Reflecting on Lockerbie

On 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London Heathrow to Detroit exploded over Lockerbie, killing all 259 passengers and crew, as well as 11 people on the ground.

Just a few months earlier, a US Navy battlecruiser, the Vincennes, had shot down an Iranian passenger jet over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people.

Not only did the US government refuse to apologise, but the Pentagon went into full cover-up mode,  decorating the warship’s crew.

The Lockerbie bombing was soon attributed to the Syrian-based radical Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, as a revenge attack commissioned by the Iranian government.

Some weeks prior to Lockerbie, the German police had rounded up a Palestinian terrorist cell, in whose apartment they found equipment for fitting bombs into Toshiba radio-cassette players.

Unfortunately, not all of these barometric bombs were recovered – such a device was subsequently used at Lockerbie – and one of the key terrorists evaded capture.

By 1990, the crime had effectively been solved however, at that point, the political background changed as a result of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

The US and the UK now needed to court countries such as Syria and Iran so an alternative theory suddenly emerged in which Libya became the suspect.

In 2001, the case against two Libyans, Abdel Al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was heard at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands before three Scottish law lords.

Gadaffi would have been briefed about the vagaries of the Scottish criminal justice processes, but he clearly did not appreciate it could be so obtuse.

It might have been anticipated that only the most reputable forensic scientists would be used but in fact the Crown employed the services of three men whose credentials were a disgrace.

The evidence of Dr Thomas Hayes in previous trials had contributed to the convictions of several innocent people and he was later publicly humiliated by Sir John May’s inquiry which slated him for ‘knowingly placing a false and distorted scientific picture before the jury’.

Allan Fereday had the barest of qualifications in the field and was condemned by the Lord Chief Justice in 1996 who stated he “should under no circumstances be considered an expert witness in explosives cases.”

Then there was the American Tom Thurman, who was later sacked by the FBI for ‘routinely altering reports in the explosives unit’ to support the prosecution case.

Fhimah was acquitted but Al-Megrahi was unaccountably convicted on the basis that he had placed the bomb on board a feeder flight in Malta.

Not only was there no evidence that the bomb had been put on board in Malta, but Air Malta had won a libel action in 1993 establishing that it was not!

So the trial led inexorably to the wrongful conviction of Al-Megrahi and the final betrayal of the bereaved families.


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