Pan Am Flight 103/The Trial

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Event.png Pan Am Flight 103/The Trial  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Lockerbie Trial Judges.jpg
Date3 May 2000 - 31 January 2001
LocationCamp Zeist,  Netherlands
DescriptionA juryless trial which sentenced Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to life imprisonment for the Lockerbie bombing.

Having been indicted in November 1991 in relation to the Lockerbie bombing, the two Libyans Lamin Khalifah Fhimah and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi were charged with conspiracy to murder, murder and a breach of the Aviation Security Act 1982, Section 2.[1] Their trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands began on 3 May 2000 with a bench of three Scottish Judges - Lords Coulsfield, MacLean and Sutherland (Lord Abernethy as an alternate) - sitting without a jury.[2] Eight months later, the Crown said it intended dropping the charges of conspiracy and breach of aviation security and would be focusing on the charge of murder. On 31 January 2001, the Judges' verdict was announced: Fhimah was found not guilty, Megrahi was found guilty of murdering 270 people and sentenced to life imprisonment.[3]

False claim by 'CIA stooge'

On 6 June 2000, one month after the trial started, the Daily Mirror reported that an Iranian terrorist Ahmad Behbahani who said he ordered the Lockerbie bombing was a CIA stooge. Behbahani told CBS television that the 1988 bombing was an Iranian plot using Libyan agents but sources close to the trial said Behbahani, who wanted asylum in America, was part of a CIA face-saving campaign. One Lockerbie expert told the Mirror:

"For the last ten years the CIA has been saying it was Libya, Libya, Libya and nobody else was involved. But now the trial is actually taking place they have to change because the evidence is showing it is not just Libya."

Behbahani's allegations contradicted the prosecution case that the attack on Pan Am Flight 103 was planned and carried out by Libyan intelligence. But Edinburgh law professor Robert Black said the claims would not affect the Camp Zeist trial of Libyan suspects Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah:

"These allegations need not have any effect on the trial because it is not about establishing the truth about Pan Am Flight 103. It has a simple limited objective and that is to prove beyond reasonable doubt the prosecution's indictment of the two suspects."[4]

Dropping the conspiracy charge

The unexplained dropping of the conspiracy charge continues to rankle with many Lockerbie campaigners. In July 2014, commenter "Dave" posted on Professor Black's blog:

There would have been considerable pressure on the Judges to do their patriotic duty and find the two suspects guilty in defence of the system and of the Lord Advocate.
And they did their duty by finding Abdelbaset al-Megrahi guilty, after saying he was innocent in their summing up!
But to salve their conscience the Judges announced to the world that Zeist was a show trial by finding Lamin Khalifah Fhimah not guilty.
Because how can you convict one without the other on a conspiracy charge?
Thus, a deal must have been done, normally known as a plea bargain, but with the Judges, not the defendants![5]

However, Professor Black has no doubts about the Judges' integrity:

This is utter nonsense, Dave. The Crown were as surprised as everyone else in the courtroom (and beyond) when the Judges returned a verdict of guilty against Megrahi. If you are going to continue contributing, please stop posting comments about what "must" have happened and start concentrating on what actually did.[6]

Personalities central to the prosecution's case

  1. Tony Gauci - The crown's star witness, a Maltese shopkeeper, reportedly paid a large amount by the CIA.[7]
  2. Thomas Thurman - FBI Laboratory 'scientist' was not called as a witness.
  3. Alan Feraday - Former head of the forensic laboratory at Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) at Fort Halstead.
  4. Dr Thomas Hayes - Over the 1970s and early 1980s progressed to head the RARDE forensic laboratory. His testimony was central to the Lockerbie verdict. Yet he and two colleagues conspired to withhold evidence from the 1974 alleged IRA Maguire Seven trial which would have indicated innocence. The Maguires were freed on appeal after fifteen years in jail. This matter was exposed in the Lockerbie trial, but the Judges trusted Hayes' word implicitly.

Evidence withheld or not available at the time of the trial

  • Heathrow airport security guard Ray Manly discovered a break-in at the Terminal 3 Pan Am baggage facility early on Wednesday 21 December 1988:
"I believe it would have been possible for an unauthorised person to obtain tags for a particular Pan Am flight then, having broken the ... lock, to have introduced a tagged bag into the baggage buildup area," Manly told the Metropolitan Police.
The Heathrow break-in was not mentioned at the Camp Zeist trial that led to the 31 January 2001 conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, and only became public knowledge on 11 September 2001 (the day of 9/11) when the Scottish Mirror broke the story.[8]
  • Former CIA agent, Robert Baer, CIA Middle Eastern specialist, worked on the early stages of the investigation. He has repeatedly claimed that, in 1989, there was "Grade A intelligence" held by America to prove that Iran requested and paid for the Lockerbie bombing. If Baer is correct, then the bomb timer fragment which pointed to Libya must have been planted.
  • Lord Peter Fraser, Scotland's Chief Law Officer during the investigation and indictments, claimed in 1991 that witnesses would "prove the case beyond reasonable doubt." In 2005 he admitted to journalists that his chief witness Tony Gauci was highly unreliable. Then in 2008, when questioned by a Times journalist, Fraser indicated suspicions that key evidence might have been planted with the knowledge of the CIA.
  • Shukri Ghanem, Libyan Prime Minister 2003 - 2006, has said, on at least two occasions in radio and television interviews, that Libya was not responsible and it paid the $2.7 billion compensation with great reluctance and only "to buy peace and move forward."
  • The alleged bomb timer fragment: Was it planted to frame Libya for the crime?[9] The fragment's label had been altered by unknown persons. And its finding by Dr Thomas Hayes and examination by Allen Feraday proved highly suspicious. A series of scientific tests in 2009 have proved that its survival two centimetres from the centre of a high explosive fireball was impossible.[10]


Related Documents

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:How Megrahi and Libya were framed for Lockerbiearticle22 July 2010Alexander Cockburn
Document:Justice for Megrahi awaits at the Supreme CourtLetter4 April 2021Patrick HaseldineMy recommendation, Mr Anwar, is that you appeal to the UK Supreme Court to quash the Scottish Court in the Netherlands' 2001 conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on the basis of fabricated timer fragment evidence led by the "non-expert witness" Allen Feraday
Document:Justice for Megrahi is gonna happen!Letter14 April 2021Patrick HaseldineAamer Anwar said: "I have no doubt that the new democratic Libyan Government headed by Abdul Hamid al-Dabaiba will support this final appeal for justice on behalf of the Al-Megrahi family and help in our efforts to prove the innocence of Libya and its people."
Document:Lockerbie bombing: Megrahi's posthumous appeal rejected by Scottish judgesArticle19 January 2021Steve JamesNo explanation or significance has been attached to a break in at Heathrow airport, where security was poor, the night before, adjacent to the luggage loading area for PA103.
Document:Lockerbie case: new accusations of manipulation of key forensic evidenceStatement28 August 2007Hans KöchlerThose responsible for the mid-air explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 will have to be identified and brought to justice. A continuation of the rather obvious cover-up which we have witnessed up until now is neither acceptable for the citizens of Scotland nor for the international public.
Document:The Lockerbie case and the corruption of justicearticle9 August 2009Hans Köchler
Document:Was the MST-13 timer fragment planted in the wreckage of Pan Am 103Blog post15 September 2009Morag KerrYou can set the MST-13 timer for any time you like from 1 minute to 999 hours before the bomb explodes. So you set it to go off only an hour after Pan Am Flight 103's scheduled take-off from Heathrow on an 8-hour flight. Really?
File:Koechler-lockerbie-appeal report.pdfreport26 March 2002Hans KöchlerA report on the appeal proceedings at the Scottish Court in the Netherlands