The stern voice of Tony Gauci’s brother, Paul, rang loud and clear: “We are not giving any comments to the press!”
The obstinate “no comment” was typical of the Lockerbie star witness, whose testimony has now been called into question after Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, 55, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of 270 people in the Lockerbie bombing, was granted a second appeal after a fresh investigation uncovered evidence suggesting he may have been unjustly convicted.
Yesterday Gauci would not comment on how his testimony, which was central to Megrahi’s conviction, had been quashed and discredited through new evidence.
Gauci’s home is now equipped with two CCTV cameras and a video-enabled intercom: telltale signs of the witness’s security-consciousness after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) cast serious doubt on the Lockerbie trial three years ago.
Megrahi was convicted, squarely on Gauci’s testimony, of the Pan Am bombing of December 21 1988 which blew up above Lockerbie, Scotland.
The SCCRC says it uncovered six grounds for believing a “miscarriage of justice may have occurred”.
New evidence appears to severely undermine the central prosecution allegation against Megrahi: that he bought 13 items of clothing from Tony Gauci’s shop in Sliema on December 7, which he had used to shield the Pan Am bomb. The SCCRC said the Camp Zeist judges had “no reasonable basis” to conclude the clothes were bought that day – the only occasion when the suspect was able to do so.
The SCCRC also uncovered evidence – relating to the day on which Christmas lights near the shop in Sliema were switched on – which indicated the clothes were bought days before: a claim repeatedly made by lawyers who believe Megrahi is innocent.
It said Gauci saw Megrahi’s photograph in an article linking him to the bombing days before identifying him in an ID parade, and that it had other material which “may further undermine Gauci’s identification of the applicant”. On the day before the Lockerbie bombing, Megrahi flew into Luqa airport – where he had previously worked undercover for the JSO, the Libyan intelligence agency – on a false passport under the name of Abdusamad.
The next day, he flew back to Tripoli. But the alleged Maltese connection stretches back further than that.
When investigators scoured the countryside in the days following the biggest single act of mass murder in British history, they collected more than 11,000 pieces of fabric from a trail scattered across northern England and southern Scotland.
Among this mass of material they discovered a few items stained with the residue of a Semtex explosion.
One item bore the label Malta Trading Company. When German investigators traced the manufacturer of the clothing, they discovered that one outlet was Tony Gauci’s tiny Mary’s House store in Sliema.
Remarkably, Gauci remembered selling the clothing to an Arab man a few weeks before Christmas 1988 because the man seemed to select the clothing erratically, with little thought to style or size.
Investigators narrowed the date down to November 23 or December 7. On the December date, Megrahi was in Malta. Gauci would later identify him in court as the man “who resembles a lot” the purchaser of the clothing.
Defence lawyers had tried to argue that Gauci’s identification was inconclusive. His testimony, they said, was also weakened by the fact that he had initially told investigators that the purchaser was older and taller than Megrahi. Gauci had also identified two other men – one of whom, Abu Talb, is currently serving a life sentence for terrorist attacks – as the purchaser.
When these facts were taken together, the defence claimed, Gauci could not be relied upon. The appeals court, like the original judges, disagreed: all evidence pointed to the date of purchase being December 7 when Megrahi was in Malta. More damagingly, Gauci had positively identified Megrahi on more than one occasion.
An investigation was also demanded following a claim that Gauci had enjoyed police hospitality in Scotland. It is alleged that Gauci was brought to Scotland five or six times, taken salmon fishing and hill walking, and put up in an expensive hotel.
If Megrahi is absolved, investigators will be focusing on the first suspects named in connection with the bombing – a Syrian-based terror group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, believed to have planted the bomb on behalf of Iran.
Megrahi’s lawyers are studying theories about who might have been responsible.
Egyptian Abu Talb was in the terrorist PFLP-General Command, and was originally named by Gauci. Talb’s cell in Germany built bombs closely matching the device which could have blown up Flight 103. A US former intelligence officer claims to have proof that the Iranians funded that cell. Talb got immunity from prosecution over Lockerbie for giving evidence at Megrahi’s trial.
Megrahi’s lawyers have also investigated Khalid Jafaar, a Lebanese passenger on Flight 103 linked to the Islamist group Hizbollah. Said by some investigators to be a drugs mule who unwittingly took the bomb from Frankfurt, according to Megrahi’s lawyers he was associated with Talb’s German terror cell.
Megrahi’s lawyers even have new evidence from a detective about unaccompanied bags being loaded on to Flight 103 at Heathrow.