Commentary by Robert Forrester
February 5 2010 (slight changes Feb 6)
[many thanks to Mr. Forrester, aka Quincey Riddle, a committee member of the Justice For Megrahi campaign, for contributing these thoughts to The Lockerbie Divide - C.L.]
Circumstantial Jigsaw Puzzle
To have suffered the loss of his daughter in the tragedy of Pan Am 103, and following Zeist, to then have campaigned relentlessly for the overturning of the verdict in the face of every device the Crown has thrown in his way and the criticism levelled at him by those, largely bereaved American families, who wish to believe in al-Megrahi’s guilt regardless of the deeply flawed Crown case (not to mention his having to put up with Lord Carmylie’s sensitive accusation, on the twentieth anniversary of the destruction of the aircraft, that he is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome), Dr Swire has shown a quite remarkable degree of courage, resilience and determination over the last couple of decades in his quest to find justice.
The Lockerbie/Zeist saga is for the UK on a par with the impact of the Kennedy assassination in the States in the manner in which it has become a paradise for conspiracy theorists who have no reputation to lose; this of course is manna from heaven for the establishment that hopes the question marks will fade with time. Whilst some of these imaginings may have an air of plausibility, others are plainly certifiable. All of this simply muddies the waters. It enables those responsible for the Zeist verdict to lounge back on their laurels, cast all who question it into the same loony bin and pronounce: “Well, it is clear from such meanderings, isn’t it? Anyone who dissents, especially if their name is Swire, is quite obviously a fruitcake.”
For what it is worth, I put my money on the Iran– Jibril theory, although I am also perfectly prepared to accept that I am misguided. I also, albeit reluctantly, accept that it is entirely possible that Mr al-Megahi was the one behind it all, not however on the Crown case as laid before the court at Zeist. Dr Swire’s principal position, like that of Professors Köchler and Black, has always been that the trial was a travesty of justice akin to a burlesque. Why this happened and who one thinks actually committed the crime is to place the cart before the horse. What can be done must be done, and what can be done is to maintain the pressure via the fourth estate, the courts and any other high profile means to establish that Zeist was a gross miscarriage of justice more concerned with ‘power politics’ (Köchler) than establishing the truth.
I have forgotten the number of times that I have sat in a courtroom, listening to the judge’s directions to the jury and heard the constant refrain (roughly along the following lines): “Now, Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in a case based on circumstantial evidence, to aid you in arriving at a verdict, one may like to imagine that one is constructing a jigsaw puzzle. If you feel that you have enough pieces of the puzzle to formulate a clear picture of events, then you may regard a guilty verdict as proven.” The Crown case at Zeist fell precisely into this category. Exactly which jigsaw the three judges in the Netherlands were using at the time though is a mystery. It is truly hard to believe that if a Scots jury of fifteen ordinary citizens had been employed to reach a verdict, they would have arrived at the same conclusion as their Lordships.
For the sake of space, let us dispense with the show’s supporting cast and deal with two of the Crown’s star turns in the jigsaw: Mr Toni Gauchi and the now infamous circuit board fragment. Having dispensed with Mr Giaka as being beyond the pale ("We are unable to accept Abdul Majid Giaka as a credible and reliable witness…….”), we are left with the Crown’s main witness: Mr Toni Gauchi. Eye witness testimony is well-known to be notoriously unreliable, and to compound this, Mr Gauchi qualified his evidence by saying that Mr al-Megrahi “resembled” the individual who bought the apparently incriminating clothes from his shop in Malta by saying there were discrepancies in both the height and the age of the purchaser. Not to mention the confusion over the date of the purchase. To further render his testimony worthless, major doubts hang over why he and his brother Paul were in receipt of $2,000,000 and $1,000,000 respectively. Whether to secure testimony or complicity, this is outrageous.
In addition to the above, we have the fragment of circuit board purported to have come from a timing device employed to detonate a bomb. To believe this, we are expected to accept the evidence of Mr Alan Feraday of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment. Firstly, Mr Feraday was signally lacking in qualification to make any pronouncements on this item other than the obvious fact that it was a piece of circuit board. Secondly, RARDE had conducted no tests for explosive residues. Thirdly, Mr Feraday had discredited himself as a forensic witness in previous cases involving terrorism and explosives. Fourthly, nobody at RARDE was able to explain why evidence labels and page numbers on notes relating to the fragment were altered. Finally, it seems that Mr Feraday took the item in question to the USA for analysis – this appears to have come as something of a surprise to Carmylie when informed of this on camera (by Gideon Levy: ‘Lockerbie Revisited’): doubtless due to his Lordship’s concerns surrounding the possible tampering with evidence.
Moreover, as is known, and has been ever since its development, and as independent tests have proven, the hotspot of a Semtex explosion reaches temperatures of between 3,000 and 4,000ºC – quite sufficient to vaporise anything in its immediate vicinity. It would seem then that both Mr Bollier’s timers and Mr Gauchi’s clothes are of a remarkably robust variety.
Dr Swire is right to draw attention to the Heathrow break in and the fact that, although this was notified prior to the trial, it did not become public knowledge until after Zeist was a done job. A review of the security regimes in force at Luqa, Frankfurt and Heathrow was carried out post Lockerbie demonstrating that Luqa had a clean bill of health whilst Heathrow left rather a lot to be desired. Quite apart from this, what self-respecting bomber would elect to place a device utilising a timer – barometric or other – on an in-line flight to Frankfurt, thence to be transferred to a second in-line flight to Heathrow around Christmastime with all the attendant variables such a strategy would bring into play? Frankly, this is bonkers. I would like to know if the judges were drug tested during the trial.
It is, of course, not unknown for juries to deliver misguided verdicts. However, had there been one drawn from the Scottish citizenry at Zeist, one ponders not only whether they would have convicted Mr al-Megrahi but also whether they would have acquitted the co-accused, Mr Fhimah, given that it was taken as read that the act could not have been carried out single-handed. His acquittal left not a few people, including Professor Köchler, utterly bamboozled. So, if not Mr Fhimah, who? Moreover, how much effort has been put into locating the mystery conspirator since the trial?
Never again ought the Crown to be in a position where it performs the role of prosecutor, judge and jury. It is all rather like their Lordships’ jigsaw was a picture of a top hat taken from an obscure angle and they managed to convert it into a rabbit. Whilst such conjuring sits well in vaudeville, it has no place in a court of law. This is no criticism whatsoever of Professor Black; how could anyone have imagined that such a Pandora’s Box would be opened? He was in the unenviable position of trying to get oil and water to mix for a while at Zeist, and was clearly as stunned as so many of us were by the verdict (“I have made no secret of my belief in his innocence. His conviction, on the evidence led at the trial, was nothing short of astonishing. It constitutes, in my view, the worst miscarriage of justice perpetrated by a Scottish criminal court since the conviction of Oscar Slater in 1909 for the murder of Marion Gilchrist.”). Not only that but he has worked tirelessly to have it overturned. Furthermore, from what he has said himself, it is clear that he agrees that one of the reasons why we have a jury of fifteen ordinary citizens in criminal trails, and do not utilise a form of Diplock Court in Scotland, is in order that a degree of common sense might prevail in arriving at a verdict.
Finally, the quality of Mr al-Megrahi’s defence counsel deserves mention. On a number of occasions during the trial, his representatives can hardly be said to have covered themselves in glory. Why so limp, so lacking in acuity and seemingly unprofessional, both at the trial and the first appeal? Incompetence?
All of the above served only to make the accused a sitting duck for those aiming for a quick and expedient fix. This episode has not only cast Scottish justice in a most disreputable light, it has castigated a man who should by rights be regarded as innocent of the crime on the basis of the evidence laid before the court, and in some ways worst of all, it has sold a cynical sop to the relatives and friends of the deceased. I have only one thing to say to those who are satisfied with the Zeist verdict: “Aye, that’ll be right, pal.”
Robert Forrester (Justice for Megrahi Campaign).