[Edit: I'm honoured that my posts on Lockerbie have been linked to by Robert Black, QC, who has been working to get to the bottom of this case for a long time. I'm also honoured that Morag Kerr has discussed her thoughts with me in the comments sections of both my posts.]
She completely rebuts the case which was pressed by the Crown and accepted by the Camp Zeist court against the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan agent, who served eight years in prison in Scotland after conviction. She also shows how the crime was really committed: not by Megrahi loading the suitcase with the bomb at Malta, to be transferred at Frankfurt onto the plane to Heathrow that was set to go on to New York City, before detonating over Scotland, but rather by persons unknown spiriting the suitcase onto the plane at Heathrow by placing it in a luggage shed ready to go directly on board Pan Am 103 to New York City.
Here I want to briefly explain why Kerr is right that this was how it was done. (In the second part of this analysis of the Lockerbie bombing, I perform a Bayesian probability analysis of the evidence used to convict Megrahi.)
The original guilty verdict against Megrahi argued that he must have infiltrated the bomb past security and onto a plane at Luqa airport in Malta in order to feed via Frankfurt and Heathrow onto Pan Am 103 to New York City. The judges had to accept that the Crown had presented no evidence as to how he might possibly have done this, given the tight security at Luqa:
If therefore the unaccompanied bag was launched from Luqa, the method by which that was done is not established, and the Crown accepted that they could not point to any specific route by which the primary suitcase could have been loaded ... The absence of any explanation of the method by which the primary suitcase might have been placed on board KM180 is a major difficulty for the Crown case, and one which has to be considered along with the rest of the circumstantial evidence in the case. (p. 42)The judges thought the Crown had assembled a cogent circumstantial case pointing to Megrahi's guilt, but it is remarkable that they convicted him of a crime it was apparently unfeasible to commit. Kerr's analysis shows the fallacies and misconstruals of evidence in the circumstantial case, but let's focus on Heathrow.
The evidence of how the bomb was in fact loaded at Heathrow, only recently properly explained by Kerr, was known to the judges. Unfortunately, they dismissed it with fallacious reasoning and so condemned an innocent man to prison. I will stick to the essentials of the evidence here.
On the day of the bombing, one John Bedford was working in the air-side luggage area at Heathrow. He prepared some luggage containers like those in the picture for Pan Am 103, filling them with luggage that was sitting in the shed where he was working.
Bedford went for a tea-break during the afternoon, leaving a partially full container to fill when he returned to work. On his return, he found two suitcases had been loaded into the bottom of the container, both lying flat in front of the row of upright cases he had previously loaded along the back. The one on the left he later described to police as a “a brown hardshell, the kind Samsonite make.” That is in fact exactly the kind of suitcase that contained the bomb, and Bedford described it thus before the police even knew such a suitcase contained the bomb (the investigation involved painstaking reconstruction of the bomb-suitcase from scattered, charred wreckage). The cases had the right security stickers on them. Bedford says his colleague told him he had x-rayed the cases and loaded them into the container, which said colleague, one Mr Kamboj, denied. Anyway, the case Kerr identifies as the bomb-case was in the luggage container. The feeder flight from Frankfurt had not yet arrived.
How might this suitcase, if it were the bomb-case, have evaded Heathrow security? There had been a break-in the night before so that is a plausible route.
This would seem a much more plausible way for the bomb to have got on board the plane than the judges' unfeasible Malta method. Moreover:
It was argued on behalf of the accused that the suitcase described by Mr Bedford could well have been the primary suitcase, particularly as 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. (p. 27)So the judges knew there was no evidence of a second hard-shell Samsonite being present other than the bomb-case, so if Bedford was right about the description of that case, then it was almost certainly the bomb-case. (Is it not amazing that a man was convicted and sent to prison for over 20 years on the basis of the unmotivated dismissal of such evidence in his favour?)
How then did the judges dismiss the value of the evidence of Bedford and his colleagues? The verdict argued that, since the site of the bomb-blast was next to one side of the container a little way up, and not against the flat bottom, and the suitcase Bedford saw was lying on the bottom of the container, that case could not have been the one containing the bomb. That was the most crucial mistake that Kerr detected, of which more shortly.
The judges considered whether the Bedford case might have been moved into the "right" position. Read what the verdict said on this point:
It was accepted, for the purposes of this argument, that the effect of forensic evidence was that the suitcase [containing the bomb] could not have been directly in contact with the floor of the container. It was submitted that there was evidence that an American Tourister suitcase, which had travelled from Frankfurt, fragments of which had been recovered, had been very intimately involved in the explosion and could have been placed under the suitcase spoken to by Mr Bedford. That would have required rearrangement of the items in the container, but such rearrangement could easily have occurred when the baggage from Frankfurt was being put into the container on the tarmac at Heathrow. It is true that such a rearrangement could have occurred, but if there was such a rearrangement, the suitcase described by Mr Bedford might have been placed at some more remote corner of the container, and while 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. (ibid.)To summarise the argument, the judges said that in order for the Bedford case to be the bomb-case, it would have had to be moved, and that while this may have occurred, it might not have been moved into the "right" position, and it may thus have been among the other scattered suitcases not directly scorched by the blast. This would presumably require Bedford to have mis-described the case, assuming that it were not known to be among the other pieces of luggage. It is absurd to imagine that the case as described by Bedford was known to be among the other luggage, and yet such a fact would not be checked and presented by the police and the Crown. So Bedford must have arbitrarily mis-described the case he saw so as to perfectly fit the actual bomb-case. Is this a rational conclusion for the judges to draw? It was also perfectly plausible that the Bedford case had been moved into the "right" place, and does this not produce a reasonable doubt that this was how the crime was committed?
Anyway, Kerr shows that the crucial mistake made by the experts and judges was a different one (Kerr relies on the work of the defence's Northern Irish forensic experts here, but she seems to be the first to realise its importance and to put the whole case together in the convincing way she has done). The mistake was to think that Bedford's case, even though it were left lying on the bottom layer of cases in the front of the container, could not have contained the bomb that exploded a little way up the side of the container.
The luggage container was of this type:
The bomb-blast was expertly determined to have happened here, raised 10 inches off the bottom in the irregularly shaped part of the container, and towards the front:
As the judges accepted and according to the expert, if the blast occurred there, then Bedford's case, lying flat on the square bottom of the container, could not have contained the bomb. Rather, they thought the bomb-case must have been placed in one of these two ways:
[Defence experts] didn’t appear to have any serious problem with the idea that the bomb suitcase might have been the one on the bottom of the stack. They noted that the cases aren’t necessarily regularly stacked in the containers, like bricks in a wall; the loading can be a bit haphazard, as the photograph [above] demonstrates. The photograph is of a similar container loaded randomly for a test explosion, shown in a BBC2 Newsnight feature on 6th January 2010. It wasn’t packed with the intention of illustrating this point. ... Whether the left-hand suitcase was flat or partly in the overhang when Bedford saw it was yet another question nobody thought of asking.Kerr goes on to show that the blast forensics in general was highly questionable, and argues that her scenario fits with the photographic evidence of the wreckage. She writes:
It is absolutely clear that the blanket assertion in court from AAIB and RARDE investigators that the bomb suitcase could not possibly have been on the bottom layer of the stacked luggage was not well-founded. It was based solely on examination of the container itself, and appears to consist of little more than unsupported opinion.
The forensic scientists from Northern Ireland didn’t regard the condition of the container floor as an insuperable barrier to the bomb suitcase having been on the bottom layer. Other independent forensic experts agree, adding the opinion that Feraday’s estimate of 25 to 28 cm (10 to 11 inches) for the height of the explosion is too high, with the pattern of damage to the horizontal strut suggesting 7 to 9 inches (17.5 to 22.5 cm). Even 25 to 28 cm would only allow for a fairly thin suitcase to have been under the bomb – something significantly thinner than Tricia Coyle’s large case. A height of around 20 cm (8 inches) is a slam-dunk for the bottom layer, and position 3.You will have to read the book and judge the forensic complexities for yourself. For my part, I am convinced that Kerr is the first person to accurately reconstruct the Lockerbie bombing. It was a crime perpetrated at Heathrow, and an innocent man suffered for it. It is a textbook case of a miscarriage of justice, featuring leads missed by the police, unfeasible reconstructions of events and incompetent experts, as well as misconstrued, unreliable evidence both material and eye-witness. The judges constructed a circumstantial case by irrationally explaining away key exculpatory evidence. Kerr's book is not only a triumph of critical, evidence-based investigation, but also an instructive example of how a miscarriage of justice can occur.