Bedford on the Color of that Brown Samsonite

last edits 2/26/10

The official findings of the Lockerbie investigation have always held that the primary suitcase (the bomb bag) was inside cargo container number AVE 4041, and was a hard-sided type of Samsonite make, "brown" in color. Quite or exactly like the model at left used as a control sample, with a reddish cast, it could be called "maroony-brown." It’s not remarkable itself and might be expected to slip through an entire system without anyone noticing it at any particular spot. But an unusual bag might wind up standing out a little.

Of the dozens of items that would be loaded into 4041 for loading onto Flight 103, the only case matching this that was both seen and remembered is the one seen by John Bedford, a Pan Am loader / driver at Heathrow International Airport. He saw it there, in AVE 4041 a thousand miles from Malta, over an hour before the arrival of the feeder flight that allegedly brought the primary suitcase. It stood out because it was placed there in his absence, along with another bag of similar type, by a co-worker, Mr. Kamboj. I'll cover these details elsewhere, here I'd like to focus on the color and the official acceptance of that aspect of his evidence.

Police reports: 1989
Bedford gave at least two statements to police Detective Constable Adrian Dixon on 3 January and 9 January 1989. One would presume earlier interviews as well, but none that I've seen yet. The first of these two isn’t directly quoted in Court, at least regarding color, but the second includes an incorrect spelling of Kamboj and I will quote it in part as:
"I went to see Peter Walker in baggage build-up leaving Camjob in interline. I returned about 4.40 p.m., Camjob told me two further suitcases had arrived for PA 103 which he had put in the tin. I looked inside the tin and saw the suitcases that I had put in the tin still in the same position. Lying on their sides in front of the other suitcases, handles pointing towards the back of the tin, were two suitcases. They were hard suitcases, the type Samsonite make. One was brown in colour, and the other one, if it wasn't the same colour, it was similar. In size, they took up the remaining base area of the tin. [day 44, p 6463-65]
Please note he cites them both as the same Samsonite hardshell style, and apparently the same color. The qualifier "if not ... similar" may just be Bedford second-guessing his presumption this was a matching set of luggage. The Bedford suitcases.

Fatal Accident Inquiry, 1990/91
The UK Government's Fatal Accident Inquiry made no mention of Mr. Bedford, or anything indicating Heathrow origin in the slightest, in their final report of 1991. They did however realize a bag of the same type was used, and however they dismissed it from their findings, they did question Bedford about his report to the effect of seeing one. Some of the questions posed there, regarding color, were read out at trial in 2000 by Mr. Davidson for the defense. He called up “a transcript of a Fatal Accident Inquiry where you gave evidence in Dumfries.” Each of the points below was generally agreed by Mr. Bedford that he said these things and did so believing them to be true. Therefore I’ll again quote the reading of the original Q and A as if I had those transcripts. [from pages 6482-85]
"Q Can you recall whether on 21st December, 1988 any of the luggage that you dealt with or saw at the interline shed destined for Pan Am 103 was a bronze Samsonite case?
A Yes, sir.
Q Did you see a bronze Samsonite case?
A A maroony-brown Samsonite case, yes.
Q Now, I wonder if I could get in a bit more detail of the colour. What is your recollection about the colour of the case lying in that position?
A I think it was a brown or maroony colour, hard-backed suitcase.
Q But as far as colour is concerned, can you be any more precise than you have been in your evidence?
A No, sir, I am sorry."
He needn't be more precise - he starts here with a clear enough memory of a maroony brown case to correct a slightly different description. But of course that's the color and style of the bomb bag, and in roughly its position, and so the re-questioning continued, chiseling away at the color question and his memory. My boldings here indicating unusually directive words, that just in text (without voice inflection aids) seem to communicate displeasure with the witness' answers and a desire to see them change:
Q I think it's fair to say that you have been seen on a number of occasions by police and other investigating agencies; is that right?
A Yes, sir.
Q And as far as the colour of that particular case is concerned, have you always expressed the same view as to what the colour was?
A To my knowledge, I have.
Q Isn't it fair to say that on different occasions you thought it was brown OR maroon, and at one point you were quite certain it was maroon?
A Yes.
Q Again this is no criticism of you, but I am anxious to know what the state of your evidence is about colour. In view of the different expressions of view over the period, are you able to be clear at all as to what the colour of that case was?
A No.
Q With regard to the suitcase that you saw lying down flat to the left side of the container, I would like you to think back as best you can. Could that suitcase have been a blue suitcase with a maroon or brown trim?
A I couldn't say.
Q You don't know whether it was or not?
A No, sir.
Q But it could have been?
A It could have been.
I know I imagine things into the evidence sometimes, but I can't help but read that as Bedford's memory being broken. No, he finally admits, he doesn't know what he's talking about at all. Blue with brown trim compared to all reddish-brown is an exaggerated distinction, when suggesting burgundy or dark tan might suffice to confuse the report away. Whatever this said the the witness, at the beginning he remembered a set color, and the end no more - it might've been "any colour you like," good sir, to paraphrase Pink Floyd.

I would presume it was on this basis the FAI finally decided these cases were somehow irrelevant, alongside the dubious reasoning that the bag was too high up and couldn't have gotten that way unless it had come in from Germany first.

Zeist Trial, 2000
Mr. Bedford was unable to recall any details of the bag or of what happened around it, or talking to police afterwards, by the time of the Zeist trial in 2000. Aged 60 at the time, it was perhaps just natural memory loss at work, or perhaps more – he seems plenty lucid on some points, but defiantly unable to recall other memories. He did affirm for the defense details of his story, as if it were relevant to the investigation, by agreeing he had probably said those things and was presumably being truthful. But he could not then testify to their truth again. The Zeist Judges did accept his story - color, style, placement by Kamboj in his absence, without badgering it as they'd only be arguing with police reports. Then they calmly dismissed its relevance based, as we've seen, on "could haves."

Re-examination by Mr. Turnbull, p 6489
Q Can I ask you about two things, please, Mr. Bedford. The first is the colour of the suitcase that was at the front of the container. You remember being asked some questions a moment ago about that?
A Yes, sir.
Q What is your recollection now as to what colour that suitcase was?
A None at all, sir.
Q All right. Did you have much of a recollection as to its colour by the time you gave evidence at the Fatal Accident Inquiry?
A Yes, sir.
Turnbull then tried to jump right to the last two questions from the FAI quesioning above, where he professed uncertainty about the color. Mr. Taylor for the defense swiftly objected that unless the preceding questions were read out, rather than just seen on-screen, it would be absent from the record and put “an unfair gloss … on the witness's recollection.” Lord Sutherland agreed and had Turnbull reread the previous passages which seem to have directed Mr. Bedford to become so indecisive.

... rest coming
but that might be about it. I'm soliciting comment - can anyone play devil's advocate and find a reasonable cause to push the color issue like that? What patterns does anyone else see in this?


baz said...

The "official version" was not that the primary suitcase was brown or maroon, this is Bedford's description of the samsonite he saw. The official version is that the primary suitcase was "antique bronze".

baz said...

Was the brown or maroon Samsonite seen by Bedford the antique bronze Samsonite that contained the bomb? Clearly the conclusion of the Police, the Fatal accident Inquiry and the court at Camp Zeist was that it wasn't they were two different suitcases.

As my own article on the subject explains John Orr conflated the two "Kamboj suitcases" with the first 5-6 Interline suitcases claiming that "evidence from witnesses is to the effect that they were Interline bags". However one witness Bedford claimed Kamboj told him he Kamboj had put the bags in the container. Kamboj denied any knowledge of the bags. How is this "to the effect" they were Interline bags. If they were they should have been recovered and linked to specific Interline passengers.

While you quote Bedford's evidence and Kamboj also gave evidence at Camp Zeist the defence failed to call the key witness in this episode John Orr and the "Special Defence" naming Directors of the Miska Bakery gave credence to the "Malta theory".

Caustic Logic said...

went ahead and re-checked a few sources and I did misstate the official verbal stance. Bronze I've only seen emerge in this questioning. The Opinion of the Court gives brown as the color. A State Dept. press release gives brown. The police reports of suitcase fragments just say brown. The Fatal Accident Inquiry (accident?) not surprisingly doesn't mention its color. I'm not sure where you got that descriptor, but it doesn't seem the most common.

So I'll revamp that intro. To me the picture looks more "maroony brown" than flat brown or bronze (which is more yellowish AFAIK)

Caustic Logic said...

"antique copper"

On the defense, it was crippled by acceptance of flawed evidence, like the Malta connection. London intro was just too hardcore for anyone there, it seems.

On other issues I'll do some more posts.

baz said...

I got the colour "Antique Bronze" from David Leppard's "On the Trail of Terror" who briefly described how a Scottish Police Officer was despatched to Samsonite HQ in Colorado to identify the make and model. Sounds so much better than "brown".

Caustic Logic said...

Can you believe I guessed your source? But no, it's a fairly fair rendition Leppard settled on, but there's really no official color that's very precise, except I guess the model they selected and that's whatever it is. Maroony brown is pretty good.

And the second one was similar ... what are the odds unless they're from the same people?

baz said...

The "second" suitcase is a puzzle. What happened to that?

Caustic Logic said...

Only one such bag was found exploded, and it was neither of them, officially. I'm wondering if the "primary suitcase" was actually the secondary and the primary obliterated. They may have found slightly too many bits for the one.. it seems a bit vague at moment. The prosecution did not produce any brown Samsonites, damaged or not, to support their case, so I'd reason they don't have a case.

This might be big.

Charles said...

I have always thought the colour question remerkable marginal and difficult to solve. We don't know the exact lighting conditions of the location Mr Bedford saw the suitcase, and a maroon, antique bronze or brown suitcase could well look different under different conditions of lighting.

The unscientific nature of the statements obtained by the police from Mr Bedford must be taken into account. At no time was he asked (say by using a colour chart) what the colour he thought he saw was. The police don't do that sort of thing.

In other words it could have been nearly black to bright red, and we'd be none the wiser. Witness evidence, as in getting people to write down exactly what the saw in carefully staged incidents, is notoriously fickle, and open to suggestion by evidence takers.

No, I happen to believe that what suitcases Mr Bedford saw is irrelevant and no useful conclusions can be drawn fom his memory. One suitcase contining a bomb or not is much like another, and there remains the possibility that Mr Bedford's memory was entirely false. After all, Mr Kamboj (which is how I thought he spelled his name) saw nothing.

Caustic Logic said...

Charles, counter-points are valuable, but I strongly disagree on most of the points you made. Lighting conditions and exact color it's true are in a range that was never narrowed down, sure. In fact, we can see the FAI judges trying to widen it beyond all use to blue with brown trim, or just whatever. His memories aren't precise or proof, nor even necessarily true, but it's too much, by far, to be ruled coincidence.

Hardshell samsonite, reddish-brown, in lighting he was used to and could probably correct for mentally, just about 12" to the right of the spot a separate brown samsonite hrdshell later blew up?

I do agree the memory could be false - it's always a possibility when we're dealing with frail human words. But why are Kamboj's any more reliable? They aren't. He SAYS he saw nothing.