Friday, 1 February 2013

The Current status

On 21st December 2012, US relatives of those Americans who died aboard the PanAm 103 747 over Lockerbie chose to issue a petition to their government.

Their petition majors on aspects of the relationship between their own country and Libya – the Libya of both before and after Colonel Gaddafi’s death. It can be read on The Lockerbie Case blog (

There can be no doubt that under the late Colonel, Libya was responsible for much mischief, murder and mayhem in the world. In the UK we cannot forget the supply of Libyan arms to IRA terrorists, providing weapons and explosives for the murder of both soldiers and civilians in both Northern Ireland and the UK

In 1984 the FBI had warned the Irish concerning a shipment of about 7 tons of arms and explosives from the USA heading for Ireland, which was intercepted. But In another major victory for intelligence in 1987 the ship the Eksund was stopped at sea and found to be loaded with Libyan guns and explosives intended for the Provisional IRA. These arms would have bolstered the weapons obtained from America in the previous decade which had included the deadly Armalite rifle, the image of which can still be seen depicted on Belfast gable ends.

For many Irish Americans the cause pursued by the IRA/Provos was seen as that of freedom fighters, a euphemism for those who clandestinely and indiscriminately kill for their cause.

Not being an American nor claiming to understand the mindset of the ‘average American citizen’, nor having any access to their governmental or intelligence organisations, I feel I have no right to criticise the direction which the American relatives are now taking in their search for the truth about the tragedy of Lockerbie. All that can be said I think about the content of their petition is that to seek to draw together many different aspects of the relationships between Libya and America is to risk confounding the search for the true perpetrators of Lockerbie, for it starts from the assumption that Libya ‘must’ have been involved.

This presumption of Libyan guilt is founded of course upon the evidence led and the verdict reached at the Lockerbie trial in Zeist, 12 years ago. Apart from that there have been claims and counter claims about how others in the Gaddafi regime might have been involved. These claims belong in the hall of smoke and mirrors created by national and international intelligence and the politicians to whom they report. I certainly, and I suspect the American relatives, cannot be certain where the truth lies in such an arena.

The only apparent solid foundation for the notion of Libyan guilt is the Zeist verdict against the Libyan, Megrahi. That is now being used in this petition as a foundation for exploring multiple other aspects of Libyan/US relations over the decades. That in turn makes it all the more important to examine the legitimacy of that verdict.

Whether or not higher echelons of Gaddafi’s regime were involved in Lockerbie I do not know. The strange co-operation of the UK in assisting in Musa Kusa’s escape from Libya to the Middle East certainly suggests that he was seen as an intelligence asset in the West, but whether that included any aspect of Lockerbie we have of course no idea. When I met him in 1991 I found him an intimidating central figure in the Colonel’s regime, but was never faced with meeting Senoussi, widely known as a brutal killer on behalf of the dictator. Both men’s names have been co-opted into this petition now created by American Lockerbie families. For me they remain denizens of the hall of mirrors too.

My sad task here is to question the one foundation which seems to me to underlie the US relatives’ petition; namely the conviction of Megrahi. I bitterly regret that in doing so I have to challenge the deeply held belief concerning the verdict against Megrahi among equally bereaved families in the US, for to do so must disturb the relative tranquillity (‘closure’) which many feel they have achieved in the lee of this verdict. Even closure however can be a false haven if the facts on which it is based are untrue.

My fervent wish is that those who do shelter in the lee of this verdict will look objectively at the facts now known to surround it. Tough but better to venture out of the shelter into the storm again if one wants to reach the real safe haven of provable truth. Below is a brief summary of the story we heard at Zeist, together with sufficient of the reasons why it is unsafe, some of which emerged in the court, many of which have emerged later.

For those who wish to make their best effort to understand the discussion I recommend a book published in February of 2012. It is written by John Ashton, who spent years working on the legal aspects of the case. At Zeist there was no jury, and the book’s title invites the reader to assume that role. Megrahi: You are my jury is published by Birlinn of Edinburgh (ISBN-13: 978 1 78027 015 9) and is available from

On the very day it was published, this book was described as ‘an insult to the (Lockerbie) relatives’, by the UK Prime Minister’s Office.

I hope that many will simply read it with an open mind. I do not believe that Downing Street can have done so.

In the hope of simplifying what some regard as an impenetrably complex story here is a simplified version of what seems to have happened. Please check it out against what is actually known to be true.

The months preceding Lockerbie

In July 1988 an American warship had accidentally shot down an Iranian Airbus (Iran Air flight 655) killing 290 innocent people.

Iran swore revenge.

America awarded a medal to Captain Rogers, the ship’s captain.

In October 1988 the West German police broke up a cell of Palestinian terrorists operating in Neuss near Frankfurt, but really emanating from Syria.

In doing so the BKA police recovered a number of IED bombs from the Neuss flat. Unfortunately they also missed some of them, which disappeared into the terrorist world. These IEDs were triggered by sensing the drop in air pressure when a plane takes off, they also had inbuilt timers, which were not adjustable and meant that such devices would always explode 30-45 minutes after take off. They were the leading design available to terrorists for destroying aircraft in flight. The Syrian group using them were closely allied to Iran.

The fatal Lockerbie flight lasted 38 minutes.

It was the hearing of this forensic evidence from the German expert, Herr Gobel in the court that first alerted the writer to the improbability of the Malta story. Why launch a bomb from there with a long running and fully adjustable timer, and have it explode just 38 minutes into the flight when it could have been set for many hours after the target flight had left Heathrow?

Some of the arrested conspirators were released promptly by the BKA, despite having been arrested with one of these IEDs actually in their possession at the time of arrest. This extraordinary decision seems another portal into the hall of mirrors.

According to CIA sources the terrorist group involved received significant funding from Iran immediately after Lockerbie.

The prosecution case at Zeist
: The story was that Megrahi, aided and abetted by Fhimah had put a suitcase containing the bomb aboard Air Malta flight KM180 as Megrahi passed through Luqa airport on 21st December 1988.

The suitcase, suitably labelled was then claimed to have passed through Frankfurt airport where it was transferred to a PanAm feeder flight (PA103A) to Heathrow, there it was transferred again, this time into a already partly loaded container, containing some bags which had been loaded into it at Heathrow before the
arrival of PA103A from Frankfurt. The full container, now containing luggage from both Heathrow and Frankfurt was then placed in the hold of PA103 itself.

In order for all this to be confirmed it was necessary to link the two Libyans to the suitcase and explain how it might have survived the complex route proposed only to explode 38 minutes out of Heathrow. In order to have done so, their bomb would have had to have contained a long running timer.

There was not a scrap of evidence led in court that any such suitcase had been loaded onto the Air Malta flight. Their Lordships simply described this evidence deficit as ‘a difficulty for the prosecution’.

As for the long running timer required for a flight from Malta to Lockerbie via Frankfurt and Heathrow, the prosecution produced a fragment of timer circuit board, allegedly retrieved from the Lockerbie wreckage and found in a police evidence bag. It was claimed to have come from a circuit board in a timer bought
by Libya from a Swiss firm, MEBO, well before Lockerbie. These timers , had one been used, could have been adjusted to explode over the Atlantic or even over New Jersey.

The fragment appeared to have been part of such a timer’s circuit board.

However what the court did not know was that the metal layers on the circuit elements of the fragment did not match those on the Libyan boards, although looking exactly like them to the naked eye.

This difference was known to the
prosecution before the trial. Its significance is explained in detail in Megrahi: you are my jury.

Although the prosecution forensic officer knew of this difference and recorded it in his notes, he told the court that the fragment was ‘similar in all respects’ to the Libyan circuit boards.

The manufacturer of the circuit boards sold to Libya before Lockerbie has confirmed by affidavit that his firm did not use, nor even have the equipment necessary for manufacture of, circuit boards by the ‘pure tin’ process found on the curious and apparently incriminating fragment.

Although the anomaly over the fragment was known to the prosecution well before the trial, its true significance did not come to the attention of Megrahi’s defence until his second appeal in Edinburgh.

It did however come to the attention of the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC), who had investigated the case. Like the prosecution’s forensic officer, they failed to investigate the full significance of the difference between the fragment and the Libyan circuit boards. Yet they still found six reasons why the case might have been a miscarriage of justice and agreed its referral to a further appeal.

What is revealed in Megrahi: you are my jury is that the fragment has a coating which is essentially ‘pure tin’, not a tin/lead alloy like the Libyan-owned timer boards . Moreover further, objective scientific testing confirms that there is no possibility that this coating could be derived from that on the Libyan boards, not even by exposure in extreme proximity to a Semtex explosion.

Clothing originating from a Malta shop run by the Gauci brothers was found among the Lockerbie wreckage. The prosecution alleged that this clothing was bought on a certain day when Megrahi was on the island, circumstantial evidence has accumulated indicating that in fact it was bought on a different date when he was not on Malta.

The investigating Scottish police bought improper pressure to bear on Mr Gauci to encourage him to identify Megrahi as the buyer: some of this they concealed from the court.

They also knew that Gauci was aware of, and keen to get his hands on, substantial US offered money, conditional on him giving evidence against Megrahi in court. Again the Scottish police di
d not declare this knowledge to the Court.

Thus the identification of Megrahi as the buyer of the clothing would certainly have been seen to have failed to reach the standards for an identification normally required in a Scottish criminal court, had all the facts been then known to the court.

The evidence against alleged co-conspirator Fhimah failed to convince the court and he was found not guilty. In order to continue proceedings, the charges against Megrahi had then to be altered from conspiring with Fhimah, to conspiring with others unknown. Changing the charge in mid stream seems hard to justify under Scots law.

If the prosecution case was a myth, how was it really done?

The above description is taken so far as possible from the evidence led at Zeist and knowledge accumulated since. It is astonishing that it seems to fail to implicate Megrahi and Malta in so many ways.

With one exception, not yet mentioned, the Zeist evidence, unlike the events leading up to the disaster itself, helps little to tell us about the most likely true explanation. Only after the verdict did that piece of evidence come to light.

It was that during the night of 20/21 December 1988 about 16 hours before the disaster somebody broke into Heathrow airside at a point close to where the Lockerbie bomb was loaded aboard PanAm103 the following evening.

Although the airport authorities were told immediately of the break-in they seem to have decided that they could afford to ignore it, not calling in Scotland Yard until long after the atrocity, and failing to halt outgoing flights until the identity and motive of the intruder had been identified, as one would surely expect at a time of known heightened terrorist risk, especially for US aircraft...

The bombs mentioned above being made in Neuss had key characteristics which were described to the Zeist court.

They were inert on the ground, but would sense falling air pressure in a climbing aircraft and explode 30-45 minutes after take-off. The court heard that the delay was not adjustable.

This means that one of these devices when armed could not have been flown in from Frankfurt, let alone Malta: it would have exploded en route.

The user had to either bring one overland to the target airport or fly in with a disarmed one and arm it there. Once loaded in the target plane he could be sure that the device would explode between 30-45 minutes after takeoff, for no timer would start until the air pressure fell appropriately. Evidence that a suitcase similar to that containing the bomb was indeed loaded at Heathrow into the very container where the explosion occurred 38 minutes after take-off was heard in court but rejected.

The break-in was entirely concealed from the trial court, yet the evidence which was heard at Zeist as to the loading of the container at Heathrow in which the explosion did occur now needs to be reviewed in the light of the break-in. The opportunity for the introduction of such a device by an overland route at Heathrow did exist after all. So reviewed, the Heathrow evidence is seen
strongly to support the loading of the bomb-containing suitcase there into the baggage container labelled as and destined for PA103.

The Scottish Crown Office and their investigating police force must answer as to why this break-in evidence was suppressed from January 1989 when the Scotland Yard police told them about it, until after the trial had ended and the verdict been reached.

The concept that Libya was responsible for Lockerbie seems to rest on the conviction of Megrahi, yet the timer fragment said to support the use of a long running timer by Megrahi could not have come from one of the Libyan timers proposed by the prosecution. They were profoundly incompatible.

If Megrahi and Malta were but a myth, was it incompetence that led the Crown Office and their investigators to get so much wrong or something more sinister still?

There is no evidence known to us that suggests any other point of origin for the mysterious fragment other than ‘the Libyan bomb from Malta’. Yet it was found inside a Scottish police evidence bag, the court was told, tucked inside a piece of shirt collar readily identifiable as having been bought in Gauci’s shop in Malta. And now we know, though it was hidden from the court and the first appeal that the fragment could not have come from one of the designated Libyan timers, so where could it have come from, and how on earth did it come to be found inside an official police evidence bag?

Come to that why had someone altered the label on that very bag in such a way as to make it simpler for the investigating forensic officer to find the fragment, rather than just have him find the piece of cloth?

An even more sinister question is who could have carefully copied the circuitry of a corner of a Libyan owned circuit board, but let themselves down by carelessness over the plating technique? There is simply no known alternative circuit board nor electronic device associated with Lockerbie from which the fragment might have been derived.

I do hope that this attempt to review the situation will be criticised, but by people who have taken the trouble to check on the facts portrayed or hinted at in it. The self styled circumstantial case against Megrahi does not seem to survive such examination, and without it the huge bubble of the ‘Libya did it believers’ seems at least as circumstantial itself.

It was just before the evidence about the circuit board fragment and other exculpatory matters were to be led in Edinburgh in open court that the Megrahi appeal was cancelled. Only now has it become public knowledge.

I have tried but failed to discover anything that could be called proof of Libyan involvement at a higher level than Megrahi. That failure is to be expected for a private citizen seeking to probe State security.

However I wonder whether those who drew up the accusatory petition against their own country over its relationship with Libya have ever asked themselves whether the perceived refusal of their government(s) to obtain any answers might be because there simply isn’t any genuine evidence of Libyan involvement at any level.

Hatred and desire for revenge are always corrosive to those who harbour them. What a further tragedy for the bereaved of Lockerbie if we have been deliberately misled by those who should care for us, their citizens.

Then there is the Christian tenet of forgiveness, how can one forgive someone if his identity is being officially concealed? Such aspects of this terrible case complicate and prolong the grieving process, and in the end will only harm those involved in the deception and the reputation of their nations..

Jim Swire

31st January 2013


1 comment:

  1. Dr Swire highlights the Eksund incident. I think Libyan material support for the IRA is crucial for understanding why Libya was blamed for Lockerbie.

    Dr swire wrote "come to that why had someone altered the label on that very bag in such a way as to make it simpler for the investigating forensic officer to find the fragment rather than just have him find the piece of cloth"?

    I doubt very much this was why the label was altered but may I suggest with reference to the SCCRC report why it was?

    The SCCRC commissioned ESDA tests on Dr Hayes notes noting the supposed discovery of the fragment of timer (PT35(b) on the 12th May 1989. These tests showed serious irregularities which the SCCRC did their best to explain away. Unfortunately the document examiners statement is not in the public domain.

    section 7.6 on of the SCCRC report deals with the discrepancy between "photograph 116" taken in April 1990 apparently showing the undissected fragment of slalom shirt (PI995) and photograph 117 supposedly taken on or about the 12th May 1989 showing the dissected fragments and exhibits PT35 (a) (b) & (c).

    The photgraphic log for photograph 116 is reproduced but not for 117. Phtograph 116 is described as "clothing". I presume 117 will be described as "debris" although the SCCRC may have good reason to gloss over this. It would be evidence that photograph 117 was created much later and switched for an existing photograph depicting "debris".