Bill Taylor

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Person.png Bill Taylor  Rdf-icon.png
(Lawyer)
Bill Taylor.jpg
Interests Criminal Law
Counsel for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, Lockerbie bombing convict

William 'Bill' Taylor QC has been a Scottish advocate since 1971 and a Queen's Counsel since 1986. Bill Taylor has also been a barrister in England and Wales since 1990 and a QC there since 1998, the first Queen's Counsel to have held the position in England, Wales and Scotland.

Bill Taylor has specialised in criminal defence work since the 1980s, and defended Abdelbaset al-Megrahi at the Lockerbie bombing trial held in 2000 at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. Taylor also represented Megrahi at his failed appeal against conviction (January to March 2002).[1]

Personal Life

Bill Taylor was born in Aberdeenshire, and attended Gordonstoun public school after winning a scholarship based on academic achievement. Taylor gained his first degree from the University of Aberdeen, graduating with an M.A. (Hons) in Philosophy, and completed his studies with an LL.B in Criminal Law.

In December 2006, Bill Taylor tied the knot with his long-term partner William Roe in a civil partnership ceremony. Taylor, who divorced his wife of nine years in 1980, is chairman of Scottish Opera while his partner chairs Highlands and Islands Enterprise.[2]

Lockerbie trial and appeal

Bill Taylor QC acted as Senior Counsel for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi during the Lockerbie bombing trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands from May 2000 to January 2001, and at Megrahi's appeal against conviction the following year. Taylor, leading the defence, said at the appeal's opening on 23 January 2002 that the three trial Judges sitting without a jury had failed to see the relevance of "significant" evidence and had accepted unreliable facts. He argued that the verdict was not one that a reasonable jury in an ordinary trial could have reached if it were given proper directions by the Judge. The grounds of the appeal rested on two areas of evidence where the defence claimed the original court was mistaken: the evidence of Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, which the Judges accepted as sufficient to prove that the "primary suitcase" started its journey in Malta; and, disputing the prosecution's case, fresh evidence would be adduced to show that the bomb's journey actually started at Heathrow.[3] Security guard Ray Manly's evidence, which was not heard at the trial, showed that at some time in the two hours before 00:35 on 21 December 1988 a padlock had been forced on a secure door giving access air-side in Terminal 3 of Heathrow airport, near to the area referred to at the trial as the "baggage build-up area". Taylor claimed that the Pan Am 103 bomb could have been planted then.[4]

On 14 March 2002 it took Lord Cullen less than three minutes to deliver the decision of the High Court of Justiciary. The five Judges rejected the appeal, ruling unanimously that "none of the grounds of appeal was well-founded", adding "this brings proceedings to an end". The following day, a helicopter took Megrahi from Camp Zeist to continue his life sentence in Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow.

SCCRC

Bill Taylor was reappointed Commissioner at the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission by Royal Warrant from 1 January 2002 for a further fixed term of four years expiring on 31 December 2005. However, he undertook to resign immediately from the SCCRC if his former client Megrahi were to apply to the Commission for a review of the case. Megrahi applied on 23 September 2003 and Taylor duly resigned on the same day. In a tribute to one of the founding Commissioners, the SCCRC chairman said:

"The Commission greatly values the service which Mr Taylor has given to the Commission over the past four years. I understand and appreciate Mr Taylor's position in deciding to take this course of action."

Lord Fraser's remarks

As reported in The Sunday Times of 23 October 2005, the former Lord Advocate Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, who initiated the Lockerbie prosecution, said of the main prosecution witness at the Lockerbie trial, Tony Gauci:

"Gauci was not quite the full shilling. I think even his family would say (that he) was an apple short of a picnic. He was quite a tricky guy. I don't think he was deliberately lying but if you asked him the same question three times he would just get irritated and refuse to answer."

Fraser added:

"I wasn't particularly impressed with his (Abdelbaset al-Megrahi) defence: their techniques of muddle and confusion can work for a jury but it doesn't work for three Judges."

Asked for his reaction, Bill Taylor said Fraser should never have presented Gauci as a Crown witness:

"A man who has a public office, who is prosecuting in the criminal courts in Scotland, has got a duty to put forward evidence based upon people he considers to be reliable. He was prepared to advance Gauci as a witness of truth in terms of identification and, if he had these misgivings about him, they should have surfaced at the time. The fact that he is coming out many years later after my former client has been in prison for nearly four and a half years is nothing short of disgraceful. Gauci's evidence was absolutely central to the conviction and for Peter Fraser not to realise that is scandalous."

Lockerbie: Heathrow connection

In January 2015, Lockerbie campaigner Barry Walker recalled a Private Eye story of 2001 summarising Bill Taylor's closing submissions at the Camp Zeist trial. According to Walker: "It is quite remarkable in that Private Eye, who to their credit had kept the Lockerbie issue alive, actually published a Lockerbie story that was true!"

A disturbing theme emerged from the closing submission of Bill Taylor QC, counsel for one of the Libyans accused of murdering 270 people in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. Taylor had already made much of the failure of the prosecution to establish the central point of its case: that the suitcase with the bomb was put on a plane in Malta. In his final speech, however, he argued that the bomb was put on the doomed flight at London's Heathrow. He argued the case systematically, making 20 separate points and pointing out that a terrorist who wanted to destroy the plane was more likely to put it on its final flight for New York rather than on feeder flights from Frankfurt or Malta.

Taylor could prove easily that security at Heathrow in December 1988 was abysmal. There were at least three places from where a suitcase could be smuggled on to the Pan Am flight without being picked up by airline staff. The container with baggage for the flight was left completely unattended for three quarters of an hour.

Taylor's most powerful point was his third namely that 'a brown Samsonite was introduced into that part of the container at the interline area at Heathrow airport'. This was highly relevant since everyone agreed that the bomb that destroyed the plane had been packed in a brown Samsonite case. Taylor's main evidence came from John Bedford, a baggage loader at Heathrow airport, who was interviewed soon after the bombing. Bedford then gave evidence at the initial Fatal Accident Inquiry in 1991, which was referred to extensively by Bill Taylor. He was asked:

Q. Can you recall whether on 21 December 1988 any of the luggage that you dealt with or saw at the interline shed destined for Pan Am Flight 103 was a bronze Samsonite case?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Did you see a bronze Samsonite case?
A. A maroony-brown Samsonite case, yes.

Taylor went on to deal in detail with the complicated evidence about the position of the loaded bags in the plane. He concluded that the Samsonite case had been loaded into the plane in almost exactly the position occupied by the suitcase from which the bomb eventually exploded. Taylor also established that there was no other Samsonite bag in the plane. (This claim is untrue – there were other Samsonites on the plane and in container AVE4041. No hardshell bronze Samsonite, other than the primary suitcase, was recovered). Mr Bedford was called by the Crown as a reliable witness. There seemed no reason why he should invent the story of the mysterious Samsonite case which appeared as though by magic in the container of luggage for flight 103.

If the case with the bomb did go on the plane at Heathrow, the consequences for those in charge of the airport at the time are very severe. But what is beyond dispute is that if anyone did put a bag with a bomb on the plane at Heathrow it could not have been either of the two defendants.

This is an excellent summary of the argument that the primary suitcase was introduced at Heathrow, save that one vital point was omitted. In the official version of events, the position of the primary suitcase, in very close proximity to the aircraft's hull, was supposedly quite fortuitous. Otherwise the story was essentially a summary of points I had made to Alastair Duff a year earlier. (and post-Camp Zeist to Mr McKechnie.) It had of course been in the public domain since the 1991 publication of David Lepppard's “On the Trail of Terror”.

Curiously at Megrahi's first appeal, Bill Taylor raised the matter of the non-disclosure of the statement of a Heathrow Security Officer Ray Manly who had reported that a padlock on a door leading to the Interline baggage shed had been forced open on the eve of the bombing.[5] In conceding (for reasons unknown) that there was sufficient evidence to convict Megrahi, Taylor did not raise the Heathrow evidence or their Lordships' speculation that the “Bedford suitcase” had been moved “out of harm's way to some far corner of the container” (Judgement para.69). If this had occurred the suitcase would have been recovered and linked to a specific passenger and in the official version of events the “Bedford suitcase” was never linked to a specific passenger.

There is no byline to the Private Eye story so the author is unknown. It might actually have been John Ashton! I had written to Paul Foot in 1996 pointing out the primary suitcase was introduced at Heathrow and, while I received a supposed acknowledgment, I doubt he actually read my letter. While Foot's pamphlet “Flight from Justice” was an effective critique of the Camp Zeist verdict (shooting fish in a barrel), Foot never advanced a coherent or credible account of what actually happened.[6]

References

External links

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