New doubts over crucial evidence in Lockerbie trial

John Ashton – Herald Scotland July 17, 2011

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the Scottish border town on December 21, 1988, killing 270 people.

The trial of the two Libyan men accused of the bombing began in May 2000, in front of a Scottish court set up in the Netherlands. During the trial, Dr Thomas Hayes, an expert witness for the prosecution, testified that a fragment allegedly from the bomb’s timer had not been tested for explosive residues

However, according to the memo, tests were in fact carried out – and proved negative.

The revelation comes as the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee prepares to consider calls for a public inquiry into the conviction in 2001 of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Campaigners believe he was wrongly convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, and accuse the police and Crown Office of concealing evidence that might have cleared him.

Forensic evidence suggested that the fragment, known as PT/35, was part of a timer supplied to Libyan intelligence by the Swiss company Mebo. Mebo’s offices were shared by a company co-owned by Megrahi.

According to the prosecution, the timer and the explosive were hidden in a Toshiba radio-cassette player which Megrahi packed into a suitcase along with clothing.

Hayes was employed by the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE), linked to the UK Ministry of Defence. Scientists from the RARDE were involved in examining material found at the Lockerbie crash scene.

Hayes told the trial in June 2000 that he did not test PT/35, or a fragment of Toshiba circuit board, for explosive residues because it was clear from their appearance that they were bomb-damaged.

He added that the chances of finding residues were “vanishingly small”, but acknowledged that residues had been found on pieces of aircraft debris, and that test results for other items were not disclosed.

A previously secret memo, dated April 3, 1990, describes a visit to the Lockerbie investigation by French police officers examining the 1989 bombing of a French airliner in Niger. The memo states that Detective Superintendent Stuart Henderson, senior investigating officer, told the French delegation “that the piece of PCB [printed circuit board] from the Toshiba [cassette player] bore no trace of explosive contamination and that this was due to the total consummation of the explosive material. Similarly with PT/35, the item was negative in regard to explosive traces”.

It is not known whether Hayes knew of the tests alluded to in the memo, and there is no suggestion that he deliberately misled the court. Henderson did not testify at the trial, and there is no suggestion that he acted improperly.

Christine Grahame, SNP MSP and convener of the Justice Committee, said yesterday: “This adds to the growing body of evidence that Megrahi’s conviction, if it was placed before the appeal court today, would not stand the test of being proven beyond reasonable doubt.”

Calls for a public enquiry have been led by the campaign group Justice for Megrahi. Group member Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the Lockerbie bombing, said yesterday: “At the end of Megrahi’s trial, PT/35 stood out for me as being shrouded in a cloud of anomalies. Everything that I’ve learned since then has added to my suspicion that there was something very wrong.”

The trial court heard that Hayes found the fragment in May 1989 in the collar of a blast-damaged shirt. However, his laboratory notes and the collar’s police evidence label were inexplicably altered, and other official documents gave the date of discovery as January 1990.

Hayes’s employer, the RARDE, was involved in a string of miscarriages of justice in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1990, Hayes and senior colleagues were criticised by former appeal court judge Sir John May in his report on the Maguire Seven case, in which individuals had been charged with handling explosives linked to the IRA. Sir John said they knew of evidence pointing to the innocence of the accused yet failed to inform the court.

After seeing PT/35, Mebo’s owner, Edwin Bollier, said it was from a prototype circuit board that was never part of a functioning timer.

The police memo was one of hundreds of documents appended to the 800-page report into Megrahi’s conviction produced by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. However, its potential significance was apparently overlooked.

The Crown Office would not comment directly on the memo. In a joint statement with Dumfries and Galloway Police, which led the Lockerbie investigation, it said: “The only appropriate forum for the determination of guilt or innocence is the criminal court. Mr Megrahi was convicted unanimously … following trial and his conviction was upheld unanimously by five judges in an appeal court.”

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