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Friday, 19 January, 2001, 17:42 GMT
A truly exceptional trial
Alistair Bonnington, senior BBC Scotland lawyer and member of Glasgow University's Lockerbie trial briefing unit, looks back at the 84 days of proceedings.

It was clear from the outset that despite public pronouncements of this being a normal criminal trial under Scots law, the Lockerbie case was treated as highly peculiar by both Crown and defence.

For example, the second-named accused was represented by an advocate who specialises in civil litigation and had seldom seen the inside of a criminal courtroom.

He was instructed by a Scottish firm which has virtually no experience of criminal law.

Some commentators pointed to certain witnesses being absolutely crucial and stated that the whole case stood or fell on the basis of their evidence

Alistair Bonnington
All this is indicative of a more analytical approach than is usual in criminal cases.

Without a jury, there seemed to be no need for dramatic gestures or histrionics although the defence advocates in their cross-examination occasionally lapsed into the theatrical - an occupational hazard perhaps?

Despite dire predictions from some commentators that the Crown's case was hopeless and that the prosecution would collapse within three weeks, the prosecution quietly set about its task of presenting its evidence to the court.

Its case was always going to be circumstantial, posing the challenge of building up a picture of the accuseds' involvement in the crime from numerous elements of evidence .

Alistair Bonnington
Alistair Bonnington: Highly peculiar proceedings
Such a case does not normally stand or fall on the basis of the evidence of any one particular witness.

But it is right to recognise that there were some particularly significant witnesses.

For example. Edwin Bollier, the managing director of the Mebo firm in Switzerland, manufacturers of the timing device which detonated the Lockerbie bomb, was in this category and also was obviously, to say the least, far from truthful.

However, the cross-examination of Mr Bollier by Alan Turnbull QC for the Crown was masterful.

Although a jury might object to Mr Bollier as a wholly unreliable witness, it is more likely that the judges, who are the fact-finders in the Lockerbie case, will take certain elements out of his evidence and treat them as accurate.

Restricted area

The witness Giaka, who gave evidence of Megrahi and Fhimah's actings at Luqa Airport in Malta just a few hours before Pan Am flight 103 took off, was important.

He was firm in the part of his testimony which places the two accused together in a restricted area of the airport in possession of a brown Samsonite suitcase - the kind found by forensic experts to have contained the bomb which caused the explosion.

Giaka also claims to have seen explosives in Fhimah's desk drawer in his airport office.

Abu Talb, the Palestinian terrorist presently serving a sentence in a Swedish jail, was seen as someone who could make or break the Crown case.

Talb had some explaining to do in that prior to the time of the Lockerbie bombing he had been doing some rather peculiar travelling in the Mediterranean area.

Edwin Bollier
Edwin Bollier: "Far from truthful"
However, all of this travel was undertaken openly using his own passport - an unlikely method to use if he was involved in terrorism at the time.

He was unshakeable in saying that he was not involved in the bombing.

The defence failed to obtain any concessions from him which might bolster its special defence which stated that the crime was committed by a Palestinian terrorist group

The Maltese shopkeepers from "Mary's House", despite predictions that they would fail to identify the accused Megrahi in court, did just that.

The evidence that Megrahi purchased children's clothes without caring about their size or colour and the discovery of these same clothes in Lockerbie in close proximity to the timing device is significant evidence.

For lawyers one of the most fascinating points of the trial was the no case to answer submission made by the counsel for Fhimah

Alistair Bonnington
But in many ways perhaps one of the most crucial pieces of evidence came from a police officer in Dumfries who had the sad task, along with many others, of going through the wreckage of the plane.

Despite strong attempts by the defence to show that it would have been perfectly possible for the FBI or CIA to plant evidence at the crash site, this witness insisted that he found the timing device in the wreckage of plane.

For lawyers one of the most fascinating points of the trial was the no case to answer submission made by the counsel for Fhimah.

It was interesting to note that Megrahi's lawyers did not try such a submission. They accepted that there was sufficient evidence against their client to convict him of at least some part of the indictment.

Accused - artists' impression
Speculation arose about whether the accused would be called
A no case to answer submission deals solely with the quantity of the Crown evidence. The quality is irrelevant at this stage. Mr Keen's submission on behalf of his client seemed to fail to recognise this point adequately. It was quickly rejected by the court.

Following on that decision the next point of fascination for the watching legal world was would the defence call their clients?

Counsel for Megrahi indicated he intended to do so and in fact obtained leave of the court to lead some witnesses prior to calling the accused - a rare but competent order of leading defence evidence.

At this stage of the trial the Crown volunteered to the court and the defence that they had obtained information about a document which might be of significance to the defence but which was in the possession of a foreign government - this turned out to be Syria.

Closing address

The abortive attempts to find this so-called evidence ended dramatically when counsel for Megrahi accepted that the document was not going to be brought to the court and immediately advised the judges that he would not now be calling his client to give evidence.

After one more witness he closed his case.

The second accused Fhimah did not give evidence or call any witnesses, so the evidential part of the whole case quickly came to a close, with only submissions remaining.

Technically these submissions were really the address to the judges sitting as the jury.

A jury never interrupts counsel or asks questions of them during the closing address. However, the judges did just that.

Although surprising on one view, this probably was the fairest method of proceeding as it gave the pleaders the chance to answer any points which the judges were concerned about before the judges retired to consider their verdict.

Lockerbie megapuff graphic


Appeal concludes

Key stories


The trial
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