A Smoking Gun Left in Plain Sight

Bedford's Bags: What They Were and Weren't
February 17 2011

last edits Feb 20

The bag that blew up
It’s been accepted for over 22 years that the explosive device responsible for destroying Pan Am 103 was within a brown (antique copper), hard-shell Samsonite suitcase, Silhouette 4000 series by its partial remains. This was eventually connected, in an extended fit of fevered imagination, to Libyan agent al-Megrahi, based at the time on the island of Malta.

The suitcase was “found” on flimsy evidence to have traveled unaccompanied from Malta, tagged for PA103, and transferred in Germany to a Pan Am feeder flight, 103A. When the feeder arrived in London at around 5:35 pm, it was decided, the death package was re-loaded into the luggage container AVE 4041, which was then loaded onto the 747 Flight 103, which took off into the sky at 6:25.

The explosion inside the Silhouette 4000 shortly thereafter caused damage to the container suggesting the case was in the lower outboard corner, apparently in the second layer of luggage. Investigators were quite certain this put it among the majority of items loaded from the feeder, but at the very bottom of that batch – just above the few suitcases loaded before the feeder landed, at terminal three’s “interline shed.”

And it’s there we find our smoking gun.

The bags Bedford saw
The plot from Malta is complicated by on-the-ground evidence at Heathrow: the report of baggage loader John Bedford. He was in charge of Pan Am’s operations at the interline shed of terminal three, where luggage from other airlines connecting onto PA flights was re-screened and loaded into containers. Employees of Alert security ran the x-ray part, while Bedford, in this case, placed the items into the “tin” in question.

Of all the cases passing into AVE4041 through the shed that afternoon, none stood out to Bedford except for a pair he reported to the police when they interviewed him in early January 1989. (see: the Bedford suitcase(s)) He described them as brown or maroony-brown, hard-sided Samsonite-style cases. That’s a remarkable fit with the primary suitcase, although apparently in duplicate.

[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 [both] 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 (the left one is specified somewhere) that matches the official style. But I go with what I see, causing the occasional disconnect between singular and plural forms below, as well as apparent complications addressed partly in this post.]

The cases appeared in his absence, Bedford said, but were vouched for by the Alert security x-ray man Sulkash Kamboj. But Kamboj himself denied this to police, and so no one can attest to seeing either one of these bags cleared for safety or placed in the container. This is in itself a minor mystery that raises some questions about what that luggage really was and how it got there.

What they weren’t: Megrahi’s luggage
A crucial aspect of Bedford’s story is its timeline. They mysterious hard-shells appeared around 4:40 pm, about an hour before the feeder 103A, carrying the fabled Libyan Samsonite, had landed in London. There’s no ambiguity possible here; Bedford clocked out right after the incident, and took his eyeballs home at 5:02, over a half hour before the feeder touched down. So clearly, neither one of the bags could be a stray sighting of that Maltese-origin packet-o-clues, which would be the third, or at least the second, brown hard-shell case accepted as going into the lower levels of AVE 4041.

What they weren’t: recovered later
The position Bedford saw the cases in was side-by-side, flat across the front half of the container floor. (see "Visualizing the Bedford story"). Unless they were moved, these would have become damaged by the explosion, accepted as centered about one inch above the left-hand twin. The bomb was powerful enough that nearly half the cases in the container, 25 out of 55 or so, showed signs of explosives damage, so clearly as they were reported, neither of the mystery cases was far enough away to escape harm.

But as the Zeist judges summed it up in 2001, “the evidence did not disclose that any fragments of a hard-shell Samsonite-type suitcase had been recovered, apart from those of the primary suitcase itself.” In fact, neither brown fragments of nor any intact cases of that style with the slightest bomb damage were found, except the one.

To explain this lack of damaged Bedford bags in the evidence, the UK Fatal Accident Inquiry in 1990, bafflingly, did nothing. The judge (Sheriff Principal), John Mowat QC, had in his evidence two brown hard-shells flat on each other, with the upper one from Malta blowing up to be recovered in bits, and the other, still on the floor … vanishing entirely, it seems.
"I am therefore satisfied that the suitcase in which the explosive device was contained was among those transferred from Flight 103A to Flight 103 […] On all the evidence I consider it is probable that bags from flight 103A were placed on top of the two interline bags lying flat at the front of the container.” [FAI 1.rtf]
This last is a clear reference to the ones Bedford spotted, although the determination gives no description of the cases that just fell through the gaps in Mowat’s logic. He did hear in the proceedings (re-read at the Zeist trial) a badgered “admission” from Bedford that the twice-affirmed “maroony brown” bag “could have been” a completely different color, blue even. It’s not clear what effect, if any, this forced appearance of vagueness had on Mowat’s decision. (the lead-up to this memory lapse, which I read as "badgering," is fascinating reading, but the voice inflection and cadence we don't now have might reveal so much more).

The Camp Zeist judges, in their 2001 Opinion of the Court [PDF] fared a little better with explaining its absence from the pool of damaged luggage. They accepted Bedford’s original report on the color of the mystery case, but speculated that it “might have been placed at some more remote corner of the container” just before the re-loading from 103A. It’s a neat thought, but only the upper corners are remote enough to work when half the luggage in there wound up damaged. And those spots obviously were not available until the end of loading from 103A.

Further, there’s no reason to rule out a move to the near corner, just a few inches away, where a case just like that blew up.

Further, the judges’ speculation founders on the fact that apparently no non-damaged case that could fit the description turned up either. The best they could do was say this:
“[W]hile the forensic evidence dealt with all the items recovered which showed direct explosive damage, twenty-five in total, there were many other items of baggage found which were not dealt with in detail in the evidence in the case.”
If the prosecution could find and explain the non-damaged, non-explosive Bedford bag(s), anywhere in the police records, the judges would have heard about it. Yet they’re left having us presume such a case must have been buried by oversight in that quiet bone yard.

Simply put, the investigation and the trial judges accept with bland resignation that the maroony-brown suitcase(s) never turned up. In real life, things don’t just disappear when it’s convenient for them to. In the mind of SCOTBOM, or Camp Zeist, however, it appears everything is permitted in deciding what is and isn’t true.

What they were called: interline luggage
The Scottish police ruled early on that the Bedford suitcases, like all of the luggage in AVE4041 before the feeder landed, was from interline passengers on flight 103. On March 28 1989 Senior Investigating Officer John Orr told investigators gathered at the Lockerbie Incident Control Center (LICC) that:
“Evidence from witnesses is to the effect that the first seven pieces of luggage in the container belonged to Interline passengers and the remainder was Frankfurt luggage.”
“Seven pieces” included five suitcases Bedford first lined up along the container’s back (quite likely it was a few more than this), plus the two mystery cases. The "effect" that this was all interline baggage was not from "evidence from witnesses" - who all swear they don’t know where the cases came from - but from the name of the shed (interline) where the suspect bags were inserted.

The FAI and the Zeist judges, by their wording, agree in calling all pre-103A bags interline, and it’s been the blanket classification ever since. This inherently rules out a Khreesat bomb, the early suspect device built with only one take-off before it blows. If the missing one of those had interlined to London, it wouldn’t get there - it would be scattered along with a plane and its passengers on some field not far from the first airport.

But my article “After the Break-in” outlines how a Heathrow intruder in the airside area of terminal three – which had its security breached in the early minutes of December 21, by the way - could make an introduced bomb appear wherever he managed to sneak it into the flow. If he weren’t caught in the act and the items were tagged right (perhaps even with an sticker saying it was X-rayed), it would wind up looking like, for example, interline luggage. It would run the danger of appearing mysteriously and catching someone’s attention, and of course, something was noticed on December 21 that matches the bomb bag style. So that leaves us … still spooky.

What they weren’t: interline luggage
The presumption that luggage appearing at the interline shed would be interline is only natural. But other possibilities exist, so it should be double-checked before being presumed. If they really belonged there, just whom did this case or these cases, so similar to the Libyan Samsonite, belong to?

Investigators did in fact try to figure it out. Scots detective John Crawford wrote in his 2006 book about analyzing the “first fifteen of the interline passengers” to locate any possible link to the bombing. [JREF link] He said these were high-profile or secret-mission people who might be targeted, have their luggage swapped, etc. Researcher Rolfe has decided instead this was likely all of the interline passengers he looked at, only some being special targets. But these fifteen at least would have any luggage switch from “Air whatever” to the interline shed to be x-rayed and then placed by Bedford. Some of them must have gone elsewhere than AVE 4041, however, as there were no more than eight cases in there before the mystery set appeared. Apparently Crawford found no sign that any of the fifteen possessed such luggage, or it would have clearly explained away Bedford’s story.

The four “Larnaca interline: passengers,” the most targetable subset of Crawford’s list, are of special interest. Major Charles McKee, Dan O’Connor, Mathew Gannon, and Ronald LaRiviere all came in on an Air Cyprus flight, all on sensitive missions related to embassy security and hostages in Lebanon. The four were shown to have held four cases between them, with one (O’Connor’s) left off the flight and sent later to New York. [JREF link] Thus they account for three of the 5-8 bags Bedford placed along the back of 4041: A blue softshell Samsonite and two gray hard-shell cases. All three were recovered and showed signs of explosive damage, especially one of McKee’s case, which also has its own mysteries attached.

Again by the silence we can presume that among the other half of the genuine interline passengers whose cases were in 4041, none had such a case to explain the still-unexplained sighting.

What they weren’t: passenger luggage at all
We can further infer that no such luggage should have been interlined to that container from the fact that no passenger on flight 103 was found to own such a case. Sherriff Mowat issued a finding in his FAI determination that meant one thing there but becomes very interesting in the current context:
I am therefore satisfied that the suitcase in which the explosive device was contained was among those transferred from Flight 103A to Flight 103. I am also satisfied on a balance of probabilities that it was not associated with any of the passengers who boarded Flight 103 at Heathrow. This decision is based upon the evidence of Detective Constable Henderson who analysed the baggage which was recovered and those pieces which were not recovered and where possible linked each piece with the person accompanying it. He gave evidence to the effect that none of the descriptions given by relatives of the baggage which they expected the victims to have been carrying fitted this suitcase.
As Rolfe sums up: “This makes Bedford's left-hand bag very mysterious indeed. […] So if there was no legitimate suitcase answering the description of the bomb bag, what the hell was it that Bedford saw if it wasn't the bomb bag? Of course this evidence was not led at Zeist.” [JREF link] Indeed, as we've seen, the judges there did not rule them out like this, but left the impression they were innocent interline luggage. Unlike at the FAI, the Malta bag and its Megrahi genesis was well-defined by then and separated itself well enough for the judges to forgo such games.

Therefore, besides the color and style description and location, we must add another disturbing shared trait between these mystery cases and the primary one – all of them were something other than passenger luggage. That’s an important point to consider as the odds steepen into sheer cliffs.

And to state it again in shorter form, FBI lead investigator Richard Marquise, in his own 2006 book, affirms no one on the plane at all owned such a case.
"Interviews of the American relatives as well as those who had last seen the passengers who boarded the aircraft revealed little additional information. None of them owned or had a brown hard-sided Samsonite suitcase." [p 41]
Marquise was trying, as Mowat was, to isolate the Libyan suitcase from Malta, but he’s unwittingly chased it into a closet already stuffed with one or both of the cases Bedford reported. None of these two or perhaps three brown hard-shell Samsonites was passenger luggage.

What they remain: sidelined yet relevant
The Bedford suitcases remain to this day unexplained, and equally sidelined and declared irrelevant in every conceivable way. That what he described was the bomb suitcase is the first thing one should have suspected comparing it to the physical evidence and known terrorist weaponry and motivations. All this was available to investigators before the Spring thaw of 1989, yet it was the first option British investigators denied and found against at every available chance, using whatever was at hand.

First, SIO John Orr and his people found that the larger number of Frankfurt origin items in the container (aside from the bottom) led to “balance of probabilities” conclusion it came from Frankfurt. Soon it was established that the blast was slightly too high in the container (not right on the floor) to be one of the bottom interline bags. These were incapable of being stacked or otherwise re-arranged into a slightly higher position (this has never been stated, but always implied).

Then the primary case was found by the esteemed "political scientists" at RARDE to have been on top of a blue soft-shell case from Frankfurt, which had replaced the left-hand Bedford case on the floor. This forensic “fact” was absent on Dr, Hayes' first examination in 1989, and indeed unknown to the 1990 FAI, seeming to appear only later, and supported by contradictory and suspect clues. (see “the Monster of Newcastleton Forest”)

And finally, the Malta link to Libya was established. In August 1989, an unaccompanied bag from Malta was noticed, and later it was decided Megrahi bought the clothes inside of it. Megrahi was at Malta airport as that item appeared to have left, under an alias no less, and was "seen" by witness Giaka in possession of the case. Bingo, the Bedford evidence was finally history. Too bad that construct, elaborate as it was, is now in tatters, held together only by legal convention and increasingly willful denial of reality.

And the clues that rag pile obscures suggest one coherent narrative – a Khreesat bomb loaded in London to help the Iranians get their vengeance for Iran Air 655. One of the key London clues, Security guard Ray Manly’s report of a break-in at terminal three, was completely erased by police (on accident, they say) and never considered as the debate raged over whose airport screwed up (the Brits won).

On reviewing this awkward tribal dance around Bedford’s story, it’s evident that, like Manly’s report, it would have been much easier to dance over its unmarked grave. But for one reason or another this likely smoking gun of the Lockerbie bombing was kept in the public record, in plain sight but overlooked by the eyes with power. Even as it’s been divorced from relevance to legal truth, the unusual insertion spotted at 4:40 pm may still be more than an amazing compound coincidence. It might in fact be central to the physical reality that took 270 lives two and a half hours later.


Rolfe said...

Regarding the colour of the cases, almost all the discussion read into the Zeist evidence from the FAI is about the left-hand one.

Bedford is asked to indicate exactly where he saw the maroon/brown Samsonite-type case, and he indicates the left-hand position at the front of the container. All the rest of the questioning is about that case, with one set of advocates trying to shake him on the colour and the other trying to keep him to his original statement. It's never said in quite so many words, but it's clear that it is the left-hand one which is the "maroon or brown Samsonite-type", and the right-hand one which is "if not the same then similar". Nobody presses Bedford any further about the right-hand one though.

My own view is different from yours. I take note that three separate sources confirm that none of the passengers had a brown Samsonite-type case. The remains of one brown Samsonite were found at Lockerbie. If Bedford saw two, what happened to the other one? As you say, "In real life, things don’t just disappear when it’s convenient for them to."

In fact, it would have been extremely convenient for a second case of that description not to have disappeared, from the point of view of the investigation. Produce a second brown Samsonite which isn't the bomb bag, and you have a good chance of being able to explain away what Bedford saw. Without that, it's a lot harder. So I find it very hard to see why there might have been any motivation to conceal any evidence of a second brown Samsonite.

I note, however, that there was at least one dark grey Samsonite hardshell in the legitimate passenger luggage - Charles McKee's case. That case was blast-damaged and determined to have been in close proximity to the bomb. A secondary source describes it as having been on the floor of the container, which I take to mean flat on the floor rather than on its spine. I think this is a good candidate for the right-hand case.

Bedford didn't position either case of course, so if it was McKee's case, it got there some other way. I speculate that the terrorist showed up with the bomb bag and placed it where he wanted it, on the outboard side of the container, then pulled another case from the row at the back, McKee's case, and placed it beside the bomb bag, to guard against any of the loaders subsequently sliding the bomb bag to the right and inboard. Bedford said the row at the back was undisturbed, but I don't see it as impossible that he just didn't notice one case was missing from there.

If there was a second brown Samsonite, where did it go?

Caustic Logic said...

Thanks, Rolfe. This whole things is a smoking gun, but I've insisted on adding the plurality complication. The Zeist judges have one (or implicitly two) such cases moved, unharmed, and then vanishing, with a third imagined version from Malta being the one found. In my version, there were only the first two (or perhaps one), and only 1 1/2 vanished. They have no explanation other than whatever black hole ate a couple of other cases nabbing these too by coincidence. It's possible. My explanation is the friggin' bomb, which might well have been considerably more powerful than is accepted. Nothing vanished, physical process es referred to. Fragmentation to tiny particles, loss of tiny particles to envirnment. It's still in Scotland and norther England today, I propose.

I want to trim this down into an article I get published elsewhere, but that complication makes it awkward. I'm struggling with how to simplify it to a one-for-one comparison while being honest to the evidence. Because having to re-explain this each time gets tiresome, and no one seems to agree anyway.

To that end, I appreciate your efforts, and maybe I should try harder to be convinced by them.

A secondary source describes it as having been on the floor of the container, which I take to mean flat on the floor rather than on its spine.

I can't see that. On the floor to me just means touching the floor, no on a second layer. It could mean flat, but I don't think dark gray is likely to be similar enough to be called "same or similar." We don't have photos, but Haye's descriptions can sometimes paint a picture of some use. I may look that up, or suggest it to you - where did it sustain damage and of what kind?

It's a candidate, but not a great one. Also, just to be sure, it was his hard-shell case that might potentially be a fit, and that was the same one that was later hacked open before the police ever got to it. Not really relevant, just interesting.

Still not convinced, but I do appreciate the differing views. Still hmmmming over here.

Rolfe said...

Although there is a diagram of McKee's case referred to in court as showing the direction of the blast damage, that isn't verbally described so we don't know. However, I do think dark grey Samsonite could be described as "similar" to brown Samsonite.

I appreciate your hypothesis that the bomb case was completely obliterated, and what we're seeing is actually the fragments of the second suitcase which was between the first and the floor of the container. It's a seductive idea, but I have a big problem with it. If the blast was that powerful, then nothing in the first suitcase could realistically have survived. The trouble with that is that it's extremely difficult to postulate a scenario where all these clothes that Tony Gauci remembered selling were planted, together with all the fragments that were found in the remains.

It's not impossible, but you'd probably need something like the Gauci clothes were in the second bag, and all the fragments were planted in the rags later. It's pushing the conspiracy theory beyond what can reasonably be sustained, in my opinion, and it isn't really supported by Hayes's notes or the sequence of discovery as evidenced by the behaviour of the investigators.

Rolfe said...

I think the timeline bears closer scrutiny, and there's one time point I don't know which I think is quite important - I don't know when it was decided that the bomb suitcase was a brown/bronze Samsonite.

The first piece of blast-damaged container was brought in on Christmas Eve. I don't know how long it took them to figure out that it was AVE4041, the container with the Frankfurt transfer luggage, but it must have been quite quick. On 30th December it was announced that the bomb hadn't been introduced at Heathrow, and it seems that this was decided on the basis of knowing that the blast happened in the container with the Frankfurt luggage. Bedford, the man who loaded AVE4041, wasn't interviewed about this until 3rd January, so it's possible they didn't know there were any Heathrow cases in it at all, when the original press releases were drafted.

Then Bedford was interviewed, and explained about the earlier interline bags being in there as well. He described the brown Samsonite, but there was no reason at all for anyone to imagine that was significant at the time. Nobody realised the bomb bag was a brown Samsonite until later. Bedford did describe a slightly atypical provenance for these cases, but there would have been no reason then to think anything other than that Kamboj had loaded them as Bedford said he had told him, but had then forgotten all about it.

So the only problem the "don't blame Heathrow whatever you do" lobby had at that stage was that there were also some Heathrow cases in the container. But most of the cases were still from Frankfurt, probably still a Frankfurt case then, let's not worry about it.

Following that, I think before the end of January because Claiden describes examining and measuring the reconstructed container at Longtown, Claiden estimates the height of the blast as ten inches from the floor of the container and two inches into the overhang section. This is very low, and surely had to suggest to someone that the Heathrow bags couldn't be ruled out. Several reports seem awfully keen to suggest that the height was more like 15 inches, funnily enough.

However, ten inches can be fudged as the second layer, especially together with the "two inches into the overhang" part. There was no suitcase in that position in the container when Bedford saw it, and why on earth would anyone have bothered rearranging those items, so that's OK then.

I've seen a press report from mid-February saying the investigators still hadn't identified the case the bomb was in. If that means they still hadn't realised it was a brown Samsonite, that's relatively late. I wonder when they finally decided these bits of Samsonite added up to "bomb bag"? Perhaps more importantly, when did someone put the brown/bronze Samsonite the bomb had been in together with the brown/maroon Samsonite Bedford had seen before PA103A landed? Because that's when the deliberate smothering of Bedford's testimony must have started. Too late, though, to compost it like they composted Manly's statement. They could hardly pretend they hadn't taken statements from the man who loaded the container that had exploded. And it was all there. So it seems they just ignored it.

Rolfe said...

The strange thing is, how did they manage to smother the details of Bedford's suitcase at the FAI? It was all there. It's his FAI testimony, read into the evidence at Zeist, that all this is based on. By Zeist, ten years later, he couldn't remember. (Even by the FAI, he's getting hazy, but his original statements were taken only two weeks after the event, and he stands by these.)

It seems as if someone who was cross-examining Bedford at the FAI realised the significance of that case, because that's where the attempt to shake him on the description comes from (could it have been blue with a red trim?). But if Mowatt noticed that in his findings he proposed that the brown Samsonite bomb bag from Frankfurt had been placed on top of a brown Samsonite from Heathrow, he didn't comment. If he noticed that the brown Samsonite from Heathrow was in fact really really anomalous, because he had also heard evidence that none of the passengers had been carrying a brown Samsonite, he didn't comment.

By the time the FAI proceedings were condensed into Mowatt's findings, the fact that the case Bedford saw which was right next to the place the explosion happened, answered to the same description as the bomb bag, had been lost. Without that piece of information, it all sounded at least half-way plausible. And nobody noticed. Nobody noticed at all.

People like Coleman and Francovich started writing books and making documentaries alleging the bomb had been switched for a suitcase of smuggled heroin at Frankfurt, rather than interlined from Malta. That was the dominant theme for the next ten years.

Until on 25th August 2000, Bedford stood up in the witness box at Zeist, to have his 1989 statements read back to him in open court.

That's a long time buried, and a very very ingrained narrative that has to be re-written. Not an easy thing to get over.

Rolfe said...

This can be summarised quite briefly.

The bomb was in an "antique copper" hardshell Samsonite, which was variously described in the forensics notes as brown, bronze, maroon and burgundy(!). This was located in the bottom outboard corner of container AVE4041.

John Bedford saw a suitcase he described as brown, or maroon, or maroony-brown, a hardshell, the type Samsonite make, in that container, in approximately that position (a little lower and inboard), in the interline shed, an hour before PA103A touched down.

It's quite possible that the tarmac loader at Heathrow, while adding the Frankfurt luggage, repositioned the suitcase Bedford saw so that it sat a bit higher and a bit further outboard than its original position.

Three separate members of the investigation team have reported that none of the passengers owned a suitcase matching this description, and when people who had had contact with them just before they set off were questioned, nobody remembered any of them carrying such a suitcase.

This was pursued exhaustively, not because anyone was thinking about identifying the owner of the Bedford suitcase, but because they were trying to confirm that the bomb bag was unaccompanied luggage. However, the virtually identical descriptions of the two cases mean that one question stands for both. If there was no legitimate suitcase answering the description of the bomb bag, there was equally no legitimate suitcase answering the description of the Bedford bag.

The only suitcase answering to this description which was recovered at Lockerbie was the one blown to smithereens, which had contained the bomb. There is thus no evidence at all that there was ever more than one such suitcase on the plane.

Oh yes, and the timing of the explosion was completely irrational in the context of the use of an electronic timer, which would logically have been set to go off mid-Atlantic. An electronic timer has to be postulated to support a Malta (or Frankfurt) loading though. Conversely, the timing of the explosion is exactly as we would expect if the IED had been triggered by a barometric timer. A barometric timer couldn't have been loaded at Malta (or Frankfurt) though - it would have had to have been loaded at Heathrow.

It's a slam-dunk. They only got it past the Zeist judges because it was new information that didn't fit the preconceived notions about the case, and because they didn't call Henderson in evidence to repeat what he said to the FAI about no passenger having been discovered to have such a suitcase after exhaustive enquiries.

Rolfe said...

Oh yes, and I forgot to mention that the interline shed wasn't guarded in any way, that there were people wandering about all the time, and that Bedford said it would have been easy for anyone at all to have put a case or two in that container. And that there were a couple of thousand airside security passes floating around, half of which were completely unaccounted for.

Not to mention the break-in into that very airside area only 18 hours previously, the worst security breach Manly had ever seen, but nobody did anything about it when he reported it.

God help us.

Caustic Logic said...

God help us.

Didn't then. Thanks for the thoughts. I do need to just make it singular, and let anyone who catches the conflict with my otherwise plurality, can just look that up here.

There is thus no evidence at all that there was ever more than one such suitcase on the plane.

That's one line I still couldn't type, but I can work around it.

I wonder if The Firm would run it? Even if you personally think the bomb was elsewhere, and find me annoying, surely this still ranks as something worth wondering about, that was suspiciously ruled out despite having every hallmark of what they were looking for?

Rolfe said...

That's one line I still couldn't type, but I can work around it.

Well, think about it. You're basing your opinion that there might have been two such cases entirely on what Bedford said, and all he said was, "if it wasn't the same, it was similar." Similar is NOT "the same". It could have been the same, indeed, but it could just have been similar. We'd need some other evidence to tell us which it was.

All the other evidence we have says one such case only. No other one was found. In my book, that comes out as no evidence that there was ever more than one such suitcase on the plane.

There's another point that complicates the two-case argument. For there to have been two brown Samsonites, one beside the other, and then for the explosion to have taken place in a case on the second layer, means realistically that the case on the right was placed on top of the case on the left, after Bedford saw them. This means the bomb bag was actually on the inboard side when Bedford saw the container, and would have had to have been moved later or the explosion would not have killed the plane. It means the terrorist had put the bomb in the wrong place and would be forced to come back and rearrange the stuff a second time. It's not impossible, but it's helluva risky that there wouldn't be a second chance. All logic says to me that the terrorist would have put the bomb bag on the outboard side as his very first move on getting access to the container, and anything else he managed (like putting a place-holder on the inboard side) was icing on the cake.

Publishing? The Firm is a bit esoteric; you're probably getting better traction with your blog than with a magazine aimed purely at lawyers. If you're serious, it would be better to make it really, really good and try for a more general current affairs publication.

Rolfe said...

To pick up my train of thought from a couple of posts back....

So there we are, by spring/summer 1989 they had all the information implicating Heathrow - or at least all but Manly's statement about the break-in, which was concealed. Surely to God somebody put it all together! But no, a Heathrow introduction had been ruled out, and they were sticking to it.

What else did they have? Until late August 1989, absolutely nothing at all! The Babygro's label said "Made in Malta", but nothing had come of following that up. The Maltese provenance of the rest of the clothes wasn't known about, and Bogomira's souvenir wasn't known about. So for about five months, they were sitting looking at that slam-dunk case that the bomb had been loaded at Heathrow, and simply flat denied it, with nothing else to put in its place. The five months from about March to August 1989, the time that should have been the most productive for the inquiry.

Then what? The Maltese provenance of the clothes was discovered, and soon after that the purchase at Mary's House. What did that prove? Not a lot. The purchase happened, at the latest, two weeks before the crash. That doesn't narrow down the airport of origin at all. The clothes could have been taken anywhere at all in those two weeks.

Unless a lot more people are lying than I think are lying, and the whole thing is several orders of magnitude murkier even than the murkiness we've identified, the presence of a plausible suspect at the airport in Malta that morning wasn't known about until about the autumn of 1990, just about the time the FAI was beginning. And as I said, the Maltese provenance of the clothes proves bugger-all about where the bomb got into the system.

So the only extra piece of useful information the investigation had in August 1989 was the Erac printout. Words fail me. All the Frankfurt baggage records disappear from under the noses of the BKA, within a few days of the bombing. A month later, it's discovered that Bogomira had kept a printout of the centrally-transferred baggage for PA103A only, as a souvenir. That printout, analysed in isolation, seems to show two items heading for PA103A with a coding provenance suggesting they originated from flights that had no passengers transferring to PA103A. One of these seemed to have come from Warsaw, and the other from Malta.

Operative word, "seemed". They were coded at the time and place luggage from these two flights was being coded. Does that mean they came off these flights? Probably, but not inevitably. There was nothing to stop baggage handlers simply tossing stray items into the system wherever they fancied. Coders were supposed to make a note of this, but there was no way to pick it up if they simply didn't bother.

The BKA seemed to realise this, because initially they filed the printout as unimportant. But later, in August, they decided to give it to the investigation anyway, with the Maltese flight highlighted. The investigation ignored the Warsaw flight and ran with the Malta flight.

Later, the justification for that was that there was no plausible suspect hanging around Warsaw airport that morning. That's ridiculous. There's no evidence they even investigated who was hanging around Warsaw at the relevant time. And they didn't find out about Megrahi being in Malta until more than a year later. Concentrating on Malta in September 1989 was nothing more than a leap of illogic because of the clothes.

So they did the sort of in-depth investigation of the luggage on the Malta flight that they should have done of the Heathrow interline luggage but didn't. And they found a tight security system and cast-iron evidence there was no unaccompanied bag on that flight.

And they still preferred the Malta introduction theory to Heathrow.

Rolfe said...

So to summarise even more succinctly, right up to autumn 1990 the balance of evidence (known to the inquiry) for an introduction at Malta rather than at Heathrow was as follows.

For a Heathrow introduction
- Security in the interline shed was very lax and any passerby could have put extra cases in the container.
- There were hundreds of airside security passes for that area unaccounted for.
- Bedford saw a maroony-brown Samsonite suitcase flat on the floor on the left front side of the container, which he didn't put there and Kamboj also denies having put there, an hour before the Frankfurt flight landed.
- The bomb was subsequently determined to have been in a brown/maroon/bronze/burgundy Samsonite case.
- Exhaustive investigation of the luggage carried by the legitimate passengers established that none of them was carrying a brown/maroon/bronze Samsonite suitcase.
- The only brown/maroon/bronze Samsonite suitcase found in the wreckage was the one blown to bits by the bomb inside it.
- The timing of the explosion is very strongly suggestive of a barometric timer rather than an electronic timer, and a barometric timer would have had to have been loaded at Heathrow.

Against a Heathrow introduction
- According to Claiden's measurements, the case Bedford saw would have had to have been moved maybe three inches to the left and upwards to be consistent with the position of the explosion. (That could easily have happened by Sidhu pushing it a bit to the left so that its left-hand side was elevated by the sloping part of the container floor, though.)

For a Malta introduction
- Tray B8849 on the Erac printout was coded for PA103A at a time and place consistent with it having come from KM180 from Malta.
- No passenger transferred from KM180 to PA103A.
- Any case coming off PA103A at Heathrow could easily have ended up on the second layer of the container, in the position of the explosion.
- The finding of a fragment from a digital timer in the wreckage admits the possibility that the bomb might have been introduced at an airport other than Heathrow.

Against a Malta introduction
- Intensive investigation of the airport at Malta revealed tight security procedures and complete documentation, with no apparent loophole for any unaccompanied bag to have been introduced to that flight.
- Intensive investigation of the passengers on the flight revealed no potential terrorist accomplice, no missing or mis-routed passenger baggage, and no bronze Samsonite.
- Intensive investigation of the staff handling the baggage revealed no potential terrorist accomplice.
- Tray B8849 could quite easily have been a coding anomaly at Frankfurt caused by a stray bag being coded with the Malta luggage and no record being made of its flight of origin.
- We have no idea what was in that tray - certainly no evidence that it was a bronze Samsonite suitcase.
- Whatever was in that tray was x-rayed by Kurt Maier, who knew about the threat from bombs concealed in radio-cassette players, and was "a careful and conscientious operative".
- A plan to send a bomb unaccompanied through three changes of plane across Europe in winter, with a timer set to detonate less than an hour into a seven-and-a-half-hour flight, is batshit insane in more ways than we have space to enumerate here.

What are we missing here? A Heathrow introduction is little short of compelling, especially with reference to none of the legitimate passengers having a suitcase that might have explained what Bedford saw. The case for a Malta introduction is tenuous in the extreme, resting pretty much entirely on the Erac printout, which has a peculiar provenance, and might in any case just show a coding anomaly.

But from September 1989 the investigators knocked themselves out trying to find evidence on Malta, and completely ignored and failed to follow up any possibility that the bomb had gone on at Heathrow.

Is this negligence? Or something else?

Rolfe said...

And talking of negligence, why didn't they investigate Warsaw? There was a line on the Erac printout indicating an unaccompanied item from there as well, and the timer fragment and the position of the explosion could imply any bag that travelled on PA103A, not just the Malta flight.

There was the clothes provenance of course, but a purchase two (or even four) weeks before the bombing is hardly compelling proof the local airport was used to introduce the bomb. Indeed, if you're going to make such a conspicuous and memorable purchase of brand new traceable clothes to pack round the bomb, logic might dictate you then carry out your super-secret smuggling of the thing into the airline baggage system rather further than three miles from the shop in question.

In September 1989 there was no compelling reason at all not to investigate Warsaw. There is, however, no record of any such investigation - not even a cursory glance at the passenger list for the plane in question.

Rolfe said...

We know how the Zeist judges managed to home in on the pro-Malta evidence and hand-wave away the Heathrow evidence. It was all down to Megrahi having been at the airport on Malta that morning, in a shameless exhibition of circular reasoning.

But Mowatt didn't know about that. From October 1990 to February 1991 the investigators were going mad trying to show that the bomb was introduced at Malta, and latterly trying to pin it on Megrahi, but absolutely none of that was presented to the FAI. The Erac printout was not given in evidence, and there is no mention of Malta in the findings at all.

What Mowatt did have was all the evidence summarised above pointing to a Heathrow introduction. ALL OF IT, including the evidence that none of the passengers was carrying a brown/bronze Samsonite, which was concealed from the Zeist court.

So he declared in his findings that the bomb had been transferred to PA103A as interline baggage at Frankfurt, and then loaded with the Frankfurt luggage at Heathrow.

What is pretty clear from the published findings is that Mowatt was told to come to this conclusion. Professor Black refers to this as an established fact. No evidence was led, but Mowatt was left in no doubt that this was the required outcome.

It's likely that the police simply told Mowatt that they had cast-iron evidence the bomb was interlined into Frankfurt, that they couldn't present in court for fear of jeopardising the ongoing investigation. But take it from us, it's conclusive. So any other evidence you see that you think might point to a different route of introduction, forget it please, because we know it's irrelevant.

The manipulation of the evidence to point away from Heathrow had been going on since the day AVE4041 was identified on the grass at Lockerbie (last week of December 1988). The FAI however is the first occasion where it was sanctified by being officially determined to have happened that way, by an actual court.

This was done by blatant lying to the sheriff. But once that determination had been made and was there in print, that's how it was to be for the next 20 years and four more court hearings. It was virtually taken as read, and nobody had the guts to challenge it.

Caustic Logic said...

As some of us say around here, "day-umm!" My old policy about trying to respond to comments one-to-one is out regarding my most valued commentor. (everyone else except a few are all tied for second!).

Rolfe, if you listed the break-in, then Mowat didn't have all of the evidence.

As I inserted into the post, Whoever was doing the questioning at the FAI recounted at Zeist, badgering Bedford on the color, at first almost seemed to be just hammering home that this can't get any more precise - he is in fact describing a brown hard-shell Samsonite, just a couple inches from where one of those would soon after explode.

Then whoever (same questioner?) has his "maroony brown" framed as, essentially 'maroon, then brown, will you make up your mind. you confused person?' Which becomes 'you don't know what you saw, it could have been blue,' to which he demurred, meekly it seems.

I don't know if that affected Mowat any.

Let me know if you ever get a look at the transcripts for further context clues.

I'm quite sure this exercise was not a result of on-the-level assessment of basic facts. I think your explanation, Mowat being convinced to just conclude what the investigators did, in about the way you sketch, is a pretty plausible explanation. It has to be something, and most likely something along those lines. Faith in action.

Caustic Logic said...

Oh, and I'm doing some new graphics to consider first-level, one-bag-only possibilities, emphasis on how the main floor was mostly protected. I'll bring those to the JREF or post here soon.