Lockerbie trial judges ‘ignored inconsistencies’

THE Lockerbie bombing trial judges made "errors great and small" when they convicted a Libyan intelligence officer of the atrocity, it was claimed yesterday.

Evidence which had pointed away from the guilt of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was ignored and the judges closed their minds to inconsistencies in the Crown case, the appeal hearing at the Scottish court in the Netherlands heard.

William Taylor, QC, the defence counsel, made the accusations as he homed in on one of the alleged mistakes which he insists led to Megrahi being wrongly convicted.

He said the judges had been unjustified in specifying a date for the purchase of clothing from a shop on Malta.

Last year, Megrahi was found guilty of mass murder by a unanimous verdict of three trial judges. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 20 years.

Mr Taylor told the appeal hearing at Kamp van Zeist: "I will point to errors great and small ... Some of these errors are, by themselves, gross enough for this court to hold a miscarriage of justice has occurred. Others in combination produce a situation where a miscarriage of justice has occurred."

One of the major planks of the Crown case at the trial was that Megrahi bought clothes at Mary’s House shop in Sliema, Malta, on 7 December, 1988. Those were packed in a suitcase with the bomb which blew up Pan Am flight 103 on 21 December, 1988, killing a total of 270 people.

The date of the purchase was important because it was known Megrahi had been visiting Malta on Wednesday, 7 December, and had stayed at a hotel close to the shop. The shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, was able to say only the sale had taken place midweek about a fortnight before Christmas, and one of the ways the Crown attempted to pinpoint the date was by reference to street decorations.

Mr Taylor said: "Gauci’s evidence started with a positive assertion that the decorations were up and on. When asked to think carefully, he retreated somewhat and introduced the idea they were in the process of being put up. In previous statements to the police, he had said no decorations were up at the time of the sale. There were, therefore, three self-contradictory positions adopted by Gauci on this matter."

In holding the sale had been on 7 December, he added, the trial judges accepted it was at a time when the decorations would be going up, which they found consistent with Mr Gauci’s account of "about two weeks before Christmas".

Mr Taylor said: "In reaching its conclusion, the court has ignored the difficulty that Gauci had told the police in 1989 that there were no decorations up. The court had a duty … to give reasons as to why his statements could be ignored. The court has ignored without explanation a material factor."

He submitted that the failure to recognise the importance of an inconsistent prior statement by a witness giving evidence 12 years after the event was a significant error.

He said: "In view of the contradictions, the court should not have picked one of the positions in favour of the others advanced by Mr Gauci without there being a sound basis for doing so.

"The court failed to explain away the contradictory evidence. Gauci had said in a previous statement, when his memory was better, that the sale was at the end of November.

"The court makes no mention of this and ignores it. This is a highly material omission," said Mr Taylor.

He claimed the trial judges had closed their minds to alternative dates, but there were indications that it had not been 7 December.

The following day was a public holiday on Malta, for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and shops were closed.

Mr Gauci had made no link between the sale and such a significant date, which would be the natural thing to do, the court heard, and there was evidence that Mary’s House was open the day after the sale.

The hearing will continue next week.