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Lockerbie witness 'changed story'

Five Scottish judges are hearing the appeal in the Netherlands
Five Scottish judges are hearing the appeal in the Netherlands  

CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands -- A key witness in the Lockerbie bombing trial repeatedly contradicted himself in vital evidence which helped convict a Libyan man of the atrocity, the appeal hearing was told.

Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci said Abdel Baset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi bought clothes, including a baby's romper suit, at his store two weeks before Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in December 1988.

Fragments of the clothes were found after the blast which killed 259 mostly American passengers and crew on London-New York Pan Am 103 and 11 people on the ground. Al-Megrahi, 49, is now serving life for the bombing.

William Taylor QC, representing Al-Megrahi, said Gauci's testimony to the original trial was "fraught with confusion."

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He said: "The court has failed to take into account the fact that Gauci's evidence-in-chief was that he could not remember the date of the sale."

Taylor said the three judges in the trial at the Scottish Court in the Netherlands were wrong to use Gauci's evidence about Christmas decorations to work out when Al-Megrahi visited his shop.

The trial judgment said Gauci's evidence that the sale happened at about the time Christmas decorations were being put up on the island pointed to December 7 as being the date.

That, combined with evidence that Al-Megrahi was staying in Malta at the time and Gauci identifying the Libyan as his customer, led the court to decide that the clothes which were later packed around the bomb were bought by Al-Megrahi that day.

But Taylor said Gauci gave two different versions of the story in court, a fact which he claimed was wrongly ignored in the judgment.

Al-Megrahi (right) pictured with co-defendant Fhimah, who was acquitted
Al-Megrahi (right) pictured with co-defendant Fhimah, who was acquitted  

He said Gauci at first said the Christmas decorations had been put up, then "changed" his evidence to say that they were in the process of being put up.

Gauci had given a third version to police when they interviewed him in September 1989, when he said the decorations were not up, Taylor added.

Gauci also told the Camp Zeist trial that he was "not interested" in when Christmas decorations went up as he never put them up in his own shop.

Al-Megrahi's lawyer told the court: "One small error in a long trial might not have the effect of causing your Lordships to believe there has been a miscarriage of justice.

"But the concatenation of a series of errors -- each of which individually might be explicable -- might be such as to persuade your Lordships a miscarriage of justice has occurred," he said. Concatenation means a linked sequence.

The appeal focuses on two areas key to the conviction: shopkeeper Gauci's evidence and where the bomb bag was originally loaded.

Lawyers say the three judges who heard the trial erred in accepting Gauci's identification of Al-Megrahi as buyer of the clothes, and in establishing the date of that purchase as December 7, 1988 when Al-Megrahi was in Malta.

They also say vital new evidence has emerged since the trial which undermines the original judges' acceptance that the bomb bag was loaded in Malta, from where it was flown via Frankfurt to London's Heathrow airport to be placed on Pan Am 103.

Lawyers want to call former Heathrow security workers to testify that a padlock was forced on a secure door near a Heathrow baggage area hours before the jumbo jet was blown up.

The Lockerbie bombing killed 270 people  

Taylor argues that the trial judges, who sat without a jury, "misdirected themselves" -- drew mistaken inferences -- to reach their guilty verdict. "In my submissions I identify a series of errors large and small," he said on Friday.

Five High Court judges, headed by Scotland's top judge Lord Cullen, are hearing the appeal. Like the trial, the hearings are at a disused U.S. airbase in the central Netherlands selected to allay Libyan objections to a trial in Britain.

Al-Megrahi's co-accused at the trial, Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima, was acquitted and returned home to Libya.

Some victims' relatives from the U.S. and Britain are attending the opening days of the appeal, which is expected to last around five weeks.

After the hearings end, a judgment is expected in around a further week.

If the conviction is upheld, Al-Megrahi will be transferred to Glasgow's tough Barlinnie jail. The trial judges recommended he serve at least 20 years of his mandatory life sentence.


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