombing, the matter must be addressed in a public inquiry – something successive Scottish governments have been reluctant to grant.

The third elephant is forensic evidence concerning a small fragment of electronic circuit board, recovered from an item of clothing that was supposedly in the same suitcase as the bomb. According to the prosecution, it matched boards in timers supplied to Libya by a Swiss firm called Mebo, which shared offices with a Libyan company part-owned by Megrahi.

Evidence uncovered prior to Megrahi’s abandoned appeal demonstrated that the fragment could not have originated from one of the Libyan timer boards. The discovery has fuelled claims the fragment was a plant, which has in turn encouraged the Crown Office to call its opponents conspiracy theorists. However, as Mulholland must be aware, the breaking of the link between the fragment and the Libyan timers leaves the prosecution case in shreds, regardless of whether it was planted.

The fourth elephant is the lack of evidence from Libya to implicate either Megrahi or the Gaddafi regime in the bombing. During the country’s 2011 revolution, senior officials, keen to curry favour with the West, lined up to accuse the regime of sponsoring the attack.

The best known of them, the head of the National Transitional Council and former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, claimed to have proof that Gaddafi ordered the bombing.

All this must have been music to the Crown Office’s ears, but, when pushed to reveal his proof of the regime’s guilt, the best Jalil could offer was that it had funded ­Megrahi’s legal case.

Sadly, Libya has become too dangerous for the Scottish police to conduct investigations there. Even if it were not, they would likely find the cupboard was bare. In the four years since the revolution, ­nothing has emerged publicly from the ruins of the old regime to affirm Megrahi’s guilt, let alone Libya’s.

No doubt Mulholland’s public declarations will continue to ignore the four elephants in his legal chambers, but he must knows that their ever-fiercer stamping may one day bring Megrahi’s conviction crashing around his ears.

John Ashton is the author of the authorised ­biography of Abdelbaset al Megrahi, Megrahi: You are my Jury, (Birlinn, 2012) and Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters (Birlinn, 2014). From 2006-09, he worked as a researcher with Megrahi’s legal team.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Private Eye reports on Lockerbie and the shelving of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill

The latest edition of Private Eye (no. 1366) carries the following article.

The Scottish government has quietly shelved for at least a year its controversial Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, heading off an escalating row over the need for corroboration before bringing a case to trial, until after September’s independence referendum.

The move also parks another reform, which would have made it easier to have the highly dubious conviction of Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, the only man jailed for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, referred back to the appeal court – just as relatives of some of the victims were about to launch an unprecedented legal action to do just that.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was one of the 270 who died in the attack, is leading 25 relatives of Lockerbie victims who are about to make a new a new application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) to send Megrahi’s case back to the appeal court for a third time. The SNP government has repeatedly refused calls for an inquiry into the festering scandal, claiming the appeal court is the only appropriate forum for airing the issues. Yet it has quietly stacked the cards against any appeal.

Eye readers will recall that the SCCRC had already found strong grounds for believing there had been a miscarriage of justice, but Megrahi, who had terminal cancer, abandoned his second appeal five years ago in order to return to Libya to be with his family. Since then there has been fresh scientific evidence which points to his innocence. There has also been mounting concern about the amount of material also suggesting he was not the bomber which had been withheld from Megrahi’s 2001 trial, and his first appeal the following year, by Scotland’s prosecuting authority, the Crown Office.

The application by the families will be breaking new territory. First they will have to prove they have a “legitimate interest” in pursuing an appeal on behalf of Megrahi – a task made easier by the fact that Megrahi’s family supports the move. They will then have to prove the case is in the “public interest” – a far more straightforward argument. However, thanks to an arcane piece of legislation the biggest hurdle for them is that before deciding whether to hear a case referred to it by the SCCRC, the appeal court must have regard to “the need for finality and certainty in the determination of criminal proceedings”.

“Finality· and certainty”‘ isn’t defined in the legislation, but it means the court has to decide whether the threat of endless appeals and challenges outweighs SCCRC concern that there may have been an injustice. With one first failed appeal and the second abandoned, the court might simply say enough is enough – especially  when Megrahi himself is dead. That “finality” test was to have been abolished in the new Criminal Justice Bill, but unfortunately for the Lockerbie families it now it remains the law.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Response to Richard Marquise’s Scottish Review article

The current issue of the Scottish Review carries an article by the head of the FBI’s Lockerbie investigation, Richard Marquise, which critiques the three recently broadcast Aljazeera programmes on Lockerbie. The second of the programmes was originally broadcast on the day Megrahi: you are my Jury was published. It presented evidence that, contrary to the Crown’s claims, the circuit board fragment PT/35b could not have originated from one of the 20 MST-13 timers supplied by Mebo to Libya. Mr Marquise writes as follows. My comments are in regular font:

[Programme] two was primarily dedicated to proving that a fragment of a timer (hereinafter called Pt-35 for the Scottish evidence designation) was not part of the timer that was provided to the LIS. The investigation had determined that PT-35 had been blasted into a piece of cloth which had been contained in the bomb suitcase. The British forensic examiner was criticised for not testing this fragment for explosive residue. It should be noted that PT-35 was found within a fragment of cloth which did have explosive residue on it.

No evidence was presented to the court that the cloth fragment PI995 was tested for residues and nothing in the forensic material disclosed by the Crown suggests that it was.

Once MEBO was identified as the manufacturer of the timer from which PT-35 had come, principals of that company verified this fragment had come from one of 20 timers they had manufactured for the LIS in 1985 and 1986.

In fact Mebo’s Bollier and Lumpert said that the fragment appeared to come from one of the timers. They never claimed to have proof that it did. (Bollier later claimed that it was from a prototype circuit board and not from one of the boards used in the Libyan timers, but this unlikely because the prototypes were grey/brown. Whereas the fragment was green.)

All of them were delivered to Libyan officials, in East Germany and Tripoli. No other timers of this sort were ever made or given to anyone but the LIS. The MEBO technician who had actually made these timers said that he first had to create, by hand soldering, a template for the timers. Once he created the solder lines he was then able to stamp out the 20 copies. Once these were made no other copies were ever made of this type timer.

Al Jazeera showed an interview of a forensic scientist who had allegedly (I do not know what specimens he actually compared) determined that the metallic composition of PT-35 did not match that found on the MEBO timers provided to Libya. He also claimed to have replicated in the laboratory the same or greater temperatures than the fragment would have been exposed to during an explosion to make this determination.

The expert, Dr Jess Cawley, compared PT/35b with DP/347a, which was a control sample one of the boards used in the Libyan timers. His work showed that PT/35b’s circuitry was coated with pure tin, whereas DP/347a’s was coated with a tin-lead alloy. The boards used in the Libyan timers were all made for Mebo by Thuring. During the preparations for Abdelbaset’s second appeal we established that Thuring only ever used tin-lead alloy and had never used pure tin.

It is difficult to exactly replicate the explosion in a laboratory setting. I am not a metallurgist and the FBI was not allowed to examine the composition of the fragment. However, the identification of the fragment was through comparison of the tracking (solder) lines which determined the MEBO timer was an exact match to it. Clearly, if the scientist interviewed for the programme had the requisite technical skills, there would be a disagreement among experts.

It might be difficult to replicate an explosion, but it is not difficult to create the same or even greater heat energy than is created by an explosion. This is what Dr Cawley did and his results showed that the heat of an explosion could not account for the metallurgical difference between the fragment and the Libyan timer boards. The tracking lines of the fragment were indeed virtually identical in pattern to the of the boards used in the Libyan timers, but Crown expert Allan Feraday went further, saying that, not only the tracking pattern, but also the material of the fragment was ‘similar in all respects’ to the Libyan timer boards. ‘Similar in all respects’ was a phrase used throughout his forensic report when describing items that were clearly of common origin.

There was no disagreement among scientists: Dr Cawley’s results merely replicated the results of tests overseen by Mr Feraday in 1991 (which the Crown failed to disclosed) and those done by scientists instructed by the police in 1992.

Many trials result in ‘dueling experts’. However, this is a matter for the court. Every day, in courtrooms around the world, ‘experts’ looking at the same evidence arrive at totally opposite conclusions. The prosecution, to counter, would offer ‘evidence’ that the solder tracking lines are microscopically identical to the other MEBO timers given to Libya and therefore the PT-35 fragment is identical to the other MEBO timers provided to Libya. That is the nature of expert testimony. It would have then been up to the judge or jury to reach a conclusion. Presenting one ‘expert’ opinion was a disservice to the viewers.

Again, there were no duelling experts. All the scientists’ work demonstrates conclusively that there was an irreconcilable metallurgical difference the fragment and the boards used in the Libyan timers. Crucially, the Crown fail to disclose Mr Feraday’s 1991 tests results, which directly contradicted his claim that the fragment and the control sample Thuring board were ‘similar in all respects’.

Mr Marquise does not mention the fact that the Scottish police knew from as early as March 1990, well before the fragment was linked to Mebo, that its pure tin coating was very unusual. In 1992 they commissioned tests that proved that the control sample Thuring board had a tin-lead coating, which begs the question: why did the Crown persist in running a case that was predicated on the claim that PT/35b originated from one of the 20 Libyan timers?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review of Aljazeera documentary ‘Lockerbie: What Really Happened?’

Aljazeera last night premiered its long-awaited documentary Lockerbie: What Really Happened? The programme’s broad thrust, with which I agree, is that the bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by the PFLP-CG, with help from Hezbollah. It also suggests that Libya may have had a role, which I don’t rule out.

Before commenting further, I should make a declaration of interest: I was paid consultant and interviewee for the producers’ previous Aljazeera programme Lockerbie: Case Closed, (which you can view here) which was broadcast on the day that Megrahi: You are my Jury was published, and was also a paid consultant during the development phase of this one, although I was not involved with the production itself. The most significant discoveries I made during the development phase were of no great interest to the producers, so I took them to Channel 4 News, who took a different view and commissioned a special report, which was broadcast on 20 December (you can view it here).

Last night’s programme has generated a lot of media coverage, but contains little that hasn’t already been reported previously. Most of the coverage has led on the allegations made in the film by Abolghasem Mesbahi, the German-based Iranian defector, who alleged that the bombing was carried out in revenge for the US shootdown of Iran Air flight 655. His claims have been reported as if they are new, but they are not: they originally surfaced in the German media in 1996 or 1997. Mesbahi gave his first broadcast interview about Lockerbie to the German channel ZDF in 2008 and Aljazeera’s interview, which was in fact shot by ZDF, featured in another ZDF documentary last month.

Mesbahi was a former senior official in Iran’s security service, Vevak, and was based in, among other places, Paris and Bonn. In late 1988 he was imprisoned briefly as a suspected US double agent and in 1996 defected. He claimed to have first hand knowledge of the plot that resulted in the 1992 murder, by Iranian agents, of several leading Kurdish separatists in the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin. His testimony proved crucial in the subsequent trial of some of the Iranians. It was not until some months after his defection that he began to talk about Lockerbie.

Last year I spoke to a leading German journalist who is very familiar with both Mesbahi and the Lockerbie story. While he believes that the evidence that Mesbahi gave in the Mykonos case was credible, he is very sceptical of his claims about Lockerbie.

By Mesbahi’s own admission, all his information about Lockerbie was second-hand. His accounts to the German police (documented in memos disclosed to the Abdelbaset’s lawyers pre-trial) were erratic. Some of his claims were unlikely, others patently nonsense. He claimed that the Iranian government initiated the operation and Iranian foreign minister Velajati held talks with Colonel Gadaffi, during which they’d agreed on a joint operation in which Iran would be responsible for the explosives and Libya for the electronics. There was no reason for Iran to rely on the Libyans to sort out the electronics, when they had plenty of other bomb makers at their disposal. He did not mention the PFLP-GC and instead suggested that the operation was not only commissioned by the Iranian government, but also largely undertaken by Iranian agents.

He said that the technical instructions for the bomb came from the Abu Nidal Organisation. He initially claimed that it was assembled and loaded at Heathrow by Libyan agents who had access to the airport’s ‘secure area’ (by which, presumably, he meant airside), but later claimed that it was assembled there by a ANO members. He also said that the bomb was activated by a chemical detonator, which again seems unlikely. He reported that the Iranians sent explosives to London after which the green light was given to the Libyans to deliver the electronic components. This, a source told him, was done by Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah only days before the bombing. However, there is no evidence that they were in London at any point. It is clear that Abdelbaset was in Prague and Switzerland from 9th to 17th December and that he and Lamin were in Malta on the 20th and 21st. I suspect that Mesbahi stitched together a story that would implicate Iran, while accommodating the official ‘Libya-did-it’ narrative.

Another disappointing aspect of the programme was the prominence it gave to the claims of the Operation Bird reports, about which I have written previously (here and here). Some of the reports’ key allegations are, in my view, unlikely, in particular the claim that the PFLP-GC’s German ringleader, Hafez Dalkamoni, attended a crucial planning meeting in Malta in October 1988. This claim is contradicted by documentary and witness evidence gathered by the BKA, which is far stronger than the evidence that the programme presented to corroborate the claim (essentially, a 1989 Maltese newspaper article).

The film was on more solid ground when it presented US Defence Intelligence Agency reports from 1989 and 1990, which implicated the PFLP-GC and Iran in the attack. Unfortunately, it implied that the reports were secret and stated that they would have been used at Abdelbaset’s second appeal. Neither suggestion was true: the reports had no role in the appeal and are available online having been declassified many years ago.

There were other exaggerated and misleading claims. For example, the commentary stated ‘this programme has learned’ that Tony Gauci had picked out a photo of Mohamed Abu Talb before his partial identification of Abdelbaset. In fact it is well known that, when shown a photo of Abu Talb by the police in October 1989, Gauci said that he resembled the clothes purchaser. The programme also stated that the Toshiba radio-cassette player that housed the Lockerbie bomb was of the same type as the one seized by the BKA during the Autumn Leaves raids, but in fact it was substantially different.

On the plus side, the film contained powerful interviews with former CIA investigator Robert Baer, researcher and campaigner Morag Kerr and, surprisingly, the former Times political editor Robin Oakley. Overall, though, it was a wasted opportunity.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Expanded version of my Scottish Review response to Magnus linklater

Earlier this month, together with other supporters of the ‘Lockerbie bomber’, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, I found myself accused in the Scottish Review of being an obsessive conspiracy theorist, impervious to fact or reason. The article’s author, The Times columnist Magnus Linklater, believes that, far from being a stain on Scottish justice, Mr Megrahi’s case ‘triumphantly vindicates’ it.

He argues that we prefer innuendo, myth, and half-truths to straight evidence and independent judgement, yet he displays exactly that preference. For good measure, he misrepresents his opponents, mangles logic and contradicts himself.

He ascribes to us two related conspiracy theories: firstly that the bombing was commissioned by Iran and carried out by the Syrian-based anti-PLO, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command; and, secondly, that there was a grand conspiracy to shift blame to Megrahi and Libya, to which the police, the Crown Office, witnesses, judges, senior politicians and the intelligence services were all willing parties.

A word about that term ‘conspiracy theory’. It’s a cheap and nasty little put-down that herds honest truth-seekers into the same pen as the Elvis-was-abducted-by-aliens crowd, while relieving the user of the obligation to properly address the facts. It is also politically loaded – only ever being employed against those who challenge the official line on controversial issues.

If the Iran/PFLP-GC scenario is a conspiracy theory, then so too is what the Crown posited at Mr Megrahi’s trial. That theory went as follows. On 21 December 1988 he placed a suitcase on board Air Malta flight KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt. It contained a bomb concealed within a Toshiba BomBeat radio-cassette player and was labelled for New York on PA103. From Frankfurt it was transferred to a Heathrow then loaded onto PA103.

The suitcase was packed with clothes that Mr Megrahi had bought in Malta on 7 December, from a shopkeeper called Tony Gauci.  He took the case to Malta on 20 December and the following morning flew home on a flight whose check-in time overlapped with KM180’s.  Before leaving, he managed to place the suitcase on KM180 with the help of his former LAA colleague Lamin Fhimah, with whom he stood trial.

The two men fronted companies for the Libyan intelligence service, the JSO. One of them, ABH, co-owned by Megrahi, shared Zurich offices with electronics company Mebo, which, three years before Lockerbie, had supplied 20 unique electronic timers to Libya, one of which was used in the bomb.

As conspiracy theories go, it was pretty lousy. Mr Linklater acknowledges that the case was entirely circumstantial. What he ignores is that, towards the end of the trial, the Crown amended the indictment, quietly dropping many of the conspiracy claims, a tacit admission that much of its theory was unsupported.

What of the evidence? Mr Linklater summarises it as follows, thoroughly exaggerating its strength in the process: ‘It placed al-Megrahi in Malta on the relevant date, travelling in the company of another intelligence operative, holding a false passport, and identified as the purchaser of clothing, later found in the case which held the explosives. Forensic evidence, in the form of a fragment of timer used to detonate the bomb, had been supplied to the Libyans by its Swiss manufacturer. Subsequent evidence also turned up some $1.8 million in al-Megrahi’s personal bank account, calling into question the Libyan government’s description of him as a low-ranking airline worker.’

Megrahi was in Malta on the morning of the bombing, but the more ‘relevant date’ was the one on which the clothes were bought. According to the Crown, this was 7 December when there is no dispute that he was on the island.   Was that really the purchase date? The shopkeeper Tony Gauci couldn’t remember, but was able to provide the police with a number of clues. One was that his brother Paul was at home watching football on TV. Paul was able to narrow down the dates to 23 November and 7 December. Another was that the Christmas lights had not been erected. Official records, unearthed after Mr Megrahi’s conviction, showed that the lights were illuminated on 6 December, which appeared to rule out 7 December. Tony also told the police that, as the man left the shop, he bought an umbrella because it had started to rain. Meteorological data, collected just a few kilometers away at Luqa airport, showed that it rained at the relevant time on 23 November, but not on 7 December. There seemed little doubt, therefore, that 7 December was not the date of the clothes purchase. In convicting Megrahi, the judges relied on Mr Gauci’s trial testimony – which contradicted his police statements – that the purchase was around a fortnight before Christmas; and on the concession by defence witness Major Joseph Mifsud, that, although there was no rain at Luqa on 7 December, there was a theoretical 10 per cent chance that a few drops of rain may have fallen at the shop.

Mr Megrahi was not, as Mr Linklater claims, identified as the clothes purchaser. Mr Gauci fell well short of a positive identification, saying only that Megrahi resembled the man. Other aspects of his description ruled Megrahi out: the man was around 50, 6ft tall, heavily built, dark skinned and with a full head of hair, whereas Megrahi was just 36 at the time, 5ft 8 inches tall, light skinned and with a receding hairline.

The timer fragment – in fact a fragment of circuit board – was certainly a visual match for the circuit boards used in the 20 timers supplied to Libya. The Crown’s main forensic expert said it was both visually and materially ‘similar in all respects’. However, in 2009, when preparing Megrahi’s second appeal, we learnt that the fragment bore a crucial metallurgical difference to the boards in the 20 timers. This difference had been noted in reports by two prosecution scientists. The man who made those boards, a technician at Swiss company Thüring, who was also a prosecution witness, confirmed that the fragment could not have originated from one of those boards.

Megrahi never claimed to be ‘a low-ranking airline worker’. Rather, he said that he held a number of fairly senior positions within the Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA). He also admitted that he used his connections to senior Libyan government and intelligence figures to make a nice living importing goods, mainly through the company ABH. Company records show that it dealt in everything from police cars to schools equipment. Its main business was sourcing spare parts for LAA, which was hit by a US embargo on the sale of aircraft equipment to Libya. He needed the false passport, he said, to conceal his connection to the airline industry (his regular passport gave his profession as flight dispatcher, whereas the false one did not).

There were other planks to the prosecution case, which Mr Linklater does not mention. Shortly after being charged, Mr Megrahi had lied to a US TV interview, denying both a connection to Mebo and travelling to and from Malta on a false passport on 20/21 December. A former LAA colleague and CIA informant Magid Giaka, also testified that, shortly before the bombing, Mr Megrahi arrived in Malta with a brown Samsonite suitcase, which Mr Fhimah helped him to carry out of the airport. Mr Megrahi’s explanation for the lies is that he feared that, if he said anything that confirmed key elements of the prosecution case, it would provide the US with an excuse to repeat the air raids of 1986, which killed scores of Libyans. As he followed his lawyers’ advice not to give evidence, his story was never tested at trial. Mr Giaka’s was, and, to put it kindly, was found to be wanting. To put it less kindly, he was exposed as a money grabbing fantasist. He was done for by a series of CIA cables in which his handlers described in rich detail how he took them for a ride and provided little useful in return. Most of the damning details were redacted in the cables originally disclosed to the defence. The CIA only agreed to relax its censorship under pressure from the court. (The saga provided the trial’s most scandalous episode, to which I shall return later.) Mr Giaka was the sole source of the claim that Mr Megrahi was a senior intelligence agent. He also claimed that Colonel Gaddafi was a freemason.

Mr Linklater should be well aware of all these weaknesses in Mr Megrahi’s conviction, yet he fails to report them. Setting them aside, many aspects of the Crown’s conspiracy theory verged on preposterous. Megrahi chose a small shop, rather than an anonymous chain store and bought clothes in a random manner, which seemed designed to bring attention to himself. Rather than compartmentalising the operation, as any sensible terrorist would, he then returned to the island a fortnight later executed the final leg of the plot by planting the bomb. Furthermore, he chose to launch the bomb from Malta’s Luqa airport, where Mr Fhimah was well known, and which had unusually strict baggage procedures that required the head loader physically counting the number of bags to see that they matched the number checked in (his load sheet confirmed that the number did match – a further substantial flaw in the Crown case, which Mr Linklater fails to acknowledge).  The night before the plot, rather than laying low, he and Mr Fhimah visited a Maltese friend of Mr Fhimah’s, who had never previously met him. Mr Fhimah introduced him under his real name. He then stayed the night at the Holiday Inn under his false name, having stayed there on 7 December under his real one. He kept the false passport for 12 years, well after its expiry date, and allowed his lawyers to hand it over to the Scottish prosecutors. He was supposedly an airport security expert yet he sent the bomb on a three-legged journey, which, he must have known, might be plagued by winter delays and luggage system foul-ups. Furthermore, he set the timer to detonate only just over an hours after PA103’s scheduled departure time and only 38 minutes after its actual take off.

Libya’s supposed motive was revenge for the US air raids of 1986. This element of the theory was contradicted by none other than Margaret Thatcher. In her autobiography, published two years after the Libyans were indicted, she wrote in justification of her support for the attacks: ‘[The air raids] turned out to be a more decisive blow against Libyan-sponsored terrorism than I could ever have imagined … the much-vaunted Libyan counter attack did not and could not take place. Gaddafi had not been destroyed but he had been humbled. There was a marked decline in Libyan-sponsored terrorism in succeeding years.’

Since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011, no evidence has emerged publicly to suggest that the Libya was involved in the bombing. Three years ago, at the start of the revolution the opposition leader and former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel Jalil told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that he had proof that Gaddafi was behind the bombing. When asked about this proof by the BBC a few weeks later, the best he could offer was that the regime had paid for Megrahi’s legal case – fact that was both well-known and entirely irrelevant. He later claimed that Expressen had misquoted him. Inconveniently for the Crown, some senior anti-Gaddafi figures have denied that Libya was involved in the bombing and the country’s first interim justice minister, Mohamed al-Alagi, has stated publicly since the revolution that Megrahi was innocent. Moreover, in the two and a half years since the revolution began, the only document to surface from the ransacked offices of the old regime is a letter from Megrahi to his relative Abdullah Sennusi in which he proclaims his innocence.

In defending the official narrative, Mr Linklater offers the following king-sized non-sequitur: ‘Even the Libyan government appears to accept that the origins of the plot lie in their country – it has appointed prosecutors to liaise with Scottish investigators in their search for further proof.’  The appointment of prosecutors does not connote an acceptance of Libyan involvement.

Mr Linklater points out that my books barely touch upon another alleged case of Libyan aviation terrorism, the bombing of UTA flight 772 in 1989. The reason is simple: I am not an expert on it and am therefore happy to accept that the official case – that Libya was entirely to blame – might well be true. (French journalist Pierre Péan, who is an expert, has, I am told, destroyed the official case.) The UTA bombers’ use of a Samsonite suitcase and a timer, according to Mr Linklater, makes the attack ‘strikingly similar’ to Lockerbie, yet the Sikhs who blew up Air India flight 182 in 1985 also used a Samsonite case and a timer. A more startling parallel, in my view, is the fact that the forensic cases both rested on tiny fragments of the alleged timers recovered from a vast crash site, which were analysed by the same discredited FBI expert, and traced to a shady European supplier. And, as with Lockerbie, the prosecution rested upon the erratic testimony of a single witness.

What, then, of the Iran/PFLP-GC conspiracy theory? Mr Linklater ascribes it to Megrahi’s supporters, yet the Justice for Megrahi campaign, to which most of the supporters are signatories, is deliberately neutral on the matter. For reasons I am about to explain, I am not, however, as I cautioned in my book Megrahi: You are my Jury, the case against these alternative suspects may turn out to be as flawed as the one against Megrahi – a statement that undermines Mr Linklater’s characterisation of me as wholly wedded to this counter theory.

Iran had a clear and credible motive for the bombing: to avenge the death of the 290 people who died when the US battleship the Vincennes accidentally shot down Iran Air flight 655 over the Persian Gulf.   Declassified US intelligence documents state as a matter of fact that Iran hired the PFLP-GC. In the Autumn of 1988 a PFLP-GC cell in West Germany began planning an attack on western airlines. Its bomb-maker, Marwan Khreesat, who was later revealed to be a mole for both the German foreign intelligence service and its pro-Western Jordanian counterpart, confessed that he had made five barometrically triggered bombs, two of which he had concealed within a mono Toshiba BomBeat radio cassette players. The Lockerbie Toshiba BomBeat was stereo. He was adamant that the cell was on the verge of an attack and that its leader, Hafez Dalkamoni, had shown an interest in Pan Am.

Dalkamoni, Khreesat and a number of their associated were arrested by two months before Lockerbie, with the police recovering a huge terrorist arsenal, including one of the Toshiba bombs. All bar Dalkamoni and one other were released within days, while others remained undetected, including, according to Khreesat, an airline security expert one known as Abu Elias. Less than three weeks before the bombing a US State Department security bulletin warned ‘Team of Palestinians not assoc[iated] with Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) intends to atk [attack] US tgts [targets] in Europe. Time frame is present.’ Remarkably, it continued: ‘[Targets] specified are Pan Am airlines and US mil[itary] bases.’  Although the PFLP-GC was not named, the group was opposed to the PLO and had an infrastructure in Europe.

According to retired CIA Middle East specialist Robert Baer, who was involved in the early stages of the Lockerbie investigation, the CIA established within days of the flight 655 that Dalkamoni met members of the Iranian intelligence service, the Pasadaran. Iranian instructions, said Baer, were ‘crystal clear: Blow up an American airplane – in the air in order to kill as many people as possible.’  He would not be drawn on his sources, but insisted they were ‘as good as it gets.’ Baer has never claimed to have first hand knowledge of the of the bomb plot, but merely reported what was stated as fact in the intelligence community at the time. He is not, as Mr Linklater claims, one of my principal informant, but merely added detail to what I, and many others, had already gleaned from elsewhere. Well before he went on the record in 2002, declassified US intelligence documents had surfaced, which stated as fact that Lockerbie was a PFLP-GC operation. Another, written by the Defence Intelligence Agency in September 1990, following a visit to Syria by US Secretary of State James Baker, states that Syria had promised to had over members of the PFLP-GC if the US would provide proof of its role in the bombing: ‘Damascus has demanded evidence of the PFLP-GC’ s involvement. This has been especially true with regard to PFLP-GC involvement in Pan Am 103. Although the US has provided evidence of PFLP-GC complicity the Syrian Government has dismissed it as insufficient.’ By the time the memo was written, the Lockerbie investigation had swung decisively towards Libya, yet the US government had evidence of PFLP-GC involvement, even if it didn’t meet the Syrians’, no doubt very high, standards of proof. Five months later, at the end of February 1991, by which time the investigation was solely focused on Libya, a DIA report stated that Iran’s interior minister, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, had paid $10 million for the bombing.

Iran had a powerful motive: revenge for the US Navy’s shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655, which killed 290 six months before Lockerbie.  Declassified US intelligence documents state as fact that Iran hired the PFLP-GC. Another, written months after the investigation had switched to Libya, stated that Iran’s interior minister had paid the bombers $10 million. In October 1988 a PFLP-GC cell in West Germany was caught by the police planning an attack on western airlines. Its bomb-maker, Marwan Khreesat, confessed that he had made five barometrically triggered bombs, two of which he had concealed within a mono Toshiba BomBeat radio cassette players. The Lockerbie Toshiba BomBeat was stereo.

Apologists for the official line have claimed that the intelligence documents merely recycled old and unreliable intelligence, yet a deep-cover CIA asset called Richard Fuisz was told by numerous high ranking Syrian officials as late as 1995 (for years after the two Libyans were indicted) that the PFLP-GC’s leader, Ahmed Jibril, was taking credit for the bombing. These sources, said Fuisz in a 2001 court hearing, the scope of which was severely limited by the CIA, interacted with Jibril on a constant basis. Mr Linklater wrote in an email to me: ‘I am amazed that you should be touting shadowy [my italics] CIA agents like Fuisz and Baer, whose evidence would never stand up in court.’ He stopped short of calling them liars, presumably because there is nothing to suggest that they are, but the pejorative verb and adjective were enough to signal that neither they, nor I, were to be trusted. How does Mr Linklater know that their evidence would not stand up? If the CIA had loosened its leash on Fuisz, he could have named names, and provide leads and evidence that would have been accepted in court.

On to that second conspiracy theory. According to Mr Linklater’s Times column of 13 August 2012, we allege a huge plot to shift the blame from Iran and the PFLP-GC to Libya, which involved: ‘the planting or suppression of forensic evidence, the control of witnesses by intelligence services, the approval of senior politicians, the complicity of police officers, a prosecution team prepared to bend every rule to secure a conviction, and a set of senior Scottish judges willing to go along with that [my italics].’

The last sentence is key. It suggests that we claim that everyone from the police to the judges plotted with government and intelligence services to protect the likely bombers and convict those whom they knew to be innocent. The trouble is neither I, nor the great majority of Mr Megrahi’s supporters, have ever made such a claim. In his Scottish Review article Mr Linklater quotes the following passage of my book Megrahi: You are my Jury, which, I believe, clearly does not posit a mega conspiracy: ‘The police cannot be blamed for following leads that fell into their laps. Together with the Crown, they stitched together a flimsy case based around a mercenary double agent, a highly unreliable identification, a hopeless CIA informant, some highly equivocal documents and overstated forensic conclusions, but, again, they were only doing their jobs.’

My latest book, Scotland’s Shame, sets out my view more explicitly:

‘Let us be clear, there was no grand conspiracy by the intelligence services, senior politicians, police officers, prosecutors and judges to subvert the Lockerbie investigation and frame Megrahi and Libya. Conspiracies, of course, do sometimes happen, but seldom ones involving so many diverse parties.

There is, however, no doubt that important evidence was suppressed, that US intelligence agents interfered with the crash site and that some of the evidence against Megrahi was highly dubious. It can also be reasonably argued that the case against Libya was concocted in order to serve the agenda of the government of US president George H. W. Bush, who came to power less than a month after the bombing. In all these things the Scottish authorities were, very likely, no more than unwitting accomplices.’

To be clear, I believe that two different things happened: firstly, the US government ensured that blame was from Iran and the PFLP-GC to Libya; secondly, the Scottish criminal justice system screwed up massively. The first I consider likely, but unproven, the second I consider a cert. Both are based upon a rational evaluation of the available facts. I do not believe that the second occurred because the Americans told the Scots to exonerate the real culprits and frame innocents, indeed I find such suggestions fanciful. In an email to me, Mr Linklater wrote: ‘I’ve been in the [journalism] business for more than 40 years, and have learned over that time a simple principle of reporting: that good investigation requires sound proof.’ Yet he has failed to produce any evidence that the majority of Mr Megrahi’s supporters have posited a grand conspiracy. The Justice for Megrahi campaign committee have formally alleged that some of the failures might have involved criminal conduct by certain Crown servants. They do not, however, claim that it happened at the behest of governments and intelligence services.

There was a clear motive for the US government to shift the blame from Iran to Libya. The Reagan administration was mired in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. As a number of journalists have documented, most notably the scholarly Robert Parry, Reagan’s successor, George Bush Snr, who took office within a month of Lockerbie, spent his entire presidency trying to dodge the tide of scandal. Like Reagan, he was also preoccupied with the fate of US hostages held in Lebanon. If Iran was not appeased, it had the power to severely damage his presidency. Libya, by contrast, had no leverage over the US, moreover, toppling Gaddafi had been a White House obsession throughout the 1980s. As another great American journalist, Bob Woodward, revealed, CIA director William Casey launched one of the biggest covert programmes in the agency’s history, with the clear aim of toppling Gaddafi. Disinformation – that is lying and fakery – was at its core, furthermore it had a number of key personnel in common with the Iran-Contra operation.

Defenders of Megrahi’s conviction assert that the key breakthroughs in the investigation emerged through old-fashioned detective work. However, behind the scenes, the CIA played a key role. One of the Crown’s main witnesses, Majid Giaka, was a CIA asset, while another, Mebo boss Edwin Bollier provided information to the Swiss police at the behest of the CIA. According to his main client, that most diligent of Iron Curtain intelligence agencies, the Stasi, he was almost certainly a western intelligence mole. At Megrahi’s trial it emerged that the CIA had had one of the Mebo timers for two years prior to Lockerbie and we subsequently learned that the agency knew months before the bombing that the devices had been made by Mebo and supplied to Libya. It was the CIA who matched the circuit board fragment to the timers, while trying to conceal its own role in the ‘discovery’ by insisting that an FBI forensic expert take credit for it. There is a cloud of evidential anomalies hanging over the fragment’s provenance. In view of the fact that it was not, as we now know, from one of the 20 timers supplied by Bollier to Libya, is it really far-fetched to suggest that the CIA planted a fake fragment in order to conclusively link Libya to the bombing? According to the head of the FBI investigation, Richard Marquise, his Swiss counterpart believed the fragment was a plant, yet he was not derided as a crazy conspiracy theorist, indeed Marquise acknowledged that the same though also crossed his mind.

It was supposedly months of old-fashioned detective work that revealed that the bomb had come from Malta, via Frankfurt. Yet US diplomatic security officer Fred Burton let slip that the CIA told him within 10 days of the bombing that the bomb had come from Malta, which again raises the suspicion that the agency predetermined the investigation’s outcome.

I have spent many months doing my own old-fashioned detective work among the mountain rescue volunteers, police officers and military personnel who searched the crash site. Among them were rescue team members who recounted seeing American officials in Lockerbie within two hours of the crash, at around 9 pm. The team leader recalled that some of the officials had gathered in a room in the police station, where they were studying maps. A helicopter pilot told me how he ferried around the crash site two CIA agents who conducted their own searches unsupervised by the Scottish police. Officially no Americans reached town before 11pm and the authorities have always denied that there was American interference at the site. They have also denied that large quantities of drugs or cash were found, yet I have spoken to a local man who found drugs and have a precognition statement by one who was present when drugs were recovered. I have also spoken to people who found large bundles of dollars. There may well be innocent explanations for these events, in which case the authorities should tell us what they are, rather than denying that they happened. And, instead of writing me off as a conspiracy theorist, perhaps Mr Linklater should get out and do some door knocking of his own.

The core of his argument is that we have dismissed hard evidence in favour of speculation, yet our chief concern is not the suspicion that blame was shifted. Rather, it is that the evidence that convicted Mr Megrahi was anything but hard, and that the hard evidence that should have acquitted him was withheld. Our case is built on facts, not speculation – these facts in particular:

  1. The trial court judgment, delivered by three of Scotland’s most senior judges, was deemed unreasonable by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. In saying: ‘The Commission does not consider there to be any reasonable basis for the trial court’s conclusion that the purchase took place on 7 December 1988 and therefore for the inference it drew that the applicant was the purchaser of the items from [Gauci’s shop] Mary’s House’, the commission came as close as it legally could to saying that it considered the guilty verdict itself to be unreasonable..
  2. The SCCRC discovered that the Crown had withheld numerous items of evidence that, in its view, would have been important to Megrahi’s defence. No fewer than four of the SCCRC’s six appeal referral grounds concerned such undisclosed evidence.
  3. During the trial, two senior prosecutors viewed the previously redacted extracts of CIA cables concerning the key Crown witness and CIA informant Magid Giaka. They reported back to their boss, the Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC, that there was nothing within them that might assist the defence, and he relayed the assurance to the court. However, when that material was later disclosed to the defence, it was found to contain numerous damaging details, including:
  • Repeated references not only to Giaka’s desire for sham surgery to in order to fake an injury that would enable him to avoid military service, but also his repeated and successful pleas to the CIA to pay for it.
  • The fact that his CIA handlers believed that he had acquired money through illegal commissions and perhaps through low-level smuggling.
  • References to other meetings with him, for which no cables had been disclosed.
  • The fact that the CIA had grown increasingly dissatisfied with him and had been on the verge of sacking him.

The revelations prompted Fhimah’s leading counsel, Richard Keen QC, to comment: ‘Some of the material which is now disclosed goes to the very heart of material aspects of this case, not just to issues of credibility and reliability, but beyond. I frankly find it inconceivable that it could have been thought otherwise.’ The SCCRC noted that Mr Boyd’s assurance to the court was ‘difficult to understand’, adding: ‘The matter is all the more serious given that part of the reason for [the prosecutors] viewing the cables on 1 June, 2000, was precisely in order to assess whether information behind the redacted sections reflected upon Majid’s credibility.’ (For more on this subject see my earlier article for the Scottish Review.)

4. The Crown Office allowed the police to obtain a $2 million reward for the most important prosecution witness, Tony Gauci, despite the payment of such rewards being against its own rules (a subject on which I have also written for the Scottish Review).

5. The Crown withheld the results of forensic tests, which had been supervised by the chief prosecution forensic scientist, that directly contradicted his crucial assertion that the timer fragment was ‘similar in all respects’ to the boards used in the timers supplied to Libya.

6. Despite being under a legal obligation to investigate all leads, not only those that point to Libya, the police and Crown Office have failed to interview witnesses who can attest to the fact that the fragment could not have originated from the Libyan timers.

7. When, in 2012, the committee of Justice for Megrahi submitted a summary of their allegations of criminal misconduct in confidence to the justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill and invited him to appoint an independent investigator to consider them, MacAskill instead passed them to the Crown Office and told them to take the allegations to the police, even though Crown Office officials and police officers were named in the allegations. Despite having seen neither the detailed allegations, nor the supporting evidence, the Crown Office immediately declared publicly that they were ‘without exception, defamatory and entirely unfounded’ and that the committee had been ‘deliberately misleading’, ie were liars.

These are all facts, not opinions or theories. I believe that they add up to the greatest scandal in Scotland’s post-devolution era. Mr Linklater fails to acknowledge most of them and the rest he brushes over lightly. It isn’t as if there are no precedents for the criminal justice system behaving extremely badly. The 15-year debacle of the Shirley McKie case tells us all we need to know about its capacity for denial and distortion of the truth.

The Crown Office’s response to the Justice for Megrahi committee’s allegations is especially disturbing. The allegations remain unproven and their subjects are entitled to the presumption of innocence, but they were made in good faith by people of intelligence and integrity, among them a former police superintendent, the former parish priest of Lockerbie and the father of one of the Lockerbie victims. The recently retired former chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway police, Patrick Shearer, appeared to be taking the allegations seriously, but the Crown Office’s petulant and partisan response ruled out from the start any prospect of prosecutions.

In two previous articles on the case, published in The Times on 13 August 2012 and 4 October 2013, Mr Linklater failed even to acknowledge that the SCCRC had referred Megrahi’s conviction to the appeal court, let alone that it had done so on six grounds. Only after I had taken him to task in an as yet unanswered open letter did he acknowledge this fact. However, rather than engaging with the SCCRC report’s awkward contents, he has used it to mow down his straw men of conspiracy nuts. In a Times article on 21 December he claimed that the report ‘triumphantly vindicates’ the justice system. This is like suggesting that the emergency services who save lives at a train crash are a triumphant vindication of rail safety.

He asserts that the SCCRC disposes of most of our ‘cherished theories’ in particular claims that evidence had been manipulated by the police. These allegations emanated not from Mr Megrahi’s supporters, but from a former police officer known as the Golfer. Mr Linklater is not the first one to highlight the weaknesses in the Golfer’s evidence. Two years ago another journalist wrote that his accounts were ‘erratic, often inconsistent and sometimes contradictory.’ That journalist was me. Strange, then, that Mr Linklater should have inferred that I cherish the Golfer’s claims.

He accuses us of rejecting parts of the report that don’t suit us, when we in fact accept most of them. But if, as we believe, the report is a curate’s egg, are we not entitled to say so? Parts of it are demonstrably poor, for example, the commission conducted a lengthy review of the evidence concerning the timer fragment, yet failed to uncover the crucially important fact – based upon the evidence of Crown witnesses – that it could not have originated from one of the Libyan timers. Its investigation of events at the crash site was very limited and it failed to interview any of the civilian and military witness who attest to the events and finds that I have described above. The enquiry team failed to follow up Robert Baer’s claims with anyone except the police and MI5, neither of whom, I would suggest, was motivated to give them any credibility. (The commission did not conclude, as Mr Linklater implies, that Baer was not to be trusted, rather it noted that it had no reason to doubt his credibility. Despite what Mr Linklater suggests, no one, least of all Baer, has ever claimed that he had direct knowledge of the information he relayed.)

It is not only Mr Linklater’s ‘conspiracy theorists’ who don’t accept all the SCCRC’s findings: neither did the lawyers who led Megrahi’s second appeal (which, sadly, he felt compelled to abandon in order to secure compassionate release). They also contended that there were serious failings in the conduct of his defence and that the defence team was mistaken in not leading certain evidence in relation to, inter alia, the PFLP-GC, Heathrow airport and Tony Gauci. I am not a lawyer and therefore make no judgement on the defence team, who have vigourously contested these claims. But to imply, as Mr Linklater does, that it is a matter of uncontested fact that they properly evaluated all the evidence is simply misleading.

Mr Linklater is apparently oblivious to the contradictions in his own arguments, with occasionally hilarious consequences. For example, having dismissed my summary of the police investigation as ‘little more than a caricature’, he delivers this cartoon-like portrait of his antagonists: ‘Once seized with the virus of suspicion, nothing in the way of fact or reason will deter those who are determined to prove their case.’ He berates me for using the phrase ‘we may never know’, when referring to the influence that the British and American governments may have had on the case, declaring: ‘I have always distrusted that phrase ‘we may never know’ – it is a means of dropping a hint without ever revealing whether there is any truth in it.’ How marvellous that he later writes: ‘The SCCRC raised questions about the identification, which, it determined, were grounds for appeal. Whether that would have overturned the verdict we may never know [my italics].’

The hint dropped by this particular ‘we may never’ is that the verdict would have stood. To drive home the point he claims that Megrahi might have been convicted, even if he had not been correctly identified as the clothes purchaser. If he has properly read the court’s judgment, he should know that the ‘identification’ – not an identification at all, of course – was central to the conviction. But maybe he hasn’t properly read it, because, as he acknowledges, he is not a Lockerbie specialist. This is especially apparent in his account of the Heathrow evidence, which has come under fresh scrutiny thanks to the publication of the book Adequately Explained by Stupidity? by another of his targets, Dr Morag Kerr. His Times article of 21 December highlighted an assertion by Mr Megrahi’s trial counsel, Bill Taylor QC, that the Heathrow evidence was ‘tested to destruction’. An unnamed member of the defence team added: ‘If the suggestion is that the bomb was placed on board at Heathrow, how on earth did it occur to anybody to take a trip to Malta in order to buy some children’s clothing, in order to take that clothing back to London to assemble a bomb?  It just doesn’t stack up.’ Again, this was odd, because during his final submissions to the court Mr Taylor argued, quite rightly, that Maltese clothing did not prove that the bomb had begun its journey in Malta. Clothes bought weeks earlier had plenty of time to leave the island prior to the bombing. Mr Linklater says that the implication that the bomber bought clothes in Malta and planted the bomb at Heathrow ‘requires a heavy suspension of disbelief.’ The idea that the same person bought the clothes and planted the bomb is, I agree, far fetched (although this is what the Crown posited at trial), but the not the suggestion that the bombers used the clothes to lay a false trail to Malta. As Mr Taylor asked during his final submissions: ‘If the clothes buyer had intended to place the bomb bag onto a plane at Luqa, having regard to the high level of risk of detection, wouldn’t one have expected him to remove the clothing labels?’

Mr Linklater claims that the SCCRC found the evidence of a Heathrow bomb ‘so thin’ that it did not bother to examine it. What the SCCRC actually said was that it did not examine the Heathrow evidence because it received no submissions on the matter, and because it received substantial attention at trial. The evidence we found when preparing Megrahi’s second appeal was, in the view of senior counsel, significant and should have been before the trial court. It is clear, both from Dr Kerr’s analysis and the second appeal team’s, that the trial court was not given a clear view of the Heathrow evidence.

The undisputed Crown case was that the bomb exploded in a luggage container numbered AVE4041. Most of the bags in there had been unloaded from the Frankfurt feeder flight, PA103A, including, according to the Crown, the brown Samsonite suitcase from Malta. However, there was some other luggage in there, which had been loaded before PA103A arrived. These were supposedly Heathrow interline bags, meaning they had arrived at Heathrow on other flights. All of the loaders who were involved in packing AVE4041 confirmed something very significant: before the Frankfurt bags were loaded the entire floor of the container was covered with luggage. One of the loaders, John Bedford, recalled seeing something still more significant: a brown hardshell suitcase ‘the type Samsonite make’, positioned very close to where the explosion later occurred. He saw it when AVE4041 was in the interline baggage shed, well before the Frankfurt flight arrived. Bedford was clear that he hadn’t put it there and so too was the only other person on duty in the shed, Sulkash Kamboj.

The police produced a detailed schedule of all the baggage that could have found its way into AVE4041. It demonstrated that a maximum of six Heathrow interline bags could have been in the container before PA103A arrived, all of which were within the normal size range. However – and here’s the rub – covering the base of the container could have required seven or eight standard sized cases, just as in this photo:


The schedule showed something else very important: none of the six legitimate bags were brown, hard-shelled suitcases.

The loader who added the Frankfurt bags, Amarjit Sidhu, was sure that he did not move any of the bags that were already in AVE4041 when he added the Frankfurt bags, indeed, most of the loaders said that it was not their custom to rearrange bags. So, the Bedford suitcase must have been very close to the explosion, indeed, according to the Crown case, it should have been immediately below the brown Samsonite one from Malta. If the Malta suitcase existed, then the police should have recovered fragments of two brown hard-shelled cases, but they only found fragments of one. So, what happened to the Bedford case? The likely answer is that it contained the bomb and that the Malta case never existed.  Security around the interline shed was non-existent and, as Bedford acknowledged in evidence, anyone with airside access could have placed a suitcase into the container.

The Crown claimed that the bomb suitcase was in the second layer of luggage, slightly overhanging the angled section of AVE4041. The scientific support for it is, to say the least, equivocal. And, if you look back at that photo, it’s clear that a suitcase could be in the bottom layer yet still overhang the angled section.

The Crown disclosed the police schedule to the defence early on during the trial preparations and notified them that they would be running an exclusion case, ie they would show that all the bags in AVE4041 were legitimate apart from the one allegedly from Malta. But the schedule was not among the Crown productions that were later lodged with the court and, in the event, the Crown did not run an exclusion case, perhaps because they could not exclude the Bedford suitcase.

The Crown told the defence that the schedule contained inaccuracies, which may account for why the defence did not use it at trial. However, there is no evidence that the schedule’s key findings – that there were only six legitimate items in AVE4041 when the Frankfurt flight arrived, none of which was a brown hard-sided case – were mistaken. If there was such evidence, the Crown would likely have used it to undermine the Bedford bag theory.

The defence have argued that they tested the Heathrow evidence to destruction, but Dr Kerr disagrees. Whoever is right, it remains the case that much of the key the evidence was not tested to destruction before the court. The Crown relied on the Maltese clothes and documents from Frankfurt airport to support their claim that the bomb had come from Malta, while the defence submitted that the Bedford case matched the bomb suitcase; that it was at, or could easily have been moved to, the location at which the explosion occurred; and that remains of only one brown hard-shelled case had been recovered. The crucial baggage schedule was not put before the court, likewise the voluminous witness and documentary evidence upon which it was based. Detailed evidence forensic and witness evidence about the likely positioning of most of the blast damaged cases (a potentially crucial issue in determining the location and identity of the primary suitcase) also went unheard and so too did the evidence of Sidhu, who added the Frankfurt luggage, who was sure that he never rearranged any of the bags.

The judges sidestepped the issue of the Bedford suitcase. They acknowledged that Bedford was ‘a clear and impressive witness’ and that the evidence supported the defence submission ‘that a suitcase which could fit the forensic description of the primary suitcase was in the container when it left the interline shed.’ They got around this by relying on evidence from another loader, Terence Crabtree, who was not involved in loading the Frankfurt bags into AVE4041, that luggage was sometimes rearranged. They acknowledged that, if this had happened – and according to the actual loader of AVE4041, Sidhu, it didn’t – then the Bedford case could have ended up in the second layer, in exactly the position that the Crown claimed the primary suitcase was in. But, they then added: ‘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.’ So, it seemed that the judges believed that it for was the defence to run an exclusion case in order to prove the Bedford suitcase bomb scenario, not for the Crown to run one in order to prove the Maltese scenario, which was a novel reversal of the burden of proof, and one that fell a long way short of testing the Heathrow evidence to destruction. Dr Kerr has written much more on the subject in her book. It is an impressive work, rigorously detailed and logical. Her aim has been to uncover the truth, not to win a tactical court battle.

Mr Linklater’s biggest howler is his assertion that Dr Kerr and I claim that the bombing was linked to a break-in that occurred at Heathrow 15 hours earlier. We do no such thing, indeed we both accept that the break-in may well be wholly irrelevant. Mr Linklater points out, as I have previously, that the matter was considered and rejected at Mr Megrahi’s first appeal, but this does not excuse the Crown’s failure to disclose it. Had the security guard who discovered it not come forward after Mr Megrahi’s conviction, it would probably have remained covered up.

For all that he insults me as an irrational conspiracy theorist, we should be grateful to Mr Linklater for his contributions. The Megrahi case deserves public debate and, until he emerged as the voice of the ‘It-couldn’t-happen-here’ tendency, that debate was very one-sided. When boiled down, his defence of the conviction is that the Crown case ‘has been tested and re-tested under the strict conditions imposed by a court of law’, whereas the counter evidence has not. Yet he knows that court scrutiny is no guarantee of a conviction’s safety. The most notorious miscarriage of justice cases, like the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, were only resolved when the courts accepted the evidence and arguments of the victims’ supporters. Which begs a big question: when those convictions still stood, but their weakness were widely known, would Mr Linklater have defended them with equivalent vigour? As he might say, we may never know.







Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My response to Magnus Linklater’s Scottish Review Article

The Scottish review has just published my response to Magnus Linklater’s earlier article. I shall be posting an expanded version on this blog shortly.

Please note that there is an editing mistake in the sentence:

For reasons I am about to explain, the case against these alternative suspects may turn out to be as flawed as the one against Megrahi

which should read:

For reasons I am about to explain, I am not, however, as I cautioned in my book Megrahi: You are my Jury, the case against these alternative suspects may turn out to be as flawed as the one against Megrahi




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Crumbling Lockerbie Case

The following article by me has just been published under the above headline on the Consortium News website.


A quarter century ago, the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people and later was pinned on a Libyan agent. In 2011, Lockerbie was used to justify a U.S.-backed war to oust Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, but the evidence now suggests the case was a miscarriage of justice, John Ashton writes.

By John Ashton

Dec. 21, 2013, marked the 25th anniversary of what, until 9/11, was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. civilians. A total of 270 people died when PanAm flight 103 was blown out of the sky over the small Scottish town of Lockerbie; 189 of the dead were Americans.

Officially the crime was partially solved on Jan. 31, 2001, when Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of the murders by a panel of three senior Scottish judges, sitting at a specially convened Scottish court at Kamp Zeist in The Netherlands. His co-defendant, Lamin Fhimah, was acquitted.

As Megrahi was allegedly a puppet of the Gaddafi regime the Scottish and U.S. prosecutors have vowed to pursue those who were pulling his strings. The ex-FBI Director Robert Mueller said on the 25th anniversary that he expected further charges to be brought. Yet, to most of those who have scrutinized the Megrahi conviction – and is one of the few U.S. media outlets to have done so (see here, here and here) – it is, at best, odd and, at worst, a sham.

One of the UN trial observers, Professor Hans Koechler, noted: “there is not one single piece of material evidence linking the two accused to the crime. In such a context, the guilty verdict in regard to the first accused appears to be arbitrary, even irrational,” while eminent Scottish lawyer Ian Hamilton QC has said, “I don’t think there’s a lawyer in Scotland who now believes Mr Megrahi was justly convicted.”

More importantly, in 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, a statutory body that reviews alleged miscarriages of justice, referred the conviction back to the appeals court on no fewer than six grounds, one of which was that the trial court’s judgment was unreasonable. Shockingly, four of the other grounds concerned the non-disclosure of important evidence by the prosecution. Sadly, Megrahi succumbed to pressure to abandon the appeal, shortly before his release from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2009.

More Promising Leads

Another reason to doubt the official line that the bombing was a solely Libyan operation is that there is ample circumstantial evidence that it was commissioned by Iran (possibly in retaliation for the U.S. military shoot-down of an Iranian airliner on July 3, 1988, killing 290 people) and carried out by a radical Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC).

Two months before the Pan Am 103 attack, on Oct. 26, 1988, the group was caught red-handed by the German federal police with a barometric bomb designed to explode at altitude. The police also uncovered a huge terrorist arsenal, which the group had amassed in an apartment in Frankfurt, the city from which PA103’s feeder flight, PA103A, would originate. Like the Lockerbie bomb, the barometric bomb had been built into a Toshiba radio cassette player. Although it was a single-speaker model – the Lockerbie device had twin speakers – by a rather sick twist, both models were from Toshiba’s BomBeat range.

The man who made the German bomb, Marwan Khreesat, turned out to be a mole for both the Jordanian and German intelligence services. He told the police that he had made five bombs, only four of which were recovered. He and another PFLP-GC member, Mobdi Goben, who led the group’s Yugoslavian cell, confirmed that the organization had other bomb makers and that the Oct. 26 raids did not snare all of its German operatives.

Significantly, both men independently named a member with the nomme de guerre Abu Elias as the operation’s linchpin. His true identity remains unknown. Declassified U.S. intelligence documents stated as fact that Iran and the PFLP-GC were behind the bombing. Another, written months after the investigation had shifted decisively to Libya, said that Iranian interior minister had paid $10 million for the hit.

The increasingly rickety “Libya-did-it” line appeared to receive a much-needed boost 2 ½ years ago with the fall of the Gaddafi regime. At the start of the revolution, in early 2011, the opposition leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who had been Gaddafi’s justice minister, told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that he had proof that his old boss was responsible for Lockerbie. Other senior government defectors implicated the old regime in the bombing.

So, when Scotland’s prosecution service, the Crown Office, announced that it would be seeking the cooperation of the new Libyan government to gather evidence against Megrahi’s alleged co-conspirators, Lockerbie watchers were braced for some rapid developments.

Getting Nowhere

Unfortunately for the Crown Office and police, in the intervening 2 ½ years, they appear to have got precisely nowhere. Last December, Libya’s new UK ambassador, Mahmud Nacua, said that his government would be happy to open all of its Lockerbie files to the police, but added that this would only happen when the government had fully established security and stability – a process he believed would take at least a year. A year on, there’s no hint that the files are about to be opened.

It was not until February 2013 that the police, prosecutors and the FBI got to visit Tripoli to speak to the new government. Embarrassingly, no sooner had they left than the new deputy justice minister, Hameda al-Magery, told the Daily Telegraph that the case was closed.

The Crown Office swiftly issued a press release, which described the discussions with the Libyans as “positive” and added “it is hoped there will be further progress as a result.” That hope seems increasingly forlorn. Only last month did the Libyan government appoint prosecutors to work on the case with Scottish and U.S. investigators.

The development was hailed as a “significant step” by Scotland’s chief prosecutor, the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland. That is one interpretation, but, when viewed as a whole, the events since Gaddafi’s fall suggest that the Libyans might be trying to put off the day when they have to admit to the Scots and FBI that the cupboard is bare: they have no evidence of the Gaddafi regime’s involvement.

Since Gaddafi’s fall, the only document about the case to surface publicly from his regime’s files is a letter from Megrahi to his relative, Gaddafi’s security chief Abdullah Sennousi, in which, according to the Wall Street Journal, he protested his innocence and blamed his plight on “the immoral British and American investigators” who “knew there was foul play and irregularities in the investigation.”

What, then, of Mustafa Abdel Jalil’s proof? When asked about it on BBC Newsnight, the best he could offer was the fact that Gaddafi’s government had paid Megrahi’s legal bills. A year later Jalil insisted in another newspaper interview that Expressen had misquoted him, adding: “All I said then is what I say right now, which is that the regime was involved in this case, evident by insisting [Megrahi] returns [to Libya] and that they spent a lot of money on him while he was in jail.”

It was preposterous to claim that the old regime’s funding of Megrahi’s legal defense, and its efforts to secure his return to Libya, was evidence of its guilt.

Exonerating Evidence

While the police investigation in Libya has stalled, the police and Crown Office are studiously ignoring new evidence that destroys the case against Megrahi and Libya. It concerns the most important physical evidence of the entire case, a tiny fragment of circuit board, known by its police reference number of PT/35b, which was allegedly part of the bomb’s timer.

According to the prosecution case, the fragment matched boards in timers designed and built for the Libyan intelligence service by a Swiss firm called Mebo. During preparations for Megrahi’s aborted second appeal, his legal team (with whom I worked as a researcher) discovered that the fragment could not have originated from one of the Libyan timers’ boards, because it bore a crucial metallurgical difference.

When combined with a wealth of existing anomalies concerning the fragment’s provenance, the discovery strongly suggested that it was a fake that was planted in order to implicate Libya. According to the published memoir of the head of the FBI’s Lockerbie investigation, Richard Marquise, his opposite number in the Swiss police also suspected the fragment was a plant.  The thought even occurred to Marquise and the Scottish police’s senior investigating officer, Stuart Henderson.

Why, then, have the Scottish police and Crown Office failed to approach the witnesses who can attest to the mismatch between the fragment and the Libyan timers – witnesses who include the man who made the boards used in the those timers, and two independent scientists? The obvious answer is that they want to avoid evidence that shows the official case to be built on sand.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment