After the Break-In

Connecting Manly's and Bedford's evidence with a two-phase operation
January 17 2011
last update Feb. 10

Note 2/6: See the comments below, which address half of "the middle part" below. Rolfe has soundly debunked the build-up introduction theory and its implied conspiracy. There is, however, the option of re-positioning of the cases at that location, by the same intruder, after their introduction at Interline. I've left the text alone however, so the article and comments become a continuous learning experience.

The Defense's "Missing" Link
I’ve previously explained the security breach at Heathrow airport’s terminal three, found and reported by guard Ray Manly in the first minutes of December 21. A lock to the secured airside area was broken, leaving the way open, perhaps, for a terrorist to place an explosive device amongst the luggage out there. There was no police intervention before the bombing of Flight 103 several hours later, and Manly’s police statement about it “disappeared” afterwards.

As noted in that article, the break-in is not some lone clue floating without any context. It is in fact central to the increasingly clear London origin theory. The explosion time – 38 minutes after leaving the airport – matches with the known altimeter-based weaponry of the most logical villains aside from Libya, if it were loaded at Heathrow. Before that, but following the break-in, a pair of suitcases eerily like the one that blew up were seen around 4:40 PM. Well before the investigation’s bomb in the same case could have arrived from Malta, these appeared mysteriously within the doomed luggage container AVE 4041.

And of special interest here is the fact that Heathrow is the most logical place to load a bomb onto a London-to-NY flight. A remote loading gives numerous chances for interception, and no control over final bomb placement within the container. The bomb did wind up in the only spot of AVE 4041 from which it could do its job (lower outboard corner – see graphics below), by sheer bad luck we’re told. But in fact we have good reason to suspect intelligent terrorist hands undercover at Heathrow airside, perhaps contravening normal rules of loading.

But these are more circumstantial points. It’s in connecting Ray Manly’s report of a break-in at terminal 3 and John Bedford’s report of what could well be the primary suitcase, that the defense case, and the London theory as argued on appeal in 2002, was based. As the appeal court judges considering this at one point put it, “the appellant [Megrahi] sought to link the damage to the padlock with the Bedford suitcases” [242]

[To clarify a side-point, I proceed here on a different assumption from most. A careful reading of Bedford suggests both mystery cases he saw were the same color and style. As he said: “They were hard cases, the type Samsonite make. One was brown in color and the other one, if it wasn’t the same color, it was similar.” This plus their appearance at the same time suggests – though it doesn’t prove - a matching set from one owner, and thus both suspicious. Somehow no one else seems to read him the same way, and focuses on one of the two (which one?) that matches the official style. But I go with what I see, causing the occasional disconnect between singular and plural forms below. [also: If the case(s) were bombing-related as many suspect, it’s possible that both contained bombs (one of which didn’t fully detonate?), or more likely one was a filler, added for realism, etc. I have good reason to suspect the “one case recovered” (actually less than half a case worth of fragments) was not the bomb bag, but on the floor, beneath it - Dr. Hayes once said so.]

In connecting the ‘round midnight report of the broken lock and the late afternoon suitcase sighting by Bedford, There is the problem of elapsed hours, as brought up by the prosecution and favored by the appeal judges. Why break in, plant a bomb bag among the luggage, and then leave, only to have it loaded to the last flight of the day about 17 hours later?

It’s a fair question but not a slam-dunk. If some would-be Lockerbie bomber were on the ground cutting locks at midnight, might he not be willing to come back for a second penetration? Below is a two-phase operation scenario that I think accounts for everything as well as everything can be accounted for. It’s about what I might try for if I knew as much as I imagine this guy knew, and was evil enough to carry out such a thing. I feel that it answers all the major problems pointed out during the appeal, which I will go over for comparison following the plot outline.

Phase one: Getting the bomb to the luggage place
We start around 11:45 PM on December 20, with the terrorist mastermind - Arabic in appearance, or Persian, or blond-haired and blue-eyed, depending. He's at terminal three, standing in front of door T32a, with no one else nearby. To force open a padlock, in general your options would be:
- Sledhehammer (Loud, ineffective against rubber doors like these.)
- Hacksaw (loud and slow)
- Crowbar (loud, crude, unsure)
- Powerful (long-handled) bolt cutters.
- Other (I’m not a tool guy really)

Bolt cutters seem the quickest and quietest – a polite cough might conceal the snip from anyone down the way. Heathrow was under serious maintenance in those days, with workers coming and going all over, according to airport employees speaking at trial. So a maintenance worker could be a good costume to explain the bulky tool, the work gloves (leaves no fingerprints), and the oversize toolbox that he wouldn’t want searched. So long as he isn’t caught in mid-snip, he’d be airside in the December dark within seconds.

He could then empty his toolbox at any number of spots – one he either planned out or picks at the time. Maybe some out-of-the-way spot around a corner from a corner, the kind of place you could sneak a pee with little chance of being seen, even in the day. And behind something else within that spot - an air vent cover, or a large machine with an accessible cavity. Or anywhere that two good-sized suitcases could hide unseen for half a day in a place only he knows.

They would be fully loaded, tagged for PA103, and ready to be smuggled among the outgoing luggage. But they weren’t to be placed yet. That’s too important to be left to chance.

In court, Ray Manly said of the break-in "if somebody had done their job then maybe, maybe [the bombing] may not have happened." But in this scenario, the police would not likely find anything even if they did show up and search the airside area. The whole place would have to be almost disassembled, and all the luggage out there double-checked for purity to be sure nothing untoward was there. At the point these activities were undertaken, the bombing may, sadly, have been unstoppable under normal circumstances.

At  least, until the cases re-surfaced and ran a chance of looking odd to eyes put on the alert....  

Phase Two: Turning the bomb into luggage
Phase one accomplished and no tracks left, the bomber would calmly depart the scene, ditching the empty toolbox and bolt-cutters, but not the gloves. In case this lock-cutting was reported and then caused an alarm (it didn’t), he might give them all day to relax again when nothing happens. He’d get some sleep and allow for at least one shift change at terminal three. He’d even have time to sleep in and have a nourishing brunch of brain food in the hotel lobby, with only one other thing planned for the day.

And that would be at the airport again, coming back in the early afternoon. He’d dress in a black-market Pan Am jumpsuit for a luggage-handling disguise. And he’s carrying nothing but his black-market airside pass (hundreds were missing), appropriate fake ID in a wallet with some cash, and perhaps a pocket-knife if that’s allowed and recovery will require un-screwing. He’s carrying no bags to search. No bombs. He's waved into the secured area where he's got his bomb hidden and ready to make-believe it's someone's matching suitcases.

Upon re-entry, he’d slide over to his hiding nook to retrieve them, maintaining supreme alertness to manage it unseen. Now in a new costume, Pan Am worker bee carrying two (misrouted, if anyone asks) copper Samsonites, he’d emerge on the tarmac and just blend in.

If possible, and in general, the next thing he’d do is manually place them in the lower outboard corner (see below) of a Pan Am container, hoping for the best from there (he may have gotten it).

The middle part: Interline or Build-Up?
The middle part, just where the container would ideally be when he made his move, is more “choose-your-own-adventure,” based on some uncertainty on my on part. It’s a little complicated, and most readers can just be skip to the last paragraph here.

My previous, almost gospel, interpretation, takes John Bedford’s amazing account as literally true. This has the suitcases introduced at the interline shed, the place for processing luggage from non-Pan Am connecting flights. He says his co-worker with Alert security, the ones who x-ray the bags, had placed the matching brown Samsonites in his brief absence, although the co-worker, Sulkash Kamboj, denies this.

In this version, the Lockerbie bomber at Heathrow would have Mr. Kamboj and his x-ray to deal with, which could be dealt with in at least two ways. He could just stand outside, put the Samsonites on the belt running into the shed like any luggage, let Kamboj scan them unseen by him, and just hope they pass and are placed by luck in the right corner. He could also Step into the shed, pay the x-ray man a wad of cash to ignore his job, suggest it’s drugs in there, not bombs, and try to place them himself in the right corner. The latter would offer a better chance of success, but still has its obvious dangers – like the guy taking the cash and then removing the bags for scrutiny anyway once the intruder was gone.

Another problem is the suitcase positions Bedford reported – position “A” in the image below, flat across the floor. The bomb was in a case of just this type, but by the evidence (and officially) in the upper of the two as shown in “B.” Both cases in B are ideally placed, against the sloped floor panel, which winds up nearest the curve of the airliner’s hull. This would only require a stacking of the two cases in “A”, nothing too extreme, really. However, that would make the one on the right in “A” the most likely to be holding the bomb (if there was only one). This is clearly not an ideal placement, suggesting the terrorist was unable to arrange them himself at interline.
An alternate narrative involves the same two cases actually being inserted at the baggage build-up area. Here baggage from Heathrow-originating passengers was consolidated into containers, and occasionally a container started at interline would be topped off or await an incoming flight here. AVE4041 was one of those. If the cases were first spotted here, that might leave Bedford’s story both literally untrue and still relevant, in a cynical but plausible situation like this:

Peter Walker, who was in charge of the build-up area, goes to take AVE 4041 out to meet the German feeder flight to be filled. But as he steps to it, he sees and makes note of the two “Bedford suitcases,” which weren’t there when Bedford dropped it off. And they’re stacked against the outboard panel as shown in “B” above.

He sees this after sitting inside for around 40 minutes, never watching the container for a moment. No one else was guarding it, and it sat unattended and wide open for most of an hour. Perhaps for fear of causing trouble he ignores the anomaly and lets it slide. (There’s probably a good reason. It’s not like we’re on high alert following a break-in or anything.) It’s taken out to K16, and filled up with items from Frankfurt, none of them holding any explosives, and then is loaded onto 103.

But after the news of what happened less than an hour later, he’d put it together. Even the placement was a clue - the bomb was in one of those cases, ideally placed nearest the hull. So he compels someone else (Bedford) to say he saw them, way over there at interline, and that Indian guy “Camjob” (as Bedford calls him) is the one who placed them. They’d be x-rayed, one would presume. (But if not, hey… it was him, not either of us.) And further, they were reported by Bedford as flat on the floor, not stacked in that optimal way.

This is a rather convoluted thing to suspect, and requires some conspiracy, but it does explain a number of things. It should be noted that Walker provided Bedford’s alibi (a tea break together) for being absent when Kamboj placed the bags. And besides the Bedford/Kamboj disagreements, there are serious inconsistencies in Walker’s statements. To police in 1989 he swore he never saw or was aware of the container at all, contradicting Bedford. In 1990, he fixed this and confirmed that Bedford had brought it over, as they had agreed to over tea. At trial in 2000 he admitted the change in stories is strange, but he said for whatever reason, "I can’t explain it."

In this scenario, the suitcases memory in Bedford’s story is accurate enough to be a clue, even if it’s not his own memory, but transferred from one mind to another. It also allows for the flat position to be an additional fudging, so that not even Kamboj facilitated their potent stacking. (That was apparently someone later down the line, if it's decided that happened at all.)

Both options involve the danger of Kamboj, Walker, Bedford, or someone else reporting or removing the bags. Every London option has that danger, and that risk is tripled in the official story through three airports, making this still preferable. Logic says they’d choose Heathrow, and less clearly it suggests the bomber would choose build-up. But Bedford suggests he chose interline. Either way, the reference to brown, hard-shell Samsonites in the deadly corner of AVE4041 shouldn’t just be presumed to be a coincidence.

Appeal judgment addressed:
Following are some excerpts from the second “Opinion of the Court” from Camp Zeist, following the appeal of Feb. 2002.

"[244] ...Moreover, although readily discoverable evidence of the break-in had been left behind in the form of the damaged padlock, the hypothesis involved that the case was not introduced into the interline shed until some fifteen hours later..."
True, but it’s no problem for the two-phase explanation - it’s the basis of it. In fact, the build-up version involves an even longer span, by as much as an hour, than the one the judges half-considered.

"...Unless the risk of opening the case airside to set the timer was to be undertaken, the timer would have had to be set before the break-in..."
Ice-cube timers that blow around 38 minutes after takeoff don’t need to be set, of course. So this point doesn’t apply to my version, nor, I think, to the case made by the defense.

"... No method of arranging for the bag to pass through the system to the interline shed had been identified..."
Perhaps not by the defense, but I propose the method was manual placement supported by psychological deception.

"... The intruder would have required either to wait for fifteen hours himself, or to have the assistance of an accomplice..."
Either works. I’m betting on one well-trained operative with the requisite patience.

"... No place of concealment for the intruder or the suitcase had been identified..."
No place identified? I suspect the intruder was an out-of-towner, and concealed himself at a hotel for that time. As for the bomb suitcases, no one has shown any reason to rule out all potential hiding spots, like those mentioned above or a dozen others. Do they imagine there would be no suitable spots? Aren't they presuming they were "hidden" right inside the interline shed?

"... There was nothing in the evidence to explain why a suitcase, brought through T3-2A between 2205 and 0030 hours, would not be placed in the interline shed in time for either of the two earlier PanAm flights. On the hypothesis under examination, the suitcase had been tagged for flight PA103, although there were two earlier flights that would have involved a shorter period of concealment of a suitcase containing an armed explosive device... "
Again with "armed" and time spans. Unless the airport suddenly levitates a few thousand feet, the bomb is stable. Remember, it's altimeter-triggered, in this non-Libyan plot. If the bomb is concealed and ready for a phase two, no one but him will put it in the shed, on no timeline other than his own. There’s no need to rush things; even doing it the same day is unnecessary. And besides, they may have been targetting Flight 103 itself for some specific reason.

"... Yet there was no evidence that there was anything about flight PA103 or its passengers that singled it out as the target."
This is widely disputed, but for my part I take no stock in certain individuals (Charles McKee, etc.) being targeted. But here are other reasons I could see why they might choose to wait for this one, depending what they knew from advanced research:
- the plane’s age (it was one of the oldest around) and its brittle skin. (see this frightening video)
- its inhabitant’s average youth, to maximize the sense of loss.
- its lateness, last flight of the day. As explained above, giving time for security to relax, for sleep, and for a costume change.

"...Moreover, if an accomplice with airport identification, genuine or false, was involved, there was no need to break in to airside..."
Except to have no friggin' bomb on him when he showed his pass and perhaps was subjected to search prior to entering a secured area… which of course was not secure at this point, and he may have had a bomb waiting for him inside.

"...All that was required was to smuggle the components of the explosive device through an access point, such as T3-2A, where persons with appropriate identification were not searched..."
Even the  stray suitcases they're bringing in aren't searched? I don't know - I imagine a ready-made bombs aren't smart to bring through, and the judges agree, speculating "component parts" being smuggled and then assembled out on the tarmac somewhere. (???) For the bomb’s entry behind the perimeter, where worker-looking people are generally trusted, I think an unacknowledged sneak-job of the ready package would be wisest. A break-in at midnight would be genius.

"... The effect of all these points, the Advocate depute submitted, was to show that the hypothesis that the break-in at T3-2A was the means of infiltrating one of the Bedford suitcases was so weak and flawed that the additional evidence could not pass the Cameron test..."
My theory has it introducing both of them. I didn't read just what "the Cameron test is," but it's from a case involving someone named Cameron, and probably means a point doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, compared to something else already "established." At least, not when the scrutiny is as skewed as their Lordships' is. When they say “the Advocate depute submitted” they also seem to be saying “we think.” But the A.D.’s job is to argue his case, however unsupported, and their job is to judge fairly, not just agree with the one line of argument as if it were a self-evident truth.

"[251] In our view the Advocate depute was right in submitting that the additional evidence did not demonstrate any link between the break-in at T3-2A and the Bedford suitcases..."
Perhaps not, but now I have. A potential one at least.

"... It might be said that there was a temporal link, in the sense that the break-in occurred some fifteen hours before the Bedford suitcases appeared in the interline shed..."
Yes. In a 17-year career, the worst security breach Manly ever saw, and the worst terrorist bombing in UK history, happening within the same 17-hour span, is definitely a temporal connection.

"... It seems to us, however, that that interval of time, so far from pointing to a connection between the two events, casts considerable doubt on whether they can have been connected..."
"Can have been connected?" Wow. No imagination at all.

"...The lapse of time after a readily detectable break-in, creating a period during which the infiltrator and the case (or, if there was an accomplice, the unaccompanied case) would require to be concealed in the airside area, points away from a connection..."
Again, the lapse of time after the detectable event is explained by me as a cool down period in case the detection raised an alarm. Sixteen or so hours is, if anything, a bit short for this purpose, but it apparently worked.

"...Moreover, any attempt to link the Bedford suitcases with the break-in raises unanswered questions as to why the infiltrator ignored the baggage build-up area, and introduced the cases into the considerably more remote interline shed..."
Any attempt? Not my variation where the bomb is introduced at build-up. They're the same suitcases then, just the "Walker suitcases" instead of the Bedford ones.

In addition, given the evidence as to the ability of a person with airport identification to pass through T3-2A during the day without being subjected to search, and given the evidence led at the trial and mentioned by the trial court in para [24] about the substantial number of such passes unaccounted for, it is not clear why a break-in would have been seen as necessary, since the components of the explosive device could have been smuggled through an access point.
Repeated just to emphasize the bolded, to remind the reader how easy it would be for a terrorist to sneak back into the airside area where he'd earlier hidden the bomb he meant to get onto Flight 103.

Addendum: Completely unaware of the break-in that changes the whole scene for the imagine Heathrow intruder, the Zeist judges put the situtation pretty well in their paragraph 24 (in its entirety)
[24] It emerges from the evidence therefore that a suitcase which could fit the
forensic description of the primary suitcase was in the container when it left the interline shed. There is also a possibility that an extraneous suitcase could have been introduced by being put onto the conveyor belt outside the interline shed, or introduced into the shed itself or into the container when it was at the build-up area. To achieve that, the person placing the suitcase would have had to avoid being detected, but the evidence indicates that a person in possession of a pass for the airside area would not be likely to be challenged, and there were a very large number of passes issued for Heathrow, a substantial number of which were not accounted for. The person placing the suitcase would also have required to know where to put it to achieve the objective.


Rolfe said...

Generally great analysis, CL.

I take issue with your suggestion that Bedford actually saw nothing but was "persuaded" to remember these suitcases in order to push the blame away from Walker to Kamboj. Bedford gave his statement about the two mysterious suitcases to the Met on 3rd January 1989. Less than two weeks after the disaster. Two weeks which encompassed the Christmas and New Year holidays, and if you count it up you'll realise that 3rd January was actually the first ordinary working day after the holiday period in England. This was reasonably quick off the mark for routine enquiries, especially given that the role of AVE4041 as the bomb container wasn't figured out for several days after the crash.

The idea that Walker managed to work all this out and persuade Bedford to tell a fabricated story to the police at such an early stage is very hard for me to contemplate. Indeed, it is the early date of Bedford's statement, long before anyone had figured out that the bomb was in a brown Samsonite suitcase, which is a major factor in the weight I put on it.

The rest of it? Totally agree.

Break in at midnight when it is possible to be unobserved, in order to introduce anything which might be incriminating if found on the bomber's person in the daytime. Why would any smart bomber risk making the assumption it was impossible for him to be challenged or searched?

Then maybe hide - dammit, I simply can't believe there was nowhere to hide in that place - or as you say, maybe just leave again and go to ground outside, even just to a room in an airport hotel.

Then come back later, retrieve the cached items, and expedite the placement in the container.

The intellectual back-flips the judges performed to ignore the probability of this scenario would be funny it it weren't so serious. It's partly a feature of the way the appeal process works, but it's still a shocker.

Rolfe said...

Why wait for PA013?

As you say, maybe it was decided to leave a reasonable gap before going on with stage 2, to allow for any reaction to the broken padlock to settle.

I very much doubt the bomber would have known in advance that Maid of the Seas was going to fly that route that day, so I don't go for that one. Or that he could have predicted there would be a bunch of students on board.

I also doubt specific passengers were targeted, although it may be significant that most of the Frankfurt passengers weren't German nationals but were US service personnel (from Wiesbaden?) on their way home for Christmas. Their tragedy seems to have been obscured by the Syracuse students.

McKee and the other US security services personnel could well have been coincidental, unless there's anything in the weird Francovich story about a link between Gannon and Khaled Jafaar. Which is a topic for another post.

However, my own opinion is that the existence of PA103A might be the important point. At its simplest, this gave rise to the placement of AVE4041, labelled for PA103 at an early stage and left lying around the quiet interline shed for hours. (Maybe there would be such a container for the earlier flights as well, but with only a few interline cases, what happened to them? AVE4041 was a sitting duck, waiting for the luggage from the connecting flight.) I imagine it would have been a lot easier to get the bomb in a container in the quiet interline shed rather than the busy build-up area. And in the later part of the afternoon, when the place was less busy. Did their Lordships think of that?

Then again. The PFLP-GC cell was based in Frankfurt and I think that might be significant. They knew about the controlled drug deliveries, I think. No, no, while we admit these drug deliveries did happen, there were none during December 1988. And Lester Coleman is a complete fantasist when he claims the Jafaar clan was up to its collective neck in the heroin trade, and Khaled was a known courier. He was just a very lucky boy who got to visit his old granny in the Lebanon lots of times.

There is a pretty damn spooky tale about a suitcase full of packets of heroin being found at Tundergarth, which was spirited away by the police and the farmer silenced. And a known drug courier was among the known dead. I suspect the PFLP-GC knew about this, but rejected the Frankfurt-bag-switch method espoused by Francovich and Coleman. This is getting beyond coincidence.

Rolfe said...

So how about this idea?

I suspect the US authorities knew the PFLP-GC were being paid by Iran to take down a US-bound transatlantic jet. Hence the ambiguous Khreesat. Who very possibly built the device that exploded, while working as a Jordanian and hence CIA asset. Maybe he wasn't the only infiltrator.

I suspect the CIA ordered the BKA to release the Autumn Leaves suspects in order not to spoil the sting they were running. The intention being to let it go far enough to net the entire gang with serious charges that would stick.

I suspect that either the Autumn Leaves raid or (and?) other events alerted Jibril to the fact that they had been infiltrated and were being set up. And that this caused plans to be altered to circumvent this.

I suspect the original plan was to do a Frankfurt bag-switch just as Francovich alleged. As the drug delivery trail was a DEA operation, it would have been an ideal opportunity for the US double-agent in the PFLP-GC ranks to contribute to the laying of an apparently dastardly plot, subverting the already-organised drug circumvention of Maier's x-ray machine to get the bomb past security. Except, PA103 wouldn't have suited that plan, because the flight that left Frankfurt wasn't the transatlantic leg. I think they would have gone for a direct flight from Frankfurt for that one if that plan had been a runner.

But then, when it became necessary to alter the plan to shake off the infiltrator problem, someone saw the opportunity afforded by the Heathrow stop-over. Probably Abu Elias. So the Heathrow introduction was planned, possibly by only a tiny inner ring of the cell. Leave the infiltrator(s) standing, expecting a Frankfurt bag-switch on a different date, but confuse everyone by nevertheless still implicating one of the drug delivery flights.

And I think this is why Frankfurt and the US authorities went into immediate, knee-jerk cover-up mode. PA103 was blown up by a bomb plot facilitated by US/CIA interests. They were expecting more or less this, on a different flight, and had been intending to swoop at the last minute.

When PA103 crashed on Lockerbie, with Khaled Jafaar on board, I think some people had a very horrble "oh shit!" moment. Including the BKA and the Frankfurt operation of the CIA. And they went straight into cover-your-ass mode without really understanding that something (the Heathrow stopover and the barometric device) didn't entirely compute. Convinced that a full investigation of the Frankfurt records would reveal that CIA assets were intimately involved in bringing down a US airliner.

Rolfe said...

So were McKee, Gannon et al. a coincidence? Maybe not entirely, if some of the stories have any truth in them. I very much doubt that they were targeted for themselves, but if they had connections to the drug delivery operation, then this may connect.

McKee was allegedly flying home at short notice to blow the whistle on the operation, which he had only just found out about and strongly disapproved of.

But Gannon is alleged by Francovich to have been Jafaar's minder on the flight. And Francovich also alleges McKee and Gannon were together but pretending they weren't.

I don't think Francovich fabricated this story. If he had, he'd have done it better. I don't think he even noticed that there's a huge contradiction in his narrative - at one point he alleges Gannon escorted Jafaar from Frankfurt, but then the evidence from Linda Forsyth definitely confirms McKee, O'Connor, LaRiviere and Gannon all checked in at Heathrow.

So maybe someone is telling Francovich porkies. Maybe these four getting on that plane was just coincidence. But I'd love to know if there's any fire behind the Francovich/Coleman smoke.

Well, that's the direction my musings are going.


Rolfe said...

Oh, and the placement of the suitcase(s).

I think it's unrealistic to expect to be able to explain every single tiny move of the bomber, to the point of the placing of the suitcases. Indeed, Bedford's description of the two suitcases and where he saw them isn't a perfect fit with the subsequent explosion. The explosion seems to have occurred in a case placed on top of the left-hand suitcase he described, where there was no suitcase at the time he said goodbye to the container. And according to the evidence at Zeist (but most emphatically NOT according to the findings of the FAI), the suitcase that was in the position of the left-hand Bedford case by the time the explosion happened was Karen Noonan's case which was transferred from PA103A.

Given that the FAI was at pains to find that the Bedford suitcases hadn't been moved and the Frankfurt luggage was loaded on top, while by Zeist the story was quite the opposite, with a Frankfurt case below the bomb bag and the Bedford case(s) spirited to "a far corner of the container" to be lost sight of forever, I don't think we can trust the forensic reconstruction of luggage placement worth a damn. I do see that the damage to the container probably places the bomb bag exactly where it was said to be, on the second layer protruding into the overhang. But at the same time, I don't totally exclude the possibility that it could have been on the floor of the container, given the obvious manipulation of the forensic evidence around this point, and the obvious desire to present findings that would not necessarily implicate Heathrow security.

So the first possibility is that the bomber did exactly what he intended to do, placed the bomb bag on the floor of the container at the overhang side (bomb outward), and placed a second case to the right of it to try to ensure the bomb bag wasn't casually shunted to the inboard position. And that the forensics were manipulated to place the explosion a bit higher to avoid the obvious inference providing a straight implication of the case Bedford saw.

The second is that the bomber was interrupted while placing the cases and had to saunter off nonchalantly rather than complete the placement. Maybe Kamboj or someone else appeared, didn't notice or remember seeing the terrorist, but nevertheless frightened him off.

In this case, the final placement might indeed have come down to sheer rotten luck when the bags were finally arranged. Or maybe the terrorist simply returned when the container was sitting outside the build-up shed and finished the job.

That's my analysis, anyway. I don't know if there is any evidence from the tarmac loaders as to how the "interline" bags were placed when they received the container alongside PA103A. I need to check the Zeist transcripts, but I haven't seen any reference to such evidence.

Caustic Logic said...

Thanks for the comments, Rolfe, and great to have you back. No time for a full response, but I'll address this point now:

I take issue with your suggestion that Bedford actually saw nothing but was "persuaded" to remember these suitcases in order to push the blame away from Walker to Kamboj. Bedford gave his statement about the two mysterious suitcases to the Met on 3rd January 1989. Less than two weeks after the disaster. Two weeks which encompassed the Christmas and New Year holidays, and if you count it up you'll realise that 3rd January was actually the first ordinary working day after the holiday period in England. This was reasonably quick off the mark for routine enquiries, especially given that the role of AVE4041 as the bomb container wasn't figured out for several days after the crash.

A fair point, but it does nothing within the context of the theory in question. Walker needed to know two things - he let those cases slide, and the plane they went on blew up. His fear is that it was one of those, inside AVE4041, and he'd be able to realize that before Dec 21 was out.

Would YOU wait until the following year, or the results of the investigation, to fabricate your cover story? I wouldn't. I'd use my insider knowledge (if I wanted to cover it up, that is) and be promising riches vs. certain trouble for all to my casual friend who runs Interline before Christmas. Put his holiday shopping on my card.

It's all just speculation, but at the moment I like the Walker version for providing the clearest explanation for the mechanical half of it. There would only be one mechanical way, and that one seems most logical. But of course, I don't know all the variables, really, and even if I did, logic doesn't always play out perfectly. Fate and random circumstance often step in.


Rolfe said...

Oh, hai!

I'll leave the Walker speculation for now (it's too CTish for me to be honest, and too speculative), and continue with my line of thought.

The discrepancy between the FAI and the Zeist findings is striking. Two years after the disaster was way time enough for the conclusion that Karen Noonan's suitcase was below the bomb bag to have been reached, if that was what the evidence supported. But no. The FAI was firmly told that Bedford's suitcases hadn't been moved. So although one of them was below the bomb bag, neither of them was the bomb bag, and indeed none of the Heathrow cases was the bomb bag because Bedford saw empty space where the bomb suitcase was placed. (And the fact that Bedford described a brown Samsonite, matching the description of the bomb bag, and that no other brown Samsonite was recovered from the wreckage, somehow never rated a mention. Oh dear.)

Thus, without any mention of Malta or Bogomira Erac, the FAI was able to find that the bomb must have come off PA103A, and by a bit more completely spurious reasoning (postulating that Frankfurt interline baggage was somehow segregated from Frankfurt check-in baggage within PA1903A), they even decided it had been interlined into Frankfurt. Very neat. This was blatantly stage-managed of course.

Then the Zeist story is a 100% about-turn. Karen Noonan's suitcase was below the bomb bag. Thus the cases Bedford saw had inevitably been moved. Thus they are completely irrelevant, because they probably ended up in "a far corner of the container". And again the fact that Bedford saw a brown Samsonite, and the bomb bag was a brown Samsonite, and no other brown Samsonite was recovered in the wreckage was swept aside.

I think this rearrangement became an imperative by the time of the trial. The luggage question was gone into in more detail, precisely because they couldn't say they didn't want to reveal detail that could jeopardise the ongoing criminal investigation. If the Bedford suitcase had remained below the bomb bag, they would have had to explain why no pieces of it (a brown Samsonite, dammit!) were found, and that would have been impossible. So it had to be moved. Karen Noonan's case, which was sufficiently damaged (but maybe not as much as we're led to believe, as her mother was given a pack of holiday snaps retrieved from it) took its place on the floor of the container.

We're now being given a vision of wholesale rearrangement of bags on the tarmac which seems to me to suggest that bags already in the container must have been pulled out and re-loaded. This isn't impossible, because there is also a suggestion that bags were sorted at this stage to separate out those bound for Detroit, and/or First Class baggage. However, if there was definite evidence to that effect I don't see how that could have been suppressed at the time of the FAI, quite honestly - and it would have completely shot down the FAI's findings. Closer scrutiny of the Zeist evidence might reveal more I suppose.

My own view is that some rearrangement probably did take place, in that the bags Bedford placed on their spines at the back of the container were probably replaced flat. I don't know why he placed them upright in the first place, but possibly to allow the tags to be clear for inspection in the interline shed. I've never seen a container filled in this way, and I imagine they would eventually be placed flat. However, I think it's likely that anything already lying flat in the container would be left alone, unless there was an imperative to sort the stuff that we (and the FAI) have not been told about.

Rolfe said...


So I think there are two possibilities. Either the bomb suitcase was the left-hand Bedford bag all along and the fact that it was on the floor of the container was smothered even before the FAI, to avoid implicating Heathrow in the disaster. Or the terrorist came back and put the bomb suitcase on top of the second flat suitcase, while the container was in outside the build-up shed.

Unless we find definite evidence that the luggage was comprehensively rearranged on the tarmac to sort out the various categories, including unloading the items Bedford placed (and that this was concealed from the FAI), then that's my view of the probabilities.

Rolfe said...

Now, about the second Bedford suitcase. "The same or similar." Maybe a pair, though if so the terrorist would have had to mark hem carefully to ensure correct placement. But if so, where are the bits of the second one? Maybe they were all mixed in together in the explosion, but actually I doubt it. We have enough detail about the pieces to support the theory that they were all from the same case, unless Hayes/Feraday manipulated that part as well.

I wonder if the second case was perhaps similar, maybe brown, but not the same. I wonder if it was one of the ones Bedford had placed at the back of the container, which the bomber then pulled forward and laid flat, either to block the bomb suitcase from being casually slid to the right and inboard, or with the intention of placing it under the bomb suitcase in order to get the latter further into the overhang. In which case that objective was achieved later, while the container was unattended for the second time.

There is a tale that Bernt Carlsson's suitcase was never recovered, but that his girlfriend was shown an unrecognisable weck and told that it was his case which had been under the bomb suitcase. Bernt Carlsson interlined into Heathrow, and as I understand it his case would have been one of the ones Bedford placed along the back.

I honestly don't think you need this Walker/Bedford CT. If Walker did see the case or cases, and later realised he should have pressed the panic button on them, his best bet would surely have been to deny that he'd seen anything and stick to it. Bedford saw nothing, he saw nothing, Kamboj saw nothing - no problem. Telling Bedford to concoct a false story that would simply draw attention to the loading of AVE4041 seems nuts to me.

I think the bomb suitcase was either the left-hand Bedford suitcase placed as the bomber desired and it exploded on the floor of the container (which was hushed up), or it was one of the two and was later deliberately placed above the other outside the build-up shed.

I doubt if we'll get any closer than this unless there's more relevant stuff in the transcripts which I haven't yet read.

Rolfe said...

I'd just like to elaborate on why I think this accusation against Walker is fairy dust.

CL, your scenario appears to be that Bedford didn't see any brown Samsonite, or any suspicious bags at all. Neither did Kamboj. You are suggesting that the bag or bags mysteriously appeared in the container while it was outside the build-up shed, and that Walker noticed, but didn't blow any whistles.

I should point out that you have absolutely no evidence for this. Walker's statements are the confused and contradictory work of someone who isn't very bright, isn't very introspective, and simply doesn't remember exactly what happened that very routine day. Nowhere is there any suggestion that he saw suspicious luggage he isn't telling us about.

However, supposing it did happen exactly like that. How would Walker be expected to react, realistically? In the first two weeks after the crash?

At that time, first there was no definite evidence there had been a bomb at all. Then there was press talk of items being found that showed pitting suggestive of explosives. Maybe something about bits of a baggage container. Karen Noonan's suitcase was mentioned in general terms.

However, as far as I can see, there's no way anyone in Walker's position could have known either that the container that had been in the interline shed was implicated, or that the bomb bag was a brown Samsonite. Even if he was slightly worried that the suitcases he noticed were implicated, he couldn't possibly have been anywhere close to sure.

But suppose he was worried, what to do? He has two reasonable options. One is to tell the cops from the Met all about it, and hope this helps with the enquiry, and take any criticism that comes his way for not reacting. The other is to say absolutely nothing, and hope that nobody realises that isn't true.

Assuming he wanted to cover up his possible negligence, the second option is obviously the one to go for. Yes there were some cases in the container. No, didn't see anything at all unusual about them. No really, absolutely nothing remarkable at all. Cross my heart and hope to die.

That would have worked. The probability is that nobody would ever work out that extra cases must have been smuggled into the container at that point. He'd never have been challenged. But even if he had been, it wasn't his duty to count the cases he was given, and count them again when he wheeled the container out, and note and react to any discrepancy. All he had to do was say he didn't notice anything, and let the investigators work round him. There's no way he was in any danger of disciplinary action.

On the other hand, this hare-brained idea that he rushed to the conclusion that these extra cases must have been the bomb, and that he'd get the blame because it would be proved they'd appeared on his watch (when he wasn't really supposed to be watching anyway), and that he wouldn't get away with simply denying he'd seen anything, is just silly.

The absolute last thing anyone in that position would do is to approach a colleague and threaten or bribe him to describe a completely fictitious sighting of these cases just before he took over custody of the container. That's only going to draw the attention of the investigators to that container and that time period, and the concept of brown Samsonite.

Both in sensible logic, and in the mentality of a manual worker, the smart move is to say you didn't notice anything and stick to that story no matter what.

I think your idea is the product of a fevered imagination.

Caustic Logic said...

On the two cases, it's a bit complicating, but a clear-eyed direct reading says so. Not 100% of course - it can be and usually is argued around. But same or similar color, both "hard cases, the type Samsonite make," both appearing under the mysterious circumstances in a short span.

(Recalling that only "4 or 5" bags were placed over the preceding, like, two hours, and Bedford was sent home because it was slowing down more. BTW, that's a down-time. Our midnight intruder loves down-times. )

On the mysterious circumstances, the big picture is that there are conflicting reports between one worker and the next, surrounding that container, its location, and the presence within it of this pair of unusually-noticed suitcases. And this mystery does span the area between and including baggage build-up and interline.

At first I thought it was all interline, but Walker's record changed that for me.

I certainly couldn't prove or demonstrate that this cloud of mystery has any particular explanation. One or all points in it could be just coincidence, and one or another could be a genuine clue. You can't be sure.

But imagination is essential to getting as close to solving it as possible - floating alternate scenarios. "Fevered" imagination, probably not so useful. But that's what cold water is for, and luckily you've got some at hand.

next comment...

Caustic Logic said...

Rolfe is a seasoned debunker of irrational claims. This isn't a de-bunk, but is similar in some ways. Moslty she makes some good points. However:

CL, your scenario appears to be that Bedford didn't see any brown Samsonite, or any suspicious bags at all. Neither did Kamboj. You are suggesting that the bag or bags mysteriously appeared in the container while it was outside the build-up shed, and that Walker noticed, but didn't blow any whistles.
Yes, that came through pretty well. It's a hypothesis, or whatever specific term ...

I should point out that you have absolutely no evidence for this.
No, I cited some. Nothing direct and conclusive, of course, but points of possible connection and mystery ...

Walker's statements are the confused and contradictory work of someone who isn't very bright, isn't very introspective, and simply doesn't remember exactly what happened that very routine day.
Define routine. Massive airliner bombing capping it? No. Micro-memories can potentially circulate for a couple hours in short-term and then become set in cold stone by an event like that.

"Could that shady guy I just let into the building have been connected to the brutal slaying later that night?" Eh? Normally you'd forget it - you'd be on track to. But that track was clearly interrupted. Argument denied

Nowhere is there any suggestion that he saw suspicious luggage he isn't telling us about.
No, he just didn't remember the luggage container at all. That could mean that he just didn't remember, that there was nothing of significance to be imprinted by the bombing, and it just didn't stick. Sure.

Could be something else too. (see below)

However, supposing it did happen exactly like that. How would Walker be expected to react, realistically? In the first two weeks after the crash?

At that time, first there was no definite evidence there had been a bomb at all.

This little sub-theory of mine, admittedly, only works if he had any prior suspicion of something he'd seen. In that circumstance, any total explosion of the plane is sufficient, as the rest would be motivated by fear. It requires no detailed investigation, just something very scary to amplify even the smallest sense of danger.

Then there was press talk of items being found that showed pitting suggestive of explosives. Maybe something about bits of a baggage container. Karen Noonan's suitcase was mentioned in general terms.

However, as far as I can see, there's no way anyone in Walker's position could have known either that the container that had been in the interline shed was implicated, or that the bomb bag was a brown Samsonite.

Can you prove that he did not see them in there and fid it odd enough to remember when the news came down? Please, neither one of us had first-hand surveillance proof what his position was or wasn't, in that regard. He's in the cloud of mystery, but nothing conclusive one way or the other if that means anything.

cont'd ...

Caustic Logic said...

Even if he was slightly worried that the suitcases he noticed were implicated, he couldn't possibly have been anywhere close to sure.

I just don't see how that matters. Again, this would just be a fear-based thing. Why run that all the way up to "slightly worried?" I'm suspecting at least a passing moment of supreme dread in there.

What I don't know is what he did or didn't have to fear, really, if he's the one that saw the things. I'm not sure of his responsibilities, or his perceptions of them, following something so traumatic. Sounds like you're not sure either, though perhaps better-informed there. Maybe he overreacted or something?

But suppose he was worried, what to do? He has two reasonable options. One is to tell the cops from the Met all about it, and hope this helps with the enquiry, and take any criticism that comes his way for not reacting.

Good point, smart option. The sub-theory also clearly relies on him rejecting this for some reason. I've wondered about that - I wouldn't expect that the penalties for any laxness admitted to would outweigh the risks of possibly being caught fabricating. There may be other aspects we don't know that could explain that. And there might not be.

The other is to say absolutely nothing, and hope that nobody realises that isn't true.

That would have worked.

Nowtaht, finally, is a solid good point of the "so I could be just wrong" variety. It has already occurred to me, however, and found the rebuttal "people don't always make the mart move."

One thought ... a bit like Charles McKee's suitcase - removed but put back, to excise something but otherwise not screw up the investigation - they didn't mean to throw off a vital clue in general, just move it. "Okay, it happened here at Heathrow, but just not RIGHT by me. I didn't see it, this other guy did, and he'll tell you about the circumstances that clear both of us."

On the other hand, this hare-brained idea that he rushed to the conclusion that these extra cases must have been the bomb, and that he'd get the blame because it would be proved they'd appeared on his watch (when he wasn't really supposed to be watching anyway), and that he wouldn't get away with simply denying he'd seen anything, is just silly.

Not "must," just might have been. You probably know more than me what he could or couldn't expect as far as punishment, so I'd mostly defer to your judgment.


Caustic Logic said...

In the end, it probably is wrong. Maybe the terrorist just re-arranged the bags at build-up, after already getting around Kamboj's x-ray. That wouldn't have worried Walker, to see two bags moved. Or would it? I don't know what passes for normal in 1988 routine there. Because that's another possibility, that actually ... explains nothing that's at issue. Nevermind.

The absolute last thing anyone in that position would do is to approach a colleague and threaten or bribe him to describe a completely fictitious sighting of these cases just before he took over custody of the container. That's only going to draw the attention of the investigators to that container and that time period, and the concept of brown Samsonite.

Both in sensible logic, and in the mentality of a manual worker, the smart move is to say you didn't notice anything and stick to that story no matter what.

Totally true, of course. But to be fair, there could be other variables we don't know of, aside from an extended panic. Say, Walker caught the perp in the act but was persuaded to let the "drugs" slide in exchange for cash, as I've speculated for Kamboj. Might that provide enough extra cause for alarm?

It's a double-edged sword, Rolfe. I can't prove anything, and you can't really rule out very much. It remains mostly unknown, though educated guesses are better than nothing.

Another fair point would be if Walker and Bedford had cobbled together this "Camjob-dunnit" story, why would they then disagree over the location of the container? That almost suggests they didn't collaborate.

Such a clue can sometimes mean its opposite. Right? A clumsy way to look like they didn't coordinate ... the kind of sham that would fall apart, and did, just to no effect, as their whole sector was cleared of suspicion by early fiat.

But who knows?


Caustic Logic said...

Rolfe adds a great point, at another comment thread.

I noticed something that would argue against any theory that the terrorist planned to place the bomb bag while the container was unattended outside the build-up shed. In the normal course of events, it wouldn't have been left there. Normally, Bedford would have taken it right out to the tarmac to meet the 727. It was only because PA103A was so late that he knocked off early and the thing ended up sitting there for close on an hour.

Thus, although I could see it as a possibility that the terrorist took advantage of this and revisited the container to reposition the suitcases, the actual plan must have been to load the bomb bag while the container was in the interline shed. And there was plenty opportunity to do that.

That I didn't think about. In fact, while it's not unprecedented, it wasn't to be expected, that the container would end up at baggage build-up.

Unless, that is in fact what usually happens at the end of a Wednesday as things slow down (9/11, on a Tuesday, is the slowest air travel day. I'd guess Wed. is no. 2). They may have had an eye to traffic, with inside info, and looking for downtimes, partly with that in mind?

The early leave was unofficial, decided at the moment, but was that really unusual?

Otherwise, it's a fair point, and it goes towards a more literal reading of Bedford. Interline is where one can be sure it'll be for some time, with build-up at best uncertain.

Rolfe said...

Overall, I think you're being fanciful. It's a huge elaborate scenario, far more complex than needed or likely, with no compelling evidence to require it.

If Walker sounds shifty, and you seem to have read his evidence in more detail than I have, then I don't see any more explanation needed than that he did see the same cases Bedford saw, but decided to keep quiet about it. He may have been completely thrown when he found out that Bedford had actually described the cases to the police.

Given that precisely nothing happened to Bedford or to Kamboj, or to Maier either, and that's what I would have expected, it's a stretch to imagine that Walker would have been significantly worried. Enough to pretend he hadn't seen anything, possibly. Enough to approach Bedford with a bribe to invent an earlier sighting? I don't think so.

Can you prove that he did not see them in there and fid it odd enough to remember when the news came down?

Oh come on Adam, "you can't prove my whackjob idea is wrong" is a classic twoofer defence. Don't do it.

Don't get too wedded to an idea, when it really doesn't stack up. It's just invention. There's nothing there to explain, and even if there was an element of what you suggest, it would tend to provoke silence, not bribery for counter-productive fabrication.

If nobody saw anything, Bedofrd, Kamboj or Walker, and they all say they saw nothing, the chances of it ever being proved that one of them did see something are remote. If Bedford starts saying stuff about mysterious suitcases, it only draws attention to the interline shed and that container.

You're coming up with this because you think it would be so neat if the bomb bag went in while the container was outside the build-up shed. Which is not consistent with Bedford's evidence, and bear in mind that Bedford's evidence is one of the prime pieces of evidence in the case. I would be very reluctant to undermine it in the way you are doing.

I repeat that the evidence is very clear that the period of waiting outside the build-up shed was not usual practice. If the terrorist had done any planning at all, and I think he had, then he'd believe he had to get the bomb on while the container was in the interline shed. And it seems to have been quiet enough that opportunities were surely there.

Indeed, the relatively deserted nature of the interline shed is a very good reason for hitting there rather than in the build-up shed. But the judges arbitrarily decided that since the break-in was physically closer to the build-up shed, then a terrorist breaking in would inevitably have gone for that shed rather than the interline. This sort of arbitrary and illogical assumption simply riddles the judgement.

I just think you're conspiracy theorising again, and it's deflecting you from more constructive thoughts. Give it up, like you gave up Zulu time at Frankfurt.

Rolfe said...

By the way, I note that the court was quite familiar with the concept of Zulu time.

Q Certain times are given on this document, including the time that the doors were closed and the time that the aircraft departed from Malta?
A Yes.
Q Are these times given in what’s called Zulu time?
A Yes, they are.
Q And is Zulu time Greenwich mean time?
A GMT, yes.
Q In December is local time in Malta an hour ahead of Greenwich mean time?
A GMT plus one.
Q Thank you. So should we understand, then, that the doors were closed on the 21st at 08.38 Zulu, which would be 09.38 local?

We'd have been told if Frankfurt airport was using Zulu. Which it wasn't because the times don't work in Zulu, and because baggage handling is a ground-side activity, controlled by coders' wristwatches and the airport clocks, which showed the same time as the baggage handling computer.

Don't be so fond of an idea that you can't see its flaws. Inventing an implausible complication is unnecessary. Defending it by saying "well you can't prove it didn't happen like that" and then "well OK it's irrational but maybe they just did something irrational" is twooferism.

Caustic Logic said...

I take issue with the twoofer defense claim. Seriously, all I meant was that is hasn't been disproved, and probably can't be, and so is a possibility, however remote. I thought it a worthy one to explore in some detail.

That said, and time as scarce as it is, I give up defending this theory. I consider it toast and move on with the Interline option as the only one to bother mentioning. Will add a note above to reflect this soon.

Re-positioning is still undecided, could happen at build-up, depending if we can come to an agreement on the first or second level placement. I didn't even mention that option, will add that as well, but otherwise leave it alone.

Rolfe said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to be snarky. It's just that "but you can't prove it DIDN'T happen like that!" and "well, people do irrational things sometimes" are classic twoofer defences of wildly fanciful theories, and you managed to incorporate both of them.

If there is compelling evidence that demands a convoluted explanation, so be it. But there is no compelling evidence to require this explanation.

It's quite possible Walker did see the cases, and either decided to say nothing, or didn't remember when he was first asked about it. However, that doesn't in any way imply that Bedford didn't see them first and Walker bribed him to invent that! There's not one single reason I can think of to infer this. Walker wasn't even employed to count or screen the bags, and even if it was proved he must have handled the container just after the bomb appeared in it, nobody could even disprove a simple "I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary".

However, it's entirely possible the terrorist repositioned the bags while the container was beside the build-up shed. You have made a good case suggesting that if the bomb bag was the left-hand Bedford suitcase it still must have been moved. In that case, a rearrangement at that point has to be one of the possibilities. If the terrorist had managed to get the case or cases into the container but was disturbed before he got the positioning he wanted, he might have hung around and then taken that opportunity when it presented itself.

Caustic Logic said...

Well, people do sometimes do things that seem irrational based on incomplete information. And sometimes plain irrational. I'm not usually one to just go that way blindly, usually looking for the logic in a move, but in this case it seemed worth considering. Like, what if he was just emotionally freaked and didn't want to be known as the guy on whose watch this happened, material trouble or no?

I admit I was being a tad passive-aggressive in my concession here. But generally, I was being truthful in that you've made some good points and, while I still want this idea up for logical fullness, in an option A B C way, I shan't promote it as likely in any sense.

The rest, later.

Rolfe said...

Just consider, if you say why on earth would anyone set a timer for less than an hour into that flight, when there was a window of 3 or 4 hours of an Atlantic crossing ahead?

And your opponent says, people do irrational things sometimes....

Caustic Logic said...

Sure, I can see how that could be annoying. I was trying too hard to defend the idea, and giving more allowances than warranted. It can be tough work pointing out things like that, but you do it well.

Rolfe said...

I'm got a supplemental thought here. If we're considering whether anyone at Heathrow might have told a little porkie in order to cover his backside, my vote unhesitatingly goes to Bedford himself.

"Camjob told me he'd picked up another two cases for PA103, and had put them in the container after x-raying them."

Kamboj had no recollection of doing or saying any such thing, even when interviewed very soon after the disaster. It wasn't his job to put cases into the container anyway - he usually just sat them on the floor for Bedfod to load.

If anyone was going to be in the line of fire for letting the bomb through at Heathrow, it was Bedford. He'd seen two cases in the container he hadn't put there. He knew someone else had interfered with his container while he was off drinking tea with Walker. But he didn't say anything, he just let the container go.

He wants to be a good citizen and help catch the terrorists, so he tells everything he saw in case it turns out to be helpful. (And boy, was it helpful!) But he realises he's open to criticism. If one of these cases turns out to be the bomb, he's the guy who could have stopped the Lockerbie disaster but didn't.

So he tells it all, just as he remembers it, but then he invents that one little extra detail. He wasn't suspicious, because Kamboj told him he'd screened the cases and put them there.

What do you think?

Caustic Logic said...

And I'm got a giggle for that start. :)

Very interesting thought, but no further comment just yet. I'll come back to it.

Rolfe said...

On re-reading these comments, I see they're out of date with respect to my current thinking, in a number of areas.

First, the navy blue canvas American Tourister said to have been under the bomb bag was not Karen Noonan's. It was Patricia Coyle's. So my point about Karen's mother and the pack of photos is totally void.

Second, I have realised the reason for Francovich's internal contradiction as regards Gannon. Gannon definitely boarded at Heathrow, having come off the Larnaca flight, we know that. Linda Forsyth says so, and Crawford lists him as one of the "first fifteen", the passengers who interlined into Heathrow. So what's all this about Gannon being Jafaar's minder from Frankfurt? Examination of the Zeist transcripts reveals the existence of one Naim Ali Ghannam, who was in fact Jafaar's minder in Germany.

So, I believe this was a simple mix-up of the names on Francovich's part, and he didn't realise that Linda Forsyth's evidence showed he must be mistaken. Francovich was dead before Zeist, so probably never realised.

Third, I have what I think is a better idea about the possible placing of the suitcases.

Examining Bedford's evidence, it is always the left-hand suitcase that is being described. The right-hand one is just "the same or similar". I note that there as at least one grey Samsonite suitcase among the "first fifteen" luggage. McKee's suitcase. Suppose the terrorist only had one extra suitcase, the bomb bag. Which makes sense. He wants this as close to the left-hand side of the container as possible, so he places it there, presumably with the bomb packed in the extreme left-hand side (i.e. not as shown in the mock-up pictures which have the radio across the back).

Then what? He would want to do anything he could to ensure nobody casually shoved that case to the right. There were about eight cases already in the container, in a row along the back that was long enough that at least two cases were leaning at an angle in the sloping section. Suppose he just lifted one of these down, would Bedford necessarily have noticed? I think not. I suggest he happened to pick McKee's grey Samsonite hardshell, similar to the bomb bag except not the same colour, and laid it beside the bomb bag to the right. So far as I know, this is consistent with the damage McKee's case is said to have sustained.

I think the terrorist then walked off and left the stuff like that. Bedford came back and saw the cases, and realised he hadn't put them there. He didn't realise one was just a re-positioning of one he loaded himself, not noticing that the row on the back was one case shorter than it had been. He did nothing at all about this. He did not speak to Kamboj about it.

Rolfe said...

He wheeled the container to the position outside the build-up shed, where it waited for the delayed PA103A. Walker either didn't see anything that worried him about this, and was just forgetful and confused, or he did, and decided to "forget" all about it, hence his initial denial of having seen the container, before he realised that Bedford had reported the presence of the suspicious case or cases.

When PA103A arrived, it was so late that the luggage had to be transferred in a real rush. Although one of the Frankfurt operators had implied the luggage was sorted on the tarmac at Heathrow (NY/Detroit, and/or First/Economy class), this was not done. Either the Frankfurt loader was mistaken, or it wasn't done because of the rush.

Only one loader was assigned to fill the container, Sidhu. He did not give evidence at Zeist. He was assisted for part of the time by Sandhu, who was the supervisor in charge. He gave evidence at Zeist, but nobody asked him about any rearrangement of the luggage. He described none.

So, Sidhu is presented with the container as it left Bedford's hands. He has to get it loaded in double-quick time, or else PA103 is going to lose its slot. There is a row of cases along the back, which having read the evidence I now think were not disturbed. And there were two hardshell suitcases pretty much filling the remaining flat floor space of the container, in front.

The prosecution (at Zeist) would have us believe that he decided he didn't like the left-hand case in that position, and unloaded it, as the Frankfurt cases were starting to come down the conveyor. Instead, he picked one of the first cases (the first case?) off the conveyor, Patricia's canvas Tourister, and put it where the left-hand Bedford case had been. (The case that belonged to a legitimate passenger in this version, except that no passenger owned such a case....) Then, rather than put that case back on top of Patricia's, he selected one of the next couple of cases coming off the conveyor - the bomb bag, which just happened to match the description of the case Bedford saw, almost perfectly! The identical case Bedford saw, Sidhu left on the tarmac until the container was almost full, or maybe it was one of the supernumerary ones loose-loaded. And after the crash, that case was never recovered for some reason.

This is ridiculous.

The real killer point is that we know no legitimate passenger was carrying a brown Samsonite, so what the hell was it Bedford saw if it wasn't the bomb bag? And of course it disappeared as if it had never been. Which is hardly surprising if indeed it had no existence in the first place, separate from the bomb bag, which was recovered.

But the other point is, Sidhu was in a hurry. Why would he have removed a hardshell case sitting flat on the floor, just to replace it with another case?

If he did, the most obvious sequence of events is that he put it right back in again on top of Patricia's case, where it promptly exploded. However, I don't actually believe Patricia's case was below the bomb bag, I think it was on top of it. If it wasn't, what was, given that only one case was identified as being flat side-to-side with the bomb bag like that? And if it was, why was that not discovered for more than two years after the disaster? That timing smacks more of convenience than real forensics to me. And also, I think Patricia's case was too deep for the ten-inch explosion described to have happened in a case on top of it.

Rolfe said...

Yes, we know the left-hand Bedford case must have been moved in some way. If it was the bomb bag, it may have been taken out and replaced on top of another case (Patricia's?) and slightly to the left. But for the reasons above, I don't think so. My other reason is that I don't see Sidhu lifting that case out of the container at all.

He was in a hurry. Why would he? Also, when you do a job like that, it's like drystone walling. You don't place an item and then remove it, unless exceptionally. It wastes too much time and energy to be constantly revising the packing. Yes, the Zeist court was told by the only person asked about it, that loaders would occasionally move bags around in the base of the container to get a better fit. That person was Crabtree, who put the container into PA103, however he didn't see that container being loaded. Why nobody asked Sandhu (or even better, Sidhu), whether that had actually happened, is an unfathomable mystery. But even there, Crabtree only accedes to "move bags around the area of the base of the container" - not to taking them out and replacing them. And yet, it is the latter that would really have had to happen for Patricia's bag to have replaced the left-hand Bedford bag.

Sidhu must have moved that bag, we know that. However, it seems highly unlikely he lifted it out of the container.

Bill Taylor, in his summing up, had a suggestion. He suggested that the two bags in the front of the container might have been pushed apart to allow a smaller item to be placed between them. (He suggested a metal photographer's case, but it could have been anything. Karen Noonan's luggage was three relatively small holdalls, for example.) This would have been a much more energy-efficient way to use up any spare inches left by the two hardshells not being a snug fit in that position.

If that was done, the right-hand case wouldn't have moved far, as it would have come up against the right-hand side of the container which was perpendicular. The left-hand case, however, would have moved further, as it would have been able to be pushed up the 45-degree slope of the angled section. In this respect, it's worth remembering that the bomb bag must have been quite light, from what we know of its contents. This could have moved the bomb, positioned in the left-hand part of the case, both a couple of inches into the sloping section, and a couple of inches higher than its starting position. Which would take it to the position of the explosion as determined by Claiden.

Having discussed this with Adam, I know he feels this still isn't consistent with the pattern of pitting on the floor of the container, and still believes there must have been another case under the bomb bag. I'm not so convinced myself, because this scenario seems to fit so perfectly in every other respect. Is it not possible that the floor was partly shielded by the contents of the bomb bag itself?

Then, Patricia's case was put on top of the bomb bag, and was later identified as the only case to have been lying cheek-by jowl with the bomb bag. It fits.

Rolfe said...

It's not the only possibility of course. It's possible the Bedford suitcase was removed and replaced on top of Patricia's case. That's still a helluva lot more likely than an identical case from Frankfurt being placed there, and this ghost case that belonged to nobody subsequently vanishing from human ken.

Or it's possible (though I think a lot less likely) that someone rearranged the luggage while the container was outside the build-up shed, and put a slimmer case of the existing "first fifteen" luggage under the bomb bag to get it to sit out in the overhang part. If this did happen, I propose Bernt Carlsson's case for this, simply because there is a Lockerbie legend that his girlfriend and sister never got anything of his back at all, and were shown something completely destroyed, which had allegedly been right underneath the bomb. However, I find it a bit improbable that a terrorist would risk a manoeuvre of that sort - far better to bugger off when he'd got the case in as good a position as was reasonable, and not push his luck.

So that's my three scenarios, with a very strong preference for the one where the bomb bag is simply pushed 2 or 3 inches to the left.

But any of these is overwhelmingly more likely that the fantasy proposed by the Zeist judges, with a loader in a tearing hurry moving a case far further than necessary or likely, and this case that didn't and couldn't have belonged to any passenger, and matched the bomb bag pretty much exactly, vanishing like a will'o'the'wisp when it becomes inconvenient.

Caustic Logic said...

Sorry, Rolfe, I only skimmed this aditions before trying to FINALL finish up one of the frentic new posts I'm striggling with in spare minutes ...

Is it not possible that the floor was partly shielded by the contents of the bomb bag itself?

Well, if PI/911 and the fabric lining PK/1310A are from the primary case, they both look pretty shielded from the bomb, even before the floor.

I don't know what kind of contents that would be. A sheet of lead? clothing? My gut instinct is none of the above, it's not the bomb bag. But without any scientific credentials or way to prove it with math or recreations, it's not worth much.

Before I forget, I did want to add another idea myself - Imagine for a moment the scenario where the cases are matching set and the bomb bag was placed on the left, the spacer on the right.

Let's say Mr. Sidhu had a slight back problem that day (he dropped the heavy case - general weakness). He sees the two largish cases along the base shortly before that - would he bend over and pick them up to re-arrange them? Or might he tilt up the left-hand case's right-hand edge, slide the right hand case halfway beneath it, and slide both to the left? That occurred to me as an explanation for the protected floor that at least has the bomb case placed in the right corner instead on inboard.

I will try to catch up here, but not just yet.

Rolfe said...

We don't know how big the cases Bedford saw were, but the bomb suitcase was only medium-sized. Taylor's hypothesis about shoving them apart is based on the premise that there was still some slack available on the floor of the container even with these two cases lying there.

If they were both large cases, there is no reason for Sidhu to have moved either of them. It's more likely that he would have moved one or both if they weren't big enough to completely cover the whole of the floor.

There are two difficulties with the idea of the bomb bag originally having been on the right. First, that wouldn't have been optimum from the point of view of the terrorist, so it's hard to see why he would have placed them like that. If he did, he must have been intending to come back and re-position them - which perhaps he did, but it's getting a bit complicated. Given that he had limited time to do the positioning (Bedford could have come back any minute), and that the container had to look realistic rather than contrived, putting the bomb bag on the left and a place-holder on the right seems like the rational thing to do. Your suggestion seems to be that even though he had the opportunity to place them correctly (bomb on the left), he didn't do that, and it was only pure chance that Sidhu completed the job for him. This is doing horrible things to Occam's razor, I have to say.

Second, there is no evidence of a second brown Samsonite having been found, intact or in bits. It seems to me that if there had been such evidence, the prosecution would have fallen on it like a pack of starving hyenas. Probably the second-biggest hole in the prosecution case (after the lack of evidence for an unaccompanied bag on KM180) was the absence of an explanation for what happened to Bedford's brown Samsonite. If the prosecution had been able to point to the remains of a second brown Samsonite which had been close to the bomb bag, that would have been ideal from their point of view. But they didn't.

I'm not nuts about the entire theory that the terrorists smuggled two brown Samsonites into Heathrow. Why? Just to use the second as a place-holder? I don't see any evidence that there were two bombed suitcases on that plane. And if they did, we're back to the problem about what happened to the second one. As I said, there's no reason for the prosecution to have concealed its existence - on the contrary it would have been a coup, as it would have allowed them to explain the really troublesome Bedford bag as being something other than the bomb bag.

Caustic Logic said...

Rolfe, dagabit. I only put up one comment and you apparently didn't read it carefully.

There are two difficulties with the idea of the bomb bag originally having been on the right.

Yes, thinking in terms of stacking to achieve the official second-level placement (which I half-accept), the top (primary) case originally being on the right makes the most sense. And I have argued that, and seen that problem, and dwelled on it.

So, above, I specified bomb on the left. I don't know why someone would want to rearrange them, but to the extent the evidence suggests such an arrangement (not 100% but compellingly), we must consider it. So it occurred to me there was a pretty natural way the right-hand spacer bag could be slid beneath the left-hand (primary) case, making it the top one.

Second, there is no evidence of a second brown Samsonite having been found, intact or in bits. It seems to me that if there had been such evidence, the prosecution would have fallen on it like a pack of starving hyenas.

Rather, perhaps, there was no trace left (no evidence) of the first case, and about 1/3 of the second one. I'm aware that's an imaginative interpretation, but again I refer to those two largest fragments, one of delicate lining material, nearly TWO FEET of it, shielded by something substantial, and the floor panels beneath that likewise protected.

Something before either of them took a lot of abuse to shield them, I'd wager, considering the state of the container at large and the airframe and airliner skin. Half the primary case and its contents, plus half another case and its contents seems a better fit than just half the primary case's contents.

And, of course, Bedford seems to describe a matching set, which is why I'm trying to find such clues in the first place.

Augh, this is complicated, but I can neither convince you nor let myself be convinced by you. To me, it all fits, and we might have to just agree to disagree.

Caustic Logic said...

FYI "dagabit" refers to "dagnabit," a colloquial western American expression equating to a polite and silly version "gosh darn it." Actually, it must be from something else, but it has the same sorta usage. Also, my spelling might not be the accepted form. Hope that helps.

Rolfe said...

I'm sorry. Mea culpa. I did read it but my brain didn't process it.

It's a possibility I suppose, but I doubt if it's all that likely.

First, although I did wonder about it, I'm not that taken by the idea that the midnight burglary smuggled two cases into the terminal. It's an unnecessary complication. I mean, why?

Second, I'm trying to visualise how it would have been to be Sidhu loading that container, and realistically, it's hard to see that he would have moved the existing cases by much if at all.

I'm assuming Sidhu alone at this stage, because this all happened at the very beginning of the loading process, as the first cases were coming off the 727. Sandhu helped for much of the time, but I'm supposing he had to see the other members of the team started on their particular tasks before going to give Sidhu a hand with the part that was the rush job.

So Sidhu is presented with the container arranged as Bedford last saw it, to the best of our knowledge. The two cases flat at the front take up most of the space on the floor of the container. Is he going to lift one or more of them out to replace them with different cases coming off the conveyor? Why would he? He's in a tearing hurry because if he doesn't get this done PDQ the 747 parked next door is going to lose its slot. This is not the time to be ultra-picky.

Even Crabtree never said it was likely a loader would unload a case or cases already in the container. He agreed loaders might rearrange the luggage on the floor of the container, which is quite a different thing. It was the judges who decided, quite on their own initiative, that this meant Sidhu lifted the Bedford suitcase out of the container and didn't put it back in again until the thing was almost full. (Nobody asked Sidhu or even Sandhu what he actually did, of course.)

If Sidhu did decide for some reason that he wanted the two flat cases one on top of the other on the left, I think it would have been far easier for him to have lifted the right-hand one on top of the left-hand one. Trying to slide the right-hand one under the left-hand one looks harder to me.

I don't think we have to agree on this. There are several possibilities, and the main point is that the one the judges picked is about the unlikeliest of the lot - and still doesn't explain important facts such as none of the passengers having a case matching that description.

My problem with the suggestion that the entire primary suitcase was obliterated and the bits found are actually from its matching twin that was underneath, is that this doesn't square with the condition the clothes were recovered in. The survival of the textiles is consistent with the survival of bits of the primary suitcase. And if those clothes weren't really in the primary suitcase, then we're all more or less baying at the moon.

Caustic Logic said...

Hey, 'salright. I wasn't really upset, more amused, really, to feel smarter than you for a moment. :)

I do physical work for a living and I know people have their ways and quirks and small things like this, whether someone would lift, slide, etc. a suitcase, is unanswerable. I'm bored even trying to think about it.

The evidence can be fairly read as a matching set, or also as just one brown Samsonite. It's possible the floor damage is consistent with a first-level placement, but more likely second layer or some other option that leaves it off the main floor.

Either way, we have something a good bit stronger than anything the investigation discovered, vis-a-vis any brown hard-shell Samsonite case getting into the lower outboard corner of container AVE4041.

But hey, here's a thought ... the second case was inserted for two reasons:
- a spacer to help lock the bomb bag in place
- to frame Libya. The second case contained a small, weak bomb in a RT-SF16 radio, with Maltese clothes, and even a MST-13 timer.

No, that won't work, I'm sure. Baying at the moon, as you say. Brainstorming, also. I'd suggest a third option, as I have, that they were planted after the fact, like the other Libya/Malta clues. I don't find that way likely, but haven't ruled it out.

So let's just go back to sticking to what's agreed and leaving the smaller slices where ambiguity enters to someone better able to sort it out.

Rolfe said...

A smaller, secondary device, small enough to leave evidence deliberately pointing to Libya.

It's the sharpshooter's fallacy. The chances of a plan like that working as designed, before the event, are remote. And it's way unnecessarily complicated.

I do physical work for a living and I know people have their ways and quirks and small things like this, whether someone would lift, slide, etc. a suitcase, is unanswerable. I'm bored even trying to think about it.

That's a point that occurred to me several times. People who load luggage containers day in day out must have their little habits. Shortcuts to make the packing easier. Foibles about where they'll place certain types of item and so on.

This doesn't have to be about SOPs and how workers were (or weren't) instructed to do the job. Sidhu's personal idialect as regards loading a container would have been a good thing to know about. How would he have handled a situation such as the one described? Would he have been likely to push the cases apart and put something smaller between them? Or put the right one on top of or under the left? Or remove a case entirely to put a bigger one in its place? And if he did that, would he put the first case straight back in, or leave it to the end? Just asking him about his usual habits would have been very informative.

They didn't even put him on the witness stand. Instead they preferred to ask Crabtree, who took no part in the loading of the container at all, whether loaders in general might do something or other. And then used his "yes" answer as conclusive proof Sidhu had done something completely different.

I wonder if either Sidhu or Sandhu gave evidence at the FAI. There's a thought.

Rolfe said...

For completeness, I'll post something I posted on JREF the other day. It's about the way the case was packed and its orientation in the container.

Bedford says the case he saw was placed with its spine towards him and its handle facing into the container. We know the bomb suitcase was placed the same way, because of where its handle and spine were recovered. Interesting observation in its own right, really.

Paul Foot reproduces the court exhibit photo of the "trial loading" of the bomb suitcase, where the cops packed an identical case with duplicates of the items that were believed to have been in it. In that photo the radio-cassette player is packed across the back, against and in line with the spine. This is obviously wrong, however.

If the case was placed as the forensics describe it, then the radio must have been packed at right angles to that, along the side that was within the sloping part of the container. That is the only way the centre of the explosion could have been in the position determined. So, if the case was right-way-up, the radio was along the right-hand-side as shown in that photo.

This is not an intuitive way to pack an item like that in a case. The photo is by far the most intuitive way to pack it. And if you're just going to wave it goodbye at Malta and wish it a good journey, then why would you do anything else? You would have no way to influence how it would be placed in the container, so no particular preference for one side or the other, or for a side rather than centrally.

However, if you anticipate being able to choose the position and orientation of the case yourself, that's a very different matter. If you want to get the centre of the explosion as far into the overhang part as possible, then you would certainly pack the radio asymmetrically. You'd put it along the side of the case that would end up nearest the skin on the aircraft. Then you'd mark that side discreetly, and make sure the case was the right way round when you put it in the container.

This isn't a huge point, but I think it's telling nonetheless. The forensics guys themselves interpreted the evidence in such a way as to necessitate the bomb suitcase being asymmetrically packed. Something it's likely only someone able to control the placing of the case would do.

Then they either simply didn't notice this point, or deliberately concealed it by making up the suitcase exhibit with the radio in the wrong place. If that "trial loading" mock-up had been accurate, with the radio down one side, is it possible observers might have twigged that this was a funny way to pack that case unless the packer anticipated being able to position it at will?