Attack or a trick?
The lockerbie bombing case has fascinated the world
since Pan AM Flight 103 exploded and fell back to earth. But in light of
the SCCRC recommeding a second appeal for the man convicted of the
atrocity The Firm’s reporter Steven Raeburn has uncovered potential
evidence that could further see the finger of blame point much closer to
On the 28 June, Robbie the Pict, who spearheaded the campaign leading to
the reversal of the tolling regime on the Skye
sent a letter to new First Minister Alex Salmond, which he copied to
Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini, and
Solicitor General Frank Mulholland. It contained an extract, reproduced
below, from the Zeist
transcript of the trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, whose
conviction for the Lockerbie atrocity has been referred back to the High
Court for review, on the basis that a miscarriage of justice may have
Robbie has looked at the trial transcript and proceedings, and followed
the case closely, together with his neighbour and fellow campaigner Dr
Jim Swire, representing UK Families 103.
Swire believes Megrahi to be innocent and Robbie has concluded there is
sufficient evidence to warrant a fresh investigation, focusing not on a
terrorist bombing but on an accident on board the ill-fated airliner.
This thesis, if correct, has far reaching implications for the actions of
and Scottish Governments, and officials within the Crown Office. It
requires the open-minded reader to step through the looking glass into
the potentially murky world of government intelligence, covert operations
and geo-politics, and consider the events of 21 December 1988
from an entirely fresh, disturbing perspective.
Robbie's letter begins by looking at a portion of the trial transcript.
Extract from evidence given by DC Alexander McLean, working in Sector
B. (P 339)
We encountered one or two difficulties, sir. And one of the major ones
was that on the aircraft there was a million sewing machine needles being
conveyed and they landed with the fuselage in the sector – B Sector. And
unknown to us at the time, one or two officers got pricked with the
needles. And so eventually we had to spread a very large tarpaulin right
along the site and move forward sort of by inch by inch.
Q: The sewing machine needles were being carried as cargo on the
McLean: That's correct, sir.
Q: I understand. And they were distributed around the site as a
McLean: Yes. They caused a bit of a hazard, and that was the reason that
the recovery of the bodies just took a wee bit longer than it would have
done if we hadn't encountered such a hazard.
The above evidence seems to have been missed by all concerned but is
worthy of further examination. A million sewing machine needles weigh up
to three-quarters of a ton. Who would pay airfreight charges to fly
needles to America, when sea freight is so obviously cheaper? Who was the
sender? Who was the end-user? Where is the bill of lading, invoice and
the delivery note? Is there an insurance claim by the sender?
Why did the Police put a ‘needles warning’ in the Daily Record on 27
December 1988, claiming that these were potentially contaminated
hypodermics which should not be picked up? Who sends almost a ton of contaminated
hypodermics to New York by air just prior to Christmas?
Alternatively, it is remarkable how similar an electric sewing machine
needle is to a flechette. This weapon of terror is also less than two
inches long, has a flattened portion in the centre instead of a thread
hole and has small flights to ensure stability. Known as a ‘terrain
denial weapon of terror’ it is dispersed in packs of thousands in an
omni-directional scything motion. Witnesses have described victims as
both “flayed alive” and “cut to burger-size pieces”. Royal Ordnance, at
that time state-owned, were specialist packers of such warheads. There is
apparently an art in lacing the layers of needles with the explosive to
achieve the correct effect. The missile known as the Lockheed Hydra 70 is
equipped to use such warheads.
However, in the development period from the early 1980s up until at least
1992 such missiles were having serious problems with ‘RadHaz’: their
electrical components, although very sophisticated, were also very sensitive
to extraneous electrical influence, commonly called ‘radiation hazard’.
In layman’s terms it was equivalent to a neighbour’s garage door remote
switching off your TV every time he used it, an unwanted side effect.
It is perhaps highly significant that the Maid of the Seas exploded
during exchanges with Prestwick, when her navigator would be involved in
relatively lengthy broadcasts confirming the flight path to be used
across the North towards JFK Airport. No attention at all appears to have
been given to this most obvious starting point in any investigation.
Instead, we have a rush to judgment in favour of a fantastic conspiracy
theory with huge flaws in the technical evidence.
Looked at rationally the actual evidence instead suggests an accident.
The accident is terrible in its cause, its nature, its consequences and
its implications but it is nonetheless an accident. It is of course
illegal to carry munitions of war in a civil aircraft, especially if
secretly. There would be serious questions concerning liability and
The testimony of one eyewitness at the crash site strengthens Robbie’s
claim that Pan Am 103 may not have been brought down by a bomb at all,
but by accidental misfiring of mainstream weaponry components carried
illicitly on the plane.
John Parkes is a former soldier, MOD contractor, and consultant and
designer of bomb blast mitigation techniques. He travelled to the scene
that night from Edinburgh and returned to assist in the rescue and clear
up operations that followed. He has nearly 40 years’ experience of
Parkes was asked to examine the bodies of three victims in the improvised
mortuary at Lockerbie Ice Rink prior to post mortem. The first victim
Parkes examined was a child, perhaps nine years of age. The rear of her
body showed fragmentation strikes, pieces of metal penetrating her skin.
Their distribution, the blast shadowing caused by her seat, and in
particular, minute holing in her socks which revealed a chemical
propellant, all confirmed a specific blast signature. It revealed the
type of explosive and where it was situated in relation to the girl. The
holing and fragmentation in particular are not characteristic of Semtex
or similar explosives, he says, and rule out a Semtex blast as the cause
of the wounding.
Nor did he believe the wounds were caused by the disintegration of the
plane on its descent. The fragments were propelled at high velocity;
explosively driven. Pathologist Anthony Busutil, who examined the same
body, concluded that what Parkes witnessed was caused by “scraping” as
the body impacted the gravel of Dumfriesshire after her five-mile
Flight 103 was a modified Boeing 747 built in 1970 but refitted in 1987
to become part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), which according to
the Air Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) "enabled the aircraft to
be quickly converted for carriage of military freight containers on the
main deck during times of national emergency”. This requires
reinforcement of the floor and structure, and the planes are then used to
ferry troops, munitions and military equipment. Such modified CRAF planes
were used for the mass deployment of troops in the run up to the Gulf
War. The possibility that a CRAF modified US jumbo such as PA103 was ferrying
pallets of weapons – in 1988 during the Iran-Contra era – is supported by
unbroadcast news footage of the iconic nosecone section of the plane,
which shows that the structure appears to have been peppered by high
impact shrapnel strikes penetrating the crossbeam struts.
Sophisticated military weaponry relies on electronic triggering and
jamming to function as designed. Many surface-to-air missiles are
sensitive to long VHF frequency transmissions, which can cause weaponry
to function and detonate.
If the US was ferrying weaponry on a civilian aircraft, resulting in 270
deaths on UK soil, it becomes apparent why the two governments would try
to conceal this information.
The AAIB report, the official investigation into the cause of the crash,
is imprecise about the most crucial time index of the entire flight, the
moment when the explosion took place.
As Pan Am 103 crossed into the Shannon/Prestwick air traffic control zone
it was required to switch to VHF2 transmission, for which there is a
specific procedure. The report is inconsistent about who is talking to
whom, contradictory about when communication started, vague about whether
communication was one or two way between the plane and control, and
contradictory about timing and transmission details.
Despite the obfuscation, it is clear that the explosives event on the
plane took place during the time index when Pan Am 103 was in contact
with Shanwick, having switched to using VHF2. It is unclear from the
report whether or not the crew had made the long return call to Shanwick;
the transmission from the aircraft itself that could have triggered any
electronically sensitive munitions that were being carried.
Parkes made extensive efforts to pass his findings to the Crown Office,
to MSPs, MPs, the defence teams and to news agencies. MP Phil Gallie
raised the matter with Lord Advocate Colin Boyd. The Scotsman reported
Parkes’s claims in August 2006, and they also received coverage from The
Herald following Megrahi’s conviction, but before the appeal.
The Lord Advocate’s response to Phil Gallie pointed out that the defence
team did not lead evidence during the trial to contradict the findings of
the AAIB report. What he did not do was explain why his department didn’t
act upon Parkes’s findings once they had been passed them. That was March
Jim Swire repeated his call for an independent inquiry on 28 June, the
day the SCCRC referred the case back to the High Court. An inquiry that
Labour promised in opposition, and which has, after over ten years in
office in Westminster, not materialised. Given the possibility of taint
within the Scottish judiciary, the UK and US Governments, the Crown
Office, and at senior political level if the Parkes scenario is borne
out, one can only hope such an inquiry can be convened at all.
The conclusions of the UN-appointed special observer to the trial were
not widely reported after the conviction, but they are resonant with both
the hypothesis that Pan Am 103 was the victim of a mid-air accident and
the SCCRC’s decision to refer the case back to the High Court for a
Dr Hans Kochler published his findings at the conclusion of the trial,
saying that the presence of US and Libyan government representatives
"gave the trial a highly political aura that should have been
avoided by all means". To him it appeared that an
"incomprehensible" verdict of convenience had been reached, to
yield a politically motivated solution. "The air of international
power politics is present in the whole verdict. There is not one single
piece of material evidence linking the two accused to the crime,"
The presence of US Department of Justice representatives sitting with the
prosecution, and Libyan government representatives sitting with the
defence, "leads to the suspicion that political considerations may
have been overriding a strictly judicial evaluation of the case". He
described witnessing openly exercised influence from the part of
"actors outside the judicial framework", concluding that "the
trial, seen in its entirety, was not fair, and was not conducted in an
On 14 October 2005, Kochler called for a full public inquiry. The
falsification of evidence he witnessed, selective presentation,
manipulation and interference were "criminal offences in any
country, and the possible criminal responsibility of people involved in
the Lockerbie trial should be carefully studied by prosecution
authorities." Nothing less than a crime, he says, took place in Camp
Before the Scottish, UK or US governments start looking for another group
of suspects, the crucial question to be asked is why was the case allowed
to be brought in the first place when the supporting evidence was so
It is clear that the Scottish Crown Office proceeded with the indictment
of Megrahi and Fhimah on the basis of assurances from the CIA, given well
in advance of the trial, that they possessed a star witness, Abdul Majid
Giaka, who claimed to be able to positively identify them both and link
them to the atrocity. Scottish authorities believed the witness would be
credible. He was not. Almost his entire testimony was dismissed and it
was discovered that his cooperation had been conditional upon receiving
payment from the US authorities, who knew from the outset he was a
fantasist. This information was only given to the prosecution very late
during the trial.
Perhaps in hindsight the trial should have been halted at that stage. But
after Scotland’s largest ever criminal investigation, the lengthy
diplomatic debate over the release of the suspects, a 19-month trial
under international scrutiny, the pressure to conclude and convict was
Jim Swire received a remarkable insight while at a meeting with UK
Families 103 at the US embassy in London. “One of our number was told by
an official on the US Commission of Inquiry, in an aside that "your
government and mine know exactly what happened, but they're never going
This admission to the families group reinforces the doubts raised by the
UN observer, that the trial was politically, not judicially motivated.
And if the flight was downed by the accidental detonation of munitions,
the motives of the UK, the US and latterly Libyan governments become
clearer, in the light of Kochler’s analysis.
Dr Kochler observed Libyan Governmental collusion in the trial, and
half-hearted if not feeble efforts by the defence team, who firstly
dropped their special defence, which incriminated the Iranian/Syrian
terror group the PFLP, then compounded this by only calling three defence
witnesses, including the accused themselves, who offered no testimony.
"It puts into question the credibility of the defence’s actions and
motives," he said.
While clearing the way for Megrahi to appeal, the SCCRC reiterate not
only selected grounds for his conviction, but they also go to some
lengths to ensure that central planks of the prosecution case, that had
become subject to considerable doubt, are reinforced. The SCCRC
specifically stress their faith in the testimony of discredited forensic
witness Allan Feraday. The verdicts have been overturned in three
separate cases in which he gave evidence, yet the SCCRC state they are
satisfied that the evidence he supplied in the Lockerbie trial, was
"different in nature" from evidence he gave in cases that were
later overturned. The English courts no longer consider him credible, but
the SCCRC affirm that the Scottish High Court should.
The acquittal of co-accused Fhimah, and the conviction of Megrahi on the
same indictment that contended they had to have acted in concert,
rendered the verdict incomprehensible to Kochler and Robert Black, among
other legal observers. Tam Dalyell once said that one has to almost be a
“Professor of Lockerbie Studies” to comprehend the detail of this complex
story, which has arguably become impenetrable to the public at large.
Kochler and Swire’s repeated calls for a public inquiry have yet to be
answered, but such an inquiry may allow the circumstances of the event to
be fully examined in a way that was not achieved by the trial process.
That a miscarriage of justice may have taken place has now been accepted
by the Commission. Logically, if Megrahi did not bring the plane down,
the question remains: how did it happen? It is also now appropriate to
ask what forces operated to allow the conviction to occur on the basis of
what is now acknowledged to have been a flawed case. Claims of a cover up
at Lockerbie, well supported from the Parliamentary and public record,
have fuelled various alternative explanations for the cause of the event.
They are based on documented reports that evidence was planted at
Lockerbie, that Police notebooks were destroyed, and evidence removed
from the scene without examination. The Observer’s Paul Foot reported
that Dr David Fieldhouse certified and labelled 59 dead bodies under
police supervision. His labels were replaced with 58 ‘official’ labels,
and the 59th body disappeared. Allan Faraday, who led evidence about a
recovered bomb fragment, is no longer considered accredited. And other material
gathered from test explosions was erroneously presented to the trial as
actual recovered evidence from the site.
These reports raise questions rather than support conclusions. However,
the key question that is not being asked is why was Megrahi scapegoated,
and who in Scotland permitted it? Kochler overtly claimed US and Libyan
officials in the courtroom influenced the trial to yield a politically
motivated outcome. Robert Black disagrees but does conclude that more
subtle pressures may have been felt by the presiding judges. "It has
been suggested to me, very often by Libyans, that political pressure was
placed upon the judges," he said.
"I don’t think for a minute that political pressure of that nature
was placed on the judges. What happened, I think, was that it was
internal politics in Scotland. Prosecutions in Scotland are brought by
the Lord Advocate. Until just a few years ago, one of the other functions
of the Lord Advocate in Scotland was that he appointed all Scottish
judges. I think what influenced these judges was that they thought that
if both of the Libyans accused are found not guilty, this will be the
most fiendish embarrassment to the Lord Advocate."
In other words, after 12 years, an 18-month trial, extensive political
wrangling, and seismic shifts in international relations even to
accommodate the trial, somebody had better swing. With devolution bedding
in, an SNP administration at Holyrood and the introduction of the
Judicial Appointments Board breaking the link between the Government and
the Judiciary, it is now debatable whether those same pressures exist.
The outcome of the second appeal, and the emergence or otherwise of a
full independent inquiry, will be the test of the integrity of Scottish