Analysis: Simplest explanation often correct – Syria and Iran were in cahoots

Kenny MacAskill faced criticism for release of Lockerbie bomber. Picture: PA
Kenny MacAskill faced criticism for release of Lockerbie bomber. Picture: PA
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INITIALLY, we were told the investigation was fingering Iran and Syria over the Lockerbie bombing. By time the trial started this had switched to Libya.

I presumed that I was going to that court to hear the conviction of two of the people responsible for the disaster. But halfway through, I reluctantly came to conclusion that these two were not guilty as charged and that the prosecution case was not sound.

The main aspect of the evidence that led me up to this was led by Rainer Gobel, who was the head of German forensics at the time. He gave detailed evidence about how the bombs invented by the Syrian group PFL PGC worked. He made it very plain to the court that they were stable forever at ground level, but if you put them in a plane they always exploded between 35 and 40 minutes after take-off.

That’s what happened to the Lockerbie plane – it went up 38 minutes after take-off. Therefore, it seemed to me that listening to this extraordinary story about Megrahi having perhaps bought the clothes from the clothing shop in Malta and the identification evidence seemed, to say the least, highly imperfect. And there was no evidence at all that he’d done anything wrong at Luqa airport when he passed through it. Even the judges had to say in the summing up that this was a major difficulty for the prosecution.

I left the court feeling that these two were not guilty when hardly anyone else felt the same. It was a bit like being a subject of Kipling’s poem If, where you need to hold your own when everyone else is taking the opposite view.

Gradually though, qualified people who have looked at it have come to this conclusion. The satisfying thing from my point of view was that almost immediately after the verdict, the break-in at Heathrow Airport came to light the night before Lockerbie which provided the perfect avenue by which a PFL/PGC device might have been introduced.

Scottish criminal law is supposed to be able to clear reasonable doubt, at the very least, before it comes to a verdict. If there was ever a reasonable doubt it was generated by the existence and the knowledge of the type of bomb that the Syrians had. The judges in charge of the first appeal appeared not to understand the technology.

The impact of the break-in was also undermined by the fact that it became public knowledge on 9/11. I remember very vividly the television crews getting the message about the attacks in New York; they had all been interviewing in my house and all disappeared.

So I concluded that the PFL-PGC from Syria, in cahoots with the Iranians, had been responsible. It all seemed to fit together and it is generally the case that the simplest explanation is the most likely one to be true.