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Reporter's Notebook:

Justice unlikely to be swift in Lockerbie trial


In this story:

A tragedy told in legalese

The case against the defendants

The defense rebuttal

Revelations may come in public inquiry



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CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands (CNN) -- "There is a great deal of material," said Lord Justice Sutherland, with judicious understatement.

So, he announced Thursday, the verdict the two Libyan defendants have been awaiting behind bars for nearly two years, and that families of the 270 victims have awaited for a dozen, won't come until the end of January at the earliest.

There are 10,000 pages to review, the record of 84 days of evidence and argument -- the distillation of Britain's biggest-ever investigation into Scotland's worst-ever murder, a three-year probe that interviewed 15,000 people and collected 180,000 exhibits.

A tragedy told in legalese

Considering the enormity of the crime in which Pan American Flight 103 exploded in the air near Lockerbie in southern Scotland, the scope of the work and length of time to gather evidence since that day in December, 1988 -- there is not much substantive to show.

The crown case is a gossamer web of circumstantial evidence, which defense lawyer Richard Keen says hangs on "inference upon inference, leading to another inference."

Unless it convinces the panel of three senior Scottish judges beyond reasonable doubt that the two defendants are guilty, either Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi or Al Amin Khalifa Fhima -- or both -- will fly home to Libya, forever beyond the reach of British, U.S. or any other courts.

It was largely a dry, technical proceeding, full of reference numbers and legal jargon like "convergence of admiticles," ponderous as a hippo trying to pick up a pea. The horror of the night of December 21, 1988, seemed far away from the bullet-proof glass tank where the trial took place.

The case against the defendants

Pan Am wreck
The wreck of the doomed Pan Am flight  

The prosecution contends Al-Megrahi, allegedly a Libyan security agent, carried the bomb to Malta, concealed in a Toshiba "Bombeat" radio-cassette recorder, inside a brown Samsonite suitcase. And that Fhima, ex-station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta, used his connections to get it aboard an Air Malta flight, tagged for New York via Frankfurt and London.

The alleged purpose: "to destroy a civil passenger aircraft and murder the occupants in furtherance of the purposes of the said Libyan Intelligence Services."

The logic: The bomb began its journey in Malta, and the accused not only could have introduced it -- they were allegedly the only ones who could have.

The defense rebuttal

The defense spent five days picking at that argument, and declaring the crown had not even established that the bomb indeed started off in Malta.

The case, said the defenders, is a catalog of lying witnesses, doctored evidence, sloppy record-keeping and missed opportunities to tie up loose ends.

Defender William Taylor asserted there are other, equally plausible, scenarios. He questioned whether a terrorist considering such an act would try to take a bomb from Malta, hoping it would pass unaccompanied, undetected and on time through both Frankfurt and London Heathrow airports, and make its connection with Pan American Flight 103.

The most likely place, he said, was Heathrow, where security was lax and nearly 800 passes were missing or unaccounted for.

Revelations may come in public inquiry

Despite the charge putting Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy's regime clearly in the frame, the crown dropped its conspiracy accusation at the end. And the defense, apparently putting its faith in what it perceives as prosecution weaknesses, declined to call either accused to the witness stand.

Hence whatever the verdict, not much light will have been shed on the whole who-how-and-why story of Lockerbie.

More may come from the public inquiry that relatives are expected to demand and the British government is thought likely to hold.

Lockerbie judges consider verdict
January 18, 2001
Lockerbie bomb route questioned
Lockerbie defence focuses on security
January 12, 2001
Lockerbie lawyers seek murder verdicts
January 9, 2001

Scottish Courts
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Lockerbie trial brief

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