Lockerbie — The Eyewitness Evidence Against Megrahi : Exclusive Q&A with Professor Tim Valentine

“Al-Megrahi was released from prison in 2009 and sent back to Libya on compassionate grounds because of advancing cancer. Public outrage was sparked. Al-Megrahi lived with his cancer for a few years (…) One cannot help but wonder whether the outrage over his release might be tempered if those angry individuals were to seriously examine the suspicious eyewitness testimony that led to Al-Megrahi’s conviction in the first place. My examination has led me to seriously wonder: Is the Lockerbie bomber still out here?”

Professor Elizabeth F. Loftus — Memory (2013)

“There is no reasonable basis in the trial court’s judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items [clothes that were found in the wreckage of the plane] from Mary’s House [in Malta] took place on 7 December 1988.”

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission

Tim Valentine is Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Previously he was a member of the scientific staff at the Medical Research Council Applied Psychology Unit, Cambridge, and has held academic appointments at the University of Manchester and the University of Durham.

Professor Valentine has studied the statements made by Tony Gauci, the only eyewitness of the Lockerbie case who ‘identified’ Megrahi. His report is available online. Professor  Valentine has kindly agreed to answer a few questions regarding his  understanding of Tony Gauci’s testimony and statements. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

RELATED POST: Lockerbie — The Eyewitness Evidence Against Megrahi by Pr Elizabeth Loftus

RELATED POST: Lockerbie Case Review — Key Witness Tony Gauci Was Unreliable

RELATED POST: On This Day — Megrahi, Convicted in 1988 Lockerbie Bombing, Dies in Tripoli (May 20 2012)

RELATED POST: PT/35(b) — How was the Lockerbie Key Evidence Forged? [UPDATE & Comments]

Professor Valentine has authored more than 70 articles on cognitive models of face processing and eyewitness identification, and has provided advice on eyewitness identification and facial identification from CCTV to government, the courts and the Criminal Cases Review Commission in both England and Scotland.

He is a member of the editorial board of Applied Cognitive Psychology and is author (with T. Brennen and S. Brédart) of The Cognitive Psychology of Proper Names (1996) and editor of Cognitive and Computational Aspects of Face Recognition (1995). He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society.

Given that Tony Gauci’s recovered memories — obtained in more than a dozen interviews spread over almost two years — may be genuine, false, or a combination of the two, it is legitimate to question how much of what he remembered is real and how much is illusion.

Intel Today — On Sept. 13, 1989, during a photofit session, Gauci stated that the buyer was about 50 years old. Born on April 1, 1952, Megrahi was 36 in late 1988. The next day, Gauci again told Detective Chief Inspector Bell that Megrahi was too young to be the man who bought the clothing.

“If the man in the photograph was older by about 20 years, he would look like the man who bought the clothing,” Gauci told DCI Bell.

In his first interview held on Sept. 1, 1989, Gauci told DCI Bell that the mysterious buyer was 6 feet tall or more. Megrahi is 5 feet 8, a significant discrepancy considering that it comes from a man who sells clothes for a living.

Tony Gauci — born on April 6 1944 — was 44 in late 1988. How likely is it that he confused a man much younger than himself for one much older?

Tim Valentine —  It is difficult to describe a person. Witness descriptions often contain errors. Estimates of age can be inaccurate, but we tend to be most accurate when judging the age of people of a similar age to ourselves.

A witness is likely to be most accurate in judging whether somebody is ‘younger than me’ or ‘older than me’. In this case the witness described the man as older than himself but the suspect is younger than the witness.

Therefore this is a significant error. However, as descriptions often contain errors and this description was given after a long delay, it might be expected to contain some inaccuracies.

Intel Today — The trial court’s judgment concluded that the purchase of the items [clothes that were found in the wreckage of the plane] from Mary’s House [in Malta] took place on 7 December 1988. The date was crucial as Megrahi is known to have been on the island that day.

Regarding the day of the purchase, Tony Gauci remembered that his brother Paul had gone home earlier to watch an evening football game (Rome vs. Dresden), that the man came just before closing time, around 7 p.m., and that there was some very light raining. (The man returned to the shop to buy an umbrella.) The game allows for only two dates: Nov. 23 or Dec. 7, 1988.

The game Rome-Dresden on Dec. 7 was played at 1 p.m., not in the evening. As a result, Paul Gauci thought that the purchases had occurred on Nov. 23, 1988. [There is no evidence Megrahi was in Malta on that day.]

Tony Gauci claimed the Christmas lights were not lit in the Maltese city of Sliema when Megrahi allegedly bought clothes from his shop.

Michael Refalo, a former tourism minister in Malta and a former high commissioner in London, said he had lit them on December 6 1988 and an entry in his diary confirms that he did so at 5:30 pm.

However, at the trial, Tony Gauci stated the Christmas lights were lit when Megrahi allegedly bought clothes from his shop.

Tim Valentine  — The first statement is likely to be more accurate than subsequent accounts because at this point the witness had encountered the least information acquired after the event that might influence or distort his memory.

Tony Gauci did not spontaneously mention the Christmas lights in his first statement. It is possible that his statement in court was influenced by the officers suggestion during subsequent questioning that the lights may have been lit. Based on Tony Gauci’s response when first questioned about the Christmas lights, his account would support the 23rd November. In dating the memory I think the weather records are far more important.

As I recall the court heard that there was a 90% chance that it rained in Silema on November 23rd and a 10% chance that it rained on December 7th. (Do check the court record – I am only too aware of the frailty of human memory – including my own! INTEL TODAY : Pr Valentine is correct. See appendix below the Q&As)

We do know it was a rainy day when the man bought the clothes because Tony Gauci described how he took the umbrella as it had come on to rain while he was in the shop.

Intel Today — The issue  of the SLALOM shirts is of paramount importance as forensic experts claimed to have discovered in the collar of one of these shirts the fragment of an electronic timer which provided the key link between the bombing and Libya.

Statements by Gauci about the shirts — During his first interview with DCI Bell, Tony Gauci made a list of the items he had sold to the mysterious buyer. The list matched exactly the items that forensic experts at RARDE believed to have been in direct contact with the bomb, except for a black umbrella that they eventually “identify”. On that day – Sept. 1, 1989 — Gauci made no mention of the Slalom shirts.

On Jan. 30, 1990, Gauci was shown a SLALOM shirt and was asked if he had sold one to the mysterious buyer. “That man did not buy any shirt, I am sure,” Gauci stated to the investigators.

Then, on Sept. 10, 1990, Gauci suddenly recalled selling two Slalom shirts. It is not just odd, but contradicts a statement Gauci made on his first interview and repeated at the trial.

During his first interview, Gauci told DCI Bell that he remembered that the bill amounted to 76.5 Maltese pounds (LM). Gauci even clearly remembered that the man paid him with eight 10 LM bills, and that he returned 4 LM as he was not able to give a half pound in change.

Quite logically, DCI Bell then asked him to check the price of all the items he had just mentioned. And, lo and behold, the sum added to 76.5 LM… without any Slalom shirt. Had Gauci sold two shirts to the mysterious buyer, the bill would have been 84.5 LM.

What do you make of these statements? Notice how rich and detailed the  first statement is! No shirts. And only much later does Gauci remember the shirts. (After being shown some by the investigators…)

Tim Valentine  — Tony Gauci didn’t mention shirts in his first statement, and is adamant that he did not sell any shirts when first specifically questioned about shirts.

However, at that time he did sell Slalom shirts to the police. Some months later he recalled selling shirts to the man. This pattern in the statements is consistent with post-event information becoming incorporated into the memory (a process known as memory distortion).

For this reason I regard the first statement made prior to questioning about the shirts to be more likely to reflect Tony Gauci’s original memory for the event because there is no possibility for it to be influenced by the subsequent questioning.

Appendix — Meteo Malta: No Evidence Against Megrahi

Q: Do you remember what the weather was like when the man came to the shop?

A: When he came by… It wasn’t raining. But then it started dripping, not very much. It was not raining heavily. It was simply — it was simply dripping, but as a matter of fact, he did take an umbrella…

Q: Did he?

A: He bought an umbrella.

The Lockerbie Trial Transcripts — Page 4741

In March 2009, Mark Vella, the managing director of METEO MALTA, told me that their records “unambiguously indicate” that it did not rain in Sliema on December 7, 1988. Vella added that it was dripping during the evening of November 23, 1988.

 “I can confirm there was light rainfall from 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. on Nov. 23, 1988 as can be seen from our official weather log book of Balzan, Vella told me.

“There was definitely no rain on Dec. 7 and although I cannot be 100 percent sure it most likely did not rain in Sliema either on that day as they are only a few kilometers apart. I have proof of this from the weather log book and also satellite images.”

I asked Pr. Kochler — UN observer at the Lockerbie trial — and Pr. Black — aka the ‘architect of the Lockerbie trial’ — to comment of this most disturbing news. [NB. The evidence, presented at the Zeist trial, regarding the weather conditions in Malta was based on data recorded at Luqa Airport.]

 “From the date of Megrahi’s conviction, I have maintained that one of the principal reasons for regarding the verdict as contrary to the evidence was the court’s finding that the date of purchase was 7 December. The meteorological evidence led at the trial clearly established that of the two possible dates, 23 November was the only one that fitted that evidence. The court’s finding that the date of purchase was 7 December is explicable only on the basis that the case against Megrahi would otherwise have collapsed, i.e. that the court had, for other reasons, determined that he was guilty and then, in the face of strong contrary evidence, selected the date that supported that pre-formed conclusion,” Pr. Black told me.

Pr. Kochler told the author that he never believed in the “Malta theory” and has questioned the judges’ reasoning from the very beginning.

“My position is evident from what I wrote in Art. 15 of my observer report of 26 March 2002 (!), which was submitted to the United Nations: One of the basic weaknesses of the decision of the Appeal Court consisted in its very refusal to properly evaluate, i.e. reevaluate, the plausibility of the inferences drawn from Mr. Gauci’s testimony and from the information about weather conditions in Malta at the time in question.

In the course of the renewed presentation of the respective evidence during the appeal proceedings it became entirely clear to any rational observer that the report on weather conditions in Malta had been interpreted arbitrarily by the trial judges and that the weather conditions described by Mr. Gauci were much more compatible with the weather report of the meteorological service for 23 November 1988 than with that for 7 December.

To the undersigned it is obvious that the evidence was “weighted” in a deliberate manner so as to be compatible with the date of the appellant’s stay in Malta. The judges as well as the appeal judges arbitrarily excluded consideration of the fact that 7 December was a day before a high Roman-Catholic holiday (which has particular importance in a Catholic country such as Malta) and that the witness would have remembered the fact that a Libyan had bought clothes on the evening before such a holiday (on which the shop was closed).

Put in the context of the evidence available and the circumstances in Malta at the respective period of time, the probability of 23 November 1988 as the date of the purchase of the clothes is much higher than that of 7 December 1988, when the appellant was in Malta.”

Tony Gauci on al-Megrahi

A video program highlighting inconsistencies regarding key evidence against the convicted “Lockerbie bomber.”

Shopkeeper Tony Gauci describes a man unlike Megrahi in almost every physical way, and describes a day of purchase when it could not have been Megrahi.

The mystery of the judges’ acceptance of Gauci’s evidence as relevant to Megrahi is a mystery the video cannot and does not resolve.

REFERENCES

Report by Professor Timothy Valentine

Eyewitness testimony in the Lockerbie bombing case by Elizabeth F. Loftus

Memory, 2013 — Vol. 21 No. 5, 584-590

Maltese man who determined Lockerbie bombing trial diesTimes of Malta

Lockerbie: J’accuse

Key Lockerbie witness Tony Gauci dies in Malta— BBCNEWS

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Lockerbie — The Eyewitness Evidence Against Megrahi : Exclusive Q&A with Pr Tim Valentine

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