Wednesday 5 September 2012

Silence for the Dead of Lockerbie

It is now almost six months since the revelation in John Ashton's book (Megrahi: You Are My Jury: The Lockerbie Evidence) that the key evidence on which Baset Al-Megrahi was convicted can no longer be scientifically sustained.

And yet there remains a deafening silence on the part of the judges and Crown Office officials responsible for the investigation and conviction of Al-Megrahi.

The two main planks on which the prosecution's case was founded are:-

1. A Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, identified Al-Megrahi as the stranger who had, shortly before the December 1988 bombing, bought clothes in his shop.

2. A fragment of an electronic timer board found at Lockerbie came from a batch of twenty sold to Libya in 1985 by Swiss electronics company MEBO.

1. The Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, during their own three-year investigation of the case, found six grounds for concluding that "a miscarriage of justice may have occurred".

One of the SCCRC's grounds was their discovery of a series of entries in the police diary of chief Dumfries and Galloway police investigator Harry Bell.

Bell recorded from the first days of his investigation that huge offers of reward were available from the United States to principal identification witness Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci.

In a letter sent by Dana Biel of the US Department of Justice, it was explained that Gauci would receive "unlimited monies, with $10,000 available immediately" if Al-Megrahi was convicted.

Bell's police diary, and all knowledge of this offer and negotiations concerning the offer, were concealed from the trial and first appeal. The judges who convicted Al-Megrahi were unaware of these matters when they concluded that Gauci was a totally reliable witness.

Gauci's final and conclusive identification of Al-Megrahi took place during a police identity parade. 

Yet Gauci could not fail to identify the man, since he had possessed for several weeks a copy of a magazine with a colour photo of Al-Megrahi, in which the Libyan was described as "the bomber".

2. The fragment of electronic timer board

It was upon this item that the entire case against Al-Megrahi would turn. In the minds of the judges it proved the Libyan connection, since the evidence appeared to show that it came from a batch sold to Libya in 1985.

It had - according to the available evidence - been manufactured by Swiss company Thuring, on behalf of electronics supplier MEBO. It seemed to be a "golden thread" linking Al-Megrahi to the bomb.

In 2008 the Al-Megrahi defence team discovered an extraordinary anomaly, one which had escaped the attention of the prosecution team, the Scottish Crown Office, and the Scottish police. It concerned the silver-like protective coating on the fragment, which covered the copper circuitry in order to prevent oxidisation.

A hand-written note by the government's chief forensic scientist Alan Feraday had recorded the protective coating as "100% tin".

Feraday's records also showed that he was aware of the difference between the Lockerbie fragment and the coating upon a control sample supplied to the police as part of their investigation. The control sample - manufactured by Swiss company Thuring - contained a 70/30% alloy of tin and lead.

The prosecution and police mistake was to speculate that the heat of the Lockerbie explosion had entirely evaporated the lead content. But no follow-up investigations in order to test this theory were carried out.

During the trial, the judges and defence team were unaware of the anomaly and accepted the provenance of the fragment from the metallurgical point of view.

When in 2008 the defence team checked with Thuring, it emerged that all timer boards made by that company throughout the 1980's were coated with an alloy mixture of 70% tin and 30% lead.  

In 2008 the Thuring production manager swore an affidavit to this effect and was scheduled to repeat his evidence in Al-Megrahi's second appeal, abandoned in 2009.

Having discovered the anomaly, the defence team commissioned two highly experienced and reputable scientists to investigate the matter. In a series of experiments carried out at separate laboratories, the scientists tested the theory of evaporation of lead content by high temperatures.

In all cases, the lead did not evaporate. Thus they established beyond all reasonable doubt that the fragment found at Lockerbie could not have come from any of the timers sold to Libya by MEBO.

This evidence too was scheduled to be presented in Al-Megrahi's second appeal, abandoned in 2009.

The protocols and data resulting from the defence-commissioned experiments would no doubt be freely available, should the prosecuting authorities request to examine them.

Do the responsible officers not have a duty of conscience to at least enquire into this new evidence? 

And might we ask of Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland how he would feel if it was his own daughter who had been murdered by unknown persons, while a man remains falsely convicted for that offence?

Will not his silence, and that of his officials and the Scottish judiciary, should it continue, be interpreted by historians as the greatest of betrayals of Scottish society and the law?

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