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Lockerbie Investigators to travel to Malta to seek new evidence

 - Sunday, 22 February 2009, 00:00 , by DAVID LINDSAY

A delegation from the Scottish Crown is due to travel to Malta in the very near future to “actively seek the consent for disclosure” of sensitive documents that could determine a the outcome of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi’s appeal, the High Court in Edinburgh was told on Friday.

The delegation will be looking for previously undisclosed documents related to statements given by a friend of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, David Wright, who in 1989 raised concerns over Gauci’s identification of al-Megrahi.

The news comes amid arguments presented by al-Megrahi’s defence team, which contended evidence given by the potential witness in the Lockerbie bombing investigation could have undermined the prosecution’s case, but had never been presented in court or given to the defence team.

The terminally ill Al-Megrahi, who is serving a life sentence with a minimum 27-year stint, was convicted largely on the basis of evidence supplied by Gauci.

Gauci claimed that on 7 December 1988 he had sold the former Libyan intelligence officer the clothes later found inside the suitcase holding the bomb that brought down Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing all 270 people aboard.

Al-Megrahi’s defence team argued on Friday that evidence given by a friend of Gauci, a certain David Wright could very well have scuttled the prosecution’s case but the evidence had never been presented in court or handed over to the defence team.

Wright was said to have approached the Maltese police in September 1989 and the officers in England in December with a statement contradicting Gauci’s evidence.

Defence counsel Maggie Scot argued that Wright had given a “remarkably” similar description to that used by Gauci to implicate al-Megrahi in the bombing of another unrelated sale made by Gauci at his family’s shop, Mary’s House in Sliema.

But, Ms Scott argued that the details of Wright’s statement, which could contradict and possibly negate Gauci’s evidence, had never been presented in court and that the defence team had never even seen it.

Speaking in court on Friday, Ms Scott said, “Mr Wright gave statements to police in England saying he was a friend of Mr Gauci and that he had witnessed a transaction at Mr Gauci’s shop which bears a remarkable resemblance to the sale to the two men Mr Gauci described.”

Al-Megrahi’s defence is demanding that the previously undisclosed evidence it believes will help free their client be made available in time for the commencement of the appeal hearing, due to begin on 27 April.

Such evidence includes any documents related to Wright, as well as any documents showing Mr Gauci had been interested in a financial reward for his evidence.

Al-Megrahi’s lawyers are also asking for video footage of the identification parade in which Gauci had singled out al-Megrahi, as well as the details of those who had been selected to participate in the parade.

In addition to Malta, the Crown will also be approaching other foreign sources, but stressed some of the material being requested could have security implications in the respective countries should it be made public.

The call for documents related to Gauci’s interest in a financial reward for positively identifying al-Megrahi comes amid claims that Tony Gauci and his brother Paul were paid millions of dollars each by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation as a reward for their help in convicting al-Megrahi, claims the FBI vehemently denies.

The Crown, however, argued the request for the undisclosed evidence was “unnecessary”, adding that searches for documents related to the case had been undertaken voluntarily by police and that over 8,000 documents had already been handed over.

Referring to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission finding in June 2007, which referred the appeal back to court after it found six grounds that may have constituted a miscarriage of justice, it argued the findings of the SCCRC’s three-year investigation had been sufficient.

The Crown’s representation, Ronnie Clancy, said some 500 man hours and five men were involved in the searches for documents related to Gauci’s evidence, which included extensive searches of the police’s Holmes database, which, he said, “threw up several hundred hits”, dozens of which had been voluntarily handed over to the defence team.

Clancy argued the documentation related to Wright had already been handed over and that there was “simply nothing else to offer”. He added the wide scope of the information being sought was restrictive and that the request indicated the call for disclosure amounted to a “grand fishing expedition”.

Quincy, however, countered, “What has taken place in terms of this voluntary exercise is not a proper search at all”, and suggested elements of the broad scope of the search could be narrowed down.

The courts are due to give their verdict on the request at a later date.

Al Megrahi was found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing in 2001 and although he lost a previous appeal against his conviction in 2002, the SCCRC in June 2007 referred the appeal back to court after it found six grounds that may have constituted a miscarriage of justice. Grounds mainly related to Gauci’s evidence.

In approving a new appeal, the Commission had found “there is no reasonable basis in the trial court’s judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items from Mary’s House took place on 7 December 1988” as Gauci had claimed.

Although it had been proven that al-Megrahi had been in Malta on several occasions in the month in question, it had determined that 7 December 1988 was the only date on which he would have had the opportunity to make the purchases from Mary’s House.

New evidence given to the Commission concerned the date on which Christmas lights had been turned on in Tower Road, Sliema near Mary’s House. Taken together with Gauci’s evidence at the trial and the contents of his police statements, the date indicates that the purchase of the incriminating items had taken place before 6 December 1988 – when no evidence had been presented at trial to the effect that the al-Megrahi was in Malta before the date.

Yet more new evidence given to the Commission indicated Gauci, four days before the identification parade at which he picked out al-Megrahi, had seen a photograph of al-Megrahi in a magazine article linking him to the bombing.

The Commission found that Mr Gauci’s exposure to the photograph, so close to the date of the identity parade, “undermines the reliability of his identification of the applicant at that time and at the trial itself”.

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