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Home Affairs Correspondent Reevel Alderson reports
"The Lord Advocate said the reports were untruthful"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Paper defends Lockerbie story
Sunday Herald
The newspaper cast doubt on prosecution case
A Scottish newspaper severely criticised at the trial of the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing has said it is standing by its claims.

The Sunday Herald reported that the prosecution case was in tatters amid concerns over evidence due to be provided by a man described as a key witness.

The newspaper alleged that the "disarray" had prompted the Crown to seek a 12-day adjournment in the case.

Scotland's Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, told the court there was no truth in the allegations and statements attributed to Crown Office sources had not been made.

But in a statement on Wednesday, the newspaper said: "The story was accurate and, we believe, in the public interest. We will print a full and robust response to the criticisms in our edition on Sunday."

Colin Boyd
Colin Boyd QC: Broadsheet attack
The presiding judge, Lord Sutherland, had warned that if the case had been a normal jury trial the newspaper report, on 14 May, would have been gross contempt.

Mr Boyd described the article, which reported allegations that the case was about to collapse after an analysis of the explosion from witness Edwin Bollier allegedly contradicted the Crown's version of events, as "largely inaccurate and misleading".

He said it was not for those reasons that he brought the article to the judges' attention, but because "it makes allegations about the Crown's conduct which impinge on our relationship with the court".

Mr Boyd said he would not comment on the report which he has received from the Crown witness, except during submissions to the court and was not prepared to comment on the assertions made in the article.

He said no member of his team nor anyone with any knowledge of the Crown case had spoken to the Sunday Herald.

Trial details
The two accused are Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, 48, and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, 44
They deny three charges - murder, conspiracy to murder and a breach of the 1982 Aviation Security Act
The trial is expected to last a year
About 1,000 witnesses are expected to be called
The case is being heard by three Scottish judges
He criticised the implication that the Crown had mislead the court and insisted the reasons for the adjournment were as stated - to give his team time to interview vital witnesses.

Mr Boyd said evidence referred to in the article would be "unacceptable" if the trial was by jury.

However, he was not making a submission that the newspaper was in contempt of court.

He went on to praise the "generally fair, accurate and balanced" reporting of the trial by news organisations covering the case, adding: "I hope they will remember that it is the evidence in court that matters."

Presiding judge, Lord Sutherland, said the court had accepted the reasons why the Crown had requested the adjournment and said he regretted the "lamentable article."

Lord Sutherland
Lord Sutherland: "Gross contempt"
He added: "If this had been a jury trial an article of this nature would have been a gross contempt of court."

The trial also heard from police witnesses who described how certain items of debris collected after the disaster, such as pieces of charred suitcase, were sent for analysis by forensic scientists at the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (Radre) at Fort Halstead, in Kent.

'Layman's terms'

Former Strathclyde detective Brian McManus told how items brought into a store at Lockerbie were sifted and anything thought to have "future evidential value" was sent to the Radre laboratories.

The two accused men, who deny causing the disaster, were alleged to have caused a suitcase containing an umbrella, clothing and an improvised explosive device concealed within a radio cassette recorder to be placed on board Flight 103.

It allegedly detonated on board the aircraft on 21 December,1988, killing all 259 passengers and crew and 11 Lockerbie residents.

The chief air accident investigator in the Lockerbie bombing described in court the cataclysmic effects on the Pan Am jumbo jet as it exploded from the sky.

Smashed into engine

Michael Charles, a principal inspector for Britain's Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB), gave evidence about the disintegration of the plane half an hour into its flight from London to New York.

Referring to the findings, diagrams and models in the AAIB's exhaustive report on the crash, the former RAF squadron leader and test pilot dissected the smashed body of the aircraft, indicating where fractures and other damage had occurred.

Mr Charles said the mid-air destruction was so enormous that at one point the severed cockpit smashed in mid-air into the plane's Number 3 engine.

Metal 'petals'

It was concluded that the origin of the explosion was in the plane's forward cargo hold.

A blast had blown a 20 by 20 inch (50 cm) hole in the fuselage and there were characteristic "starburst fractures" and "petalling" of the plane's metal skin from a subsequent explosion of hot gasses.

Mr Charles acknowledged that effects change the further away from the fuselage an explosion occurs. This may be crucial to the case, as prosecutors allege the bomb was concealed in a suitcase, stored some distance away.

The trial continues.

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See also:

22 May 00 | Scotland
Lockerbie 'MI6' man dropped
20 May 00 | World
Lockerbie cash bid rejected
11 May 00 | World
Lockerbie trial adjourned
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