Harry Bell's Eight Reasons

December 27 2010

(Props to "Pete" for bringing this to my attention)

DCI Harry Bell, head Scots police investigator on Malta, made an important entry in his police diary on February 15 1991, the day of Tony Gauci's selection of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's photo. In it, he says that his boss, Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) Staurt Henderson, "agrees we have a partial identification on the person named Abdelbaset considering all of the circumstances," which he then lists. These eight reasons, in support of Gauci's point, suggested to him that Megrahi was in fact the buyer of the clothes that wound up in the bomb suitcase. [Source: Grounds of Appeal PDF, p 42/43 - unearthed by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) and supplied to Megrahi's defense]
(1) He arrived in Malta on 7th December '88. This was the date of the purchase of the clothing.
This is a whopper of a point to begin with, considering the date of sale is almost certainly November 23, based on Gauci's best evidence. Tony described a Wednesday a few weeks before the bombing, before the Christmas lights went up, at about 6:50 pm during a light shower, with his brother watching a football game at home. All that fits only one day - November 23, and Megrahi wasn't even on Malta that day.

Even an official Scottish legal review by the SCCRC agreed in 2007 that "there is no reasonable basis in the trial court’s judgment for its conclusion that the purchase [...] took place on 7 December." The judges had accepted it, but that decision has been criticized by serious professionals.

Consider also that in 2006 Bell himself admitted to the SCCRC just how the other date was selected despite the evidence. He ignored the lights and rainfall, focused on the less-conclusive football schedules, and got "confused."
DI Bell SCCRC interview (25-26/7/06)
"...The evidence of the football matches was confusing and in the end we did not manage to bottom it out..."
"...I am asked whether at the time I felt that the evidence of the football matches was strongly indicative of 7th December 1988 as the purchase date. No, I did not. Both dates 23rd Nov & 7th Dec 1988 looked likely."
"It really has to be acknowledged how confusing this all was. No date was signficant for me at the time. Ultimately it was [Megrahi’s] presence on the island on 7th December 1988 that persuaded me that the purchase took place on that date."
[same link as above, p 229]
It wasn't the evidence (no rain all day, different game time, lights glowing across town) but Megrahi's presence that made it the day. If that's not dishonest, it is evidently wrong to then make the circular claim, as Bell did in his diary, that the established date is a separate support for Megrahi's guilt.

(2) He resided at the Holiday Inn Hotel, Sliema, which is within several hundred yards of the shop premises.
Extension of point one. He stayed there on December 7, not the day the clothes were bought.

(3) He travelled to Switzerland on 9th December 1988. He is known to Bollier, the person who supplied the IED timer.
This isn't immediately relevant to the bombing; the trial court dismissed any direct link between Megrahi and the timers. However, Mebo founder Edwin Bollier's acquaintance might be material, in that he was the first person to suggest the CIA should blame Libya, and helped them greatly in brining false charges against al-Megrahi into 1991 (see below). His information then and since is often bizarre and usually unreliable.

While the Lockerbie timer fragment is itself questionable, whether or not DCI Bell should have suspected that at the time is another story. But even if he believed these other clues, it's no excuse for mangling the date of purchase evidence like that.
(4) He was involved in the company known as ABH on behalf of the Libyans. This company was set up to deal with contact with the MEBO company, Mr Bollier's firm.
Same as above. This is an irrelevant extension of a tagential connection that doesn't prove anything about how the bombing was done.
(5) He has a resemblance to the original photo fit and artist's impression.
In the sense they both have faces with two eyes and so on, this is a good point. Otherwise, the resemblance is uncanny in its inability to match up. Five inches too short, 14 years too young, too light, too slight, with a different face and hair, and far away from there when the clothes were bought. Point five is way off mark. If the other clues support the guy, a bad sketch is no problem to ignore - they're well-known to be unreliable. But to actively cite it as a support when nothing else really sticks is deceptive.
(6) ...
We don't know what this point was or why it was apparently redacted.
(7) The SIO advises that Bollier has now been shown the photofit and he states that if the hair was shorter then it would indeed look like Abdelbaset, also if it was 10 to 15 years older.
Strangely, this is exactly the description Gauci gave of the "Czech photo" of Megrahi: 10-15 years older, with shorter hair, and he'd look like the buyer. But this is about the Photofit image, which Tony felt looked like his 50-year-old buyer (see last link). Bollier says "if it was 10 to 15 years older" it would look like the 36-year-old Megrahi. Or perhaps Bell is mixed up here.
(8) The SIO also advises that the photograph we have of Abdelbaset is in fact 12 years old. ...
Confirmation that the photo's dating served in a bait-and-switch operation on the age discrepancy. A 12-year old photo, of a man who'd have to look older by just about that, would make it a fit. But Tony still insisted the man was around 50 at the time of sale, while Megrahi was 36 at that time, so something was twisted out of form here. (That's explained a little better at the "Czech photo" link). Point 8 continues:
He is a smart dresser, plenty of jewellery and there is no recollection of the watch according to Bollier and he is taller than Bollier at 5 foot 9 inches. Gauci thinks 6 foot tall.
These fashion points are obviously weak as evidence, but the part on height is interesting. Gauci is famously short (5'3"), so Bollier is cited as a man also shorter than this tall-ish Arab, at a decent 5,8". Here that's fudged up a modest one inch and stated as taller than someone else, and it perhaps seems reasonable for stubby Tony to recall "Baset" as towering 6 feet up there, or maybe ten feet.

The wording is ambiguous enough, on review, that one who didn't know the subject's true height might conclude that a 5'9" man had reported "Baset" as taller than himself, and another had said Megrahi was six feet tall. That's important when that same man said the buyer, who the police knew could not be Megrahi, was six feet or more in height. That's one of the reasons it can't likely be Megrahi.

And that's all of the reasons he wrote down, except the missing one, and the fact of the "identification" earlier that day. Not encouraging stuff to be finding in police records, is it?


Aku said...

Harry Bell,s point 8 relating to the height of the clothes buyer is very important. Gauci was raised in a family of clothiers. He had worked in the shop selling clothes to customers all his working life. He would be able to assess with high levels of accuracy for any customer the height, weight, waist measurement, shoulder width, inside leg and chest circumference, all within a second or two. It,s what clothiers do. Anecdote: I recently bought an off-the-peg suit at a shop in Europe. I guessed at my own dimensions and got them mostly wrong (apart from height), while the clothier took one look and told me my exact waist, chest, neck and inside leg measurement. It,s what they do. It is inconceivable that Gauci could have described Abdelbasset so erroneously in his first and subsequent statements. All Harry Bell,s nonsense about the relative heights of Gauci and Bollier can be seen as little more than an attempt to muddy the waters.

Caustic Logic said...

Apologies for the delay responding. Schedule and energy not coinciding like I'd prefer lately.

16-17-inch neck, 36" waist, jacket size 42" was too small. None of these fits with Megrahi either. He scored a perfect 0 for 0 if he was really describing that guy, aside from the hallucinated rainfall (by two people, ont selling and one buyng the umbrella), and so on.

I think "muddying the waters" is the right way to explain this whole list. On this point, I'm still not sure whether 5'9" refers to Megrahi or Bollier. If it's Bollier, and he said Megrahi was taller, score one more against Bollier's credibility.

FullInquiry said...

One needs to know the street layout of Sliema around Mary's House to understand this post, but if the clothes buyer was Megrahi, and he was staying at the Holiday Inn, which was at that time a short walk from Mary's House (the Holiday Inn is no longer where it was in 1988) it seems to me that he did not buy so much clothing as to have to hire a taxi to transport it the short distance to the Holiday Inn.

According to Gauci the actual clothes buyer walked in the opposite direction (in the rain) from the Holiday Inn to get a taxi, then returned to pick up and load the packages purchased into such taxi.

Now if one walks out the front door of Mary's House, one can walk a few paces to the left and get onto a busy street with lots of taxis that leads to the Holiday Inn. If I am the buyer and am staying at the Holiday Inn this is almost certainly what I would do. But according to Gauci the actual clothes buyer did not walk in this direction.

Or alternately, one can turn to the right when exiting Mary's House, walk down the street, and then walk to where taxi stands are to find a taxi, a considerable walking distance roughly as far as the Holiday Inn is located in the opposite direction. If I am the buyer and not staying at the Holiday Inn, I might conceivably do this.

My point is that the buyer's decisions of which direction to go and the fact that the buyer needed a taxi (indicating that the buyer had a distance to travel greater that the short distance from Mary's House to the Holiday Inn) all tend to point to a buyer other than Megrahi, given we know he was staying at the Holiday Inn on Dec. 7.

On its own the above doesn't mean much but when taken with the dates of football games, when it rained on Malta, Christmas lights or lack thereof, inconclusive identifiations of Megrahi by Gauci and the huge leaps Bell and Marquise et al took to arrive at their conclusions (as you have explained Caustic), it is just one more reason to doubt the official clothes buyer theory (and it is still just a theory).

If you want to post a graphic map illustrating this Caustic, I can assist.

Caustic Logic said...

Good point, FullInquiry.

One could argue this by saying "well, perhaps he used a cab rather than turn the other way to the hotel, as a bit of misdirection."

I don't know how much sense that makes on its own, but for one thing, there was little misdirection in the general plot. They used the best timer re: implicating themselves, and set it so it'd blow up over land, and the clothes ... He's buying them just at and then past closing time - only person in the store keeping him open, an Arab, buying a jumble of clothes brand new in such a conspicuous way.

Really, all the prosecution can say that Megrahi did right here was make himself appear 6 foot plus, around 50, made rainfall appear on December 7, made Tony forget the Christmas lights, and so on. Smart and sneaky there, but on the big picture, not so keen.

This point of the taxi is interesting. Bell brings up the stay at the Holiday Inn as piont #2 in support of the nearby clothes purchase that very day. But here he is not behaving as if he were staying at the Holiday Inn over that way. Almost like a different guy, staying elsewhere, on November 23.

By "over that way," I mean I admit I haven't tried to map this out yet, or even see who else has. I'd be thrilled to have a reliable graphic to illustrate the point. It's not a major one, IMO, but worth what it is. It helps, as all relevant facts do.

FullInquiry said...

OK I'll work something up and e-mail it to you.

What I wrote about has been bothering me for many years - I've walked the routes in Malta. So time to do something about it.