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The long road ahead - Christopher John Linskill

The garden of remembrance for the Lockerbie air disaster on 21st December 1988, Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, UK. Photo: Shutterstock

The garden of remembrance for the Lockerbie air disaster on 21st December 1988, Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, UK. Photo: Shutterstock

The tragic death by assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia will require detailed and widespread enquiry to find the perpetrators, as commentators in this newspaper have already pointed out.

I would like to stress the importance of minute forensic examination, cooperation with the best technical support for significant findings, and close liaison with the police and security forces of any country to which a connectionis demonstrated. Any witness or informant of this case must also be very carefully investigated.

All this clearly requires constant stamina, resources, and patience in sustaining the hunt.

I would like to give an authentic example of how critical the thoroughness, scale of the enquiry, and international help, all are in obtaining success.

On December 21, 1988, Pan Am flight 103 was destroyed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing everybody on board and 11 people on the ground. One of the largest and most detailed forensic investigations in the world began.

The Scottish police force is not large, nor is that of Malta (which has the third smallest security and public order budget in the EU), and they quickly needed help from the FBI and English security forces.

Any witness or informant of this case must also be very carefully investigated

After a tremendous search the location of the bomb in the aircraft’s luggage compartment was firmly established. Chemical analysis identified the remains of the suitcase, clothes that were in it, and pieces of metal and mechanism.

Tests showed that the bomb (about 16 ounces of Semtex explosive and a MST-13 timer) had been hidden in a RT-SF 16 Bombeat Toshiba radio cassette player, enabling it to pass security and customs inspections (at this time).

A tiny piece of metal with a serial number on it traced the timer to its provider in Switzerland. The buyer had signed the receipt.

The radio had been wrapped in a series of clothing garments in the suitcase. Pieces of some of these still had legible labels and were traced to a Maltese brand. Scottish police came to Malta, talked with security personnel here and found the manufacturer and a retailer in Sliema, where the clothes were sold.

On questioning the shopkeeper, he remembered the sale to one customer of a number of garments, portions of all of which had been found in the wreckage. An umbrella had also been sold and pieces of an identical type were also found.

The date of the purchase was known, and the shopkeeper could recognise the purchaser, whom he had seen locally a number of times.

This accumulation of evidence, and the presence of the accused in Malta at the time (with a false passport from Libya) led to his arrest, trial and conviction at an internationally organised court in the Netherlands, but not until January 31, 2001.

It was established that the suitcase bomb had travelled from Malta to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to London, and so onto the Pan Am flight to New York as “unaccompanied luggage”.

All this shows the tremendous difficulties (plus diplomatic ones) which exist in finding a criminal in an international situation. We must also note that none of any supposed accomplices have yet been found.

But if such difficulties were overcome on that occasion, I think we may hope that the murderers of Daphne will be implacably hunted down. Neither time nor place hiding them from human justice.

Christopher John Linskill is a retired ecological science technician and an English teacher.

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