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?


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