Concluding remarks made by the Scottish judges in the Lockerbie trial have cast doubt on what the real grounds were for Abdel Basset al-Megrahi's conviction.
In its judgement the court said: "We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications. We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seems to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified."
The judges continued: "However, having considered all the evidence,
including the uncertainties and qualifications, and the submissions of
counsel, we are satisfied that the evidence regarding the purchase of clothing
in Malta, the presence of that clothing in the primary suitcase, the transmission
of an item of baggage from Malta to London, the identification of the first
accused (albeit not absolute), his movements under a false name at or around
the material time, and the other background
circumstances - there is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the first accused, and accordingly we find him guilty of the remaining charge in the indictment as amended."
However, taking a look at the 82-page judgements, you find incredible statements which lead you to call it a verdict with a reasonable doubt.
Regarding Heathrow airport, where it is sure that the bomb was loaded onto the Pan Am flight, on page 23 the three-judge panel said: "There is also a possibility that an extraneous suitcase could have been introduced by being put onto the conveyor belt outside the interline shed, or introduced into the shed itself or into the container when it was at the built-up area. To achieve that, the person placing the suitcase would have had to avoid being detected, but the evidence indicates that a person in possession of a pass for the airside area would not be likely to be challenged, and there were a very large number of passes issued for Heathrow, a substantial number of which were not accounted for. The person placing the suitcase would also have required to know where to put it to achieve the objective."
Then when analysing the security at Malta Airport, on page 40 they stressed the precautions taken before each flight. "In addition to the baggage reconciliation procedure, there was a triple count of the number of passengers boarding a departing flight, that is, there was a count of the boarding cards, a count by immigration officers of the number of immigration cards handed in, and a head count by the crew. On the surface, these arrangements seem to make it extremely difficult for an unaccompanied and unidentified bag to be shipped on a flight out of Luqa."
And on page 42 it is claimed that "the absence of any explanation of
the method by which the primary source might have been placed on board
a major difficulty for the Crown case, and one which has to be considered along with the rest of the circumstantial evidence in the case".
The Libyan defector, who is married to a Maltese, was declared not reliable.
In pages 44 and 47, it says: "It is also in our view clear that whatever may have been his original reason for defection, his continued association with the American authorities was largely motivated by financial considerations - information provided by a paid informer is always open to the criticism that it may be invented in order to justify payment, and in our view this is a case where such criticism is more than usually justified. Putting the matter shortly, we are unable to accept Abdul Majid as a credible and reliable witness on any matter."
When analysing Maltese witness Tony Gauci, the shop owner of Mary's
House in Sliema, they said, on page 55, that Mr Gauci picked out the first
an identification parade on 13 August 1999, using the words, as written in the parade report, "not exactly the man I saw in the shop". He also identified him in court, saying: "He is the man on the side. He resembles him a lot." Then on page 64 they said that: "We are satisfied that on two matters he was entirely reliable, namely the list of clothing that he sold and the fact that the purchaser was a Libyan." They then said that "on the matter of identification of the first accused, there are undoubtedly
A big mistake in the Scottish judges' arguments is about Christmas decorations, which led them to decide that the date the clothes were purchased from Mary's House was 7 December, and not an earlier date. It is Maltese custom that Christmas decorations are put up in late November so that on 1 December shopping centres are in full swing. But the court, on page 64, stated that: "The position about the Christmas decorations was unclear, but it would seem consistent with Mr Gauci's rather confused recollection that the purchase was about the time when the decorations would be going up, which in turn would be consistent with his recollection in evidence that it was about two weeks before Christmas."
The three-judge panel led by Lord Sutherland, on page 74, summed up their argument by stating: "We are satisfied that it has been proved that the primary suitcase containing the explosive device was dispatched from Malta, passed through Frankfurt and was loaded onto PA103 at Heathrow. It is, as we have said, clear that with one exception the clothing in the primary suitcase was the clothing purchased in Mr Gauci's shop on 7 December 1988. The purchaser was, on Mr Gauci's evidence, a Libyan. We cannot say that it is impossible that the clothing might have been taken from Malta, united somewhere with a timer from some source other than Libya and introduced into the airline baggage system at Frankfurt or Heathrow.
"When, however, the evidence regarding the clothing, the purchaser and the timer is taken with the evidence that an unaccompanied bag was taken from KM180 to PA103A, the inference that that was the primary suitcase becomes, in our view, irresistible. As we have also said, the absence of an explanation as to how the suitcase was taken into the system at Luqa is a major difficulty for the Crown case, but after taking full account of that difficulty we remain of the view that the primary suitcase began its journey at Luqa. The clear inference which we draw from this evidence is that the conception, planning and execution of the plot which led to the planting of the explosive device was of Libyan origin."
On Wednesday I had the opportunity to speak to Professor Robert Black from Edinburgh University, who said he was "surprised" by the verdict.
I also spoke to the representatives of British victims. The relatives said questions about the tragedy went unanswered in the trial. They said the trial had not answered the huge number of questions asked over the last 12 years. The trial only served to add to this list of questions.
I tend to agree with this opinion, especially when one reflects on the points I have quoted above - a verdict with reasonable doubt.
Joe Mifsud followed the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist for One News and
KullHadd, and is the author of Lockerbie - Qabel il-verdett.