Note: Having a look now at David Leppard's book, I've decided to split the old post into two new ones, joined here. The first comments below reflect the previous version. This post will discuss both tracks, an official report and a dramatic blowing-up of things by political scientists, in general terms, how they relate in altering the course of the investigation. The switch was from an obvious and useful lead that neither the Americans nor Brits wanted to follow. And it was to a confusing muck in which a new plot could eventually be "discovered" and followed.
Also, here I'll address the decidedly non-scietific aspect in how this valid forensics work was twisted to insist something it simply couldn't do - "the bomb bag had to have come from Frankfurt and before that... we'll think of something. Just give us some time, okay?"
Shuffling Aside Bedford's Baggage
Not a whisker of the Libyan guilt storyline could have emerged if not for a key decision made early on about where the bomb came in from before being loaded onto PA 103. The official presumption was that the bomb had arrived in London on Pan Am 103A, a feeder flight / flirst-leg originating in Frankfurt, West Germany. Acceptance of this premise allowed a bag from Malta, and all that was attached to that, and eventually a guilty verdict for al Megrahi,
It was clear which luggage container had held the bomb; that was named AVE4041PA, and had been loaded first with various luggage at Heathrow, then filled with bags from PA 103A. As it was finally loaded, most luggage in 4041 was from Frankfurt, so by sheer numbers the bomb would more likely be in the majority batch. Perhaps riding on that wave of thought, on March 28 1989 Senior Investigating Officer (top Scot) John Orr told investigators gathered at the Lockerbie Incident Control Center (LICC):
“Evidence from witnesses is to the effect that the first seven pieces of luggage in the container belonged to Interline passengers and the remainder was Frankfurt luggage. […] To date 14 pieces of explosive-damaged baggage have been recovered and enquiries to date suggest that on the balance of probabilities the explosive device is likely to be amongst the Frankfurt baggage items. Of all the currently identified explosion-damaged luggage all but one item originated from Frankfurt.” [1, bold was LICC italics in original]In this Frankfurt/London distinction for those damaged, one must wonder how he categorized the “primary suitcase,” the only brown, hardshell Samsonite among them. It matched the description and approximate location (see below) of the two maroony-brown hardshell Samsonites John Bedford reported as being in the container. These were loaded well before the German feeder arrived, and as blogger "Baz" points out, the "effect" that this was all interline baggage was not from "evidence from witnesses" but from the name of the shed (interline) where the suspect bags were inserted. They therefore constituted unwanted baggage that would have to be factually shuffled aside before the eventual story could unfold as it did.
The Sciencey Stuff - Two Tracks
Two tracks we can assess in some detail are covered that way in separate posts. First I recommend
part 1 the investigation, images, and explanations of Mr. Thomas Claiden. He assembled appendix F for the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch report on the Lockerbie non-accident. Based on decent forensics reasoning, he concluded the suitcase with the bomb was almost certainly not directly on the main floor panel, but otherwise at almost floor level, outboard aft quarter, or just above the left-hand Bedford suitcase, and slid a little left into the sloped-floor overhang area. This was only published in 1990, but it's more visual, which helps one form their own opinion from the damage. I don't disagree with anything of the essence here, it just doesn't say anything.
Track two is the Indian Head Forensics Tests of 1989. The tests showed that the reading inherent in the AAIB report was correct - the bomb was one layer up and not on the main floor. So the results were the same, if more dramatic and less public in their documentation.
Ultimately, the conclusion that Frankfurt was indicated relies on a stated assumption that the Bedford cases could not possibly have been stacked one on the other. If someone had stacked them, perhaps to make room for their feet as they prepared to load from 103A, the top one would be in the exact spot of the detonation. I suspect that's what happened.
Zeist Judges' Speculation
The judges at the 2000 trial explained the significance, by universal custom taking Bedford's cases as singular, in their final opinion.
It was argued on behalf of the accused that the suitcase described by Mr Bedford could well have been the primary suitcase, particularly as the evidence did not disclose that any fragments of a hard-shell Samsonite-type suitcase had been recovered, apart from those of the primary suitcase itself. [para 25]Bedford then took container 4041 with 6-7 cases, to the "build-up area" and went home. It was taken to meet Pan Am 103A, and the case against Megrhahi was based on the "primary suitcase" being loaded from that luggage, and that based on the fact that it wasn't on the floor. For such an important aspect of the case, the exact details of where such a bag would end up later are hard to predict well, and impossible to predict with certainty. The judges are clearly aware of this:
"It was submitted that there was evidence that an American Tourister suitcase, which had travelled from Frankfurt, fragments of which had been recovered, had been very intimately involved in the explosion and could have been placed under the suitcase spoken to by Mr Bedford."That might seem like a good clue why this bag wasn’t on the floor, but with a usual spherical propagation, the blast could cause the same damage if this suitcase was above it, below it, or beside it, depending on how they were arranged. That non sequitur leads to mental gymnastics to the effect that if a Frankfurt bag got under the ones Bedford saw, then anything is possible and two Samsonites are thus smeared out of relevance to make way for their brown Samsonite (I'm fairly sure it's the one reported by Giaka).
"That would have required rearrangement of the items in the container, but such rearrangement could easily have occurred when the baggage from Frankfurt was being put into the container on the tarmac at Heathrow. It is true that such a rearrangement could have occurred, but if there was such a rearrangement, the suitcase described by Mr Bedford might have been placed at some more remote corner of the container."They might have been pushed over there, and never seen since, who knows. But we're quite certain they were not simply stacked up and pushed a few inches to the nearest 'corner.' The only thing solid they seemed to have was “the effect of forensic evidence was that the suitcase could not have been directly in contact with the floor of the container.” Emphasis mine, wishful reasoning theirs. See the above section for what that was all about.
Nowhere along the line were intact suitcases matching Mr. Bedford's story ever been produced intact and explained away. It's as if they both just disappeared. Or blew into tiny bits.