| Tony Gauci
Identifying Abdelbaset al-Megrahi
|8 September 1941
|29 October 2016 (Age 75)
Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, became the Crown’s key witness in the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing, and was the one man who linked the suspect to clothes found in the suitcase that allegedly harboured the Pan Am Flight 103 bomb.
On 3 October 2007, The Guardian revealed that the CIA had offered $2 million to Tony Gauci for incriminating al-Megrahi. On 21 February 2008, the same newspaper reported that foreign secretary David Miliband had blocked the release of secret US documents that could have cleared the Libyan.
On 29 October 2016, the Times of Malta reported that Tony Gauci had died of natural causes.
New allegations published on 2 October 2009, which would have been tested in court if the appeal that began in April 2009 had gone ahead, have undermined both his credibility and reliability.
Papers on Megrahi’s website reveal that Gauci and his brother Paul were interested in financial reward from the start of the case, and that between them they received at least $3m (£1.88m) at the end of the trial.
Previously secret police reports dating back to 1999 indicate "the frustration of Tony Gauci that he will not be compensated" and that "in respect of Paul Gauci, it is apparent from speaking to him for any length of time that he has a clear desire to gain financial benefit from the position he and his brother are in relative to the case.
"As a consequence he exaggerates his own importance as a witness and clearly inflates the fears he and his brother have.
"He is anxious to establish what advantage he can gain from the Scottish police.
"Although demanding, Paul Gauci remains an asset to the case but will continue to explore any means he can to identify where financial advantage can be gained."
Rewarding a witness
Offering witnesses financial remuneration is anathema to the Scottish system, and yet this information, uncovered by the investigation of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, was never disclosed to the defence. Megrahi’s website states:
- "It is a matter of common sense, and it has long been recognised in Scots law, that the existence of a financial interest and/or the offer of rewards to a witness is of considerable importance in relation to the credibility of that witness. Depending upon the nature and degree of any such interest or reward, the law may exclude the evidence of the witness, or leave the effect of same on the witness to be weighed by the jury."
The now published papers suggest the police knew this. One quotation states:
- "When the inevitable reflections and media examinations take place in future years... nor is it anticipated would they ever seek to highlight any remuneration received".
Megrahi’s website summary also states:
- "The documents also indicate that Tony Gauci had been visited by the Scottish police on more than 50 occasions – many, perhaps even the majority, of which were unrecorded. This information shows that the witness has significantly changed his position over time regarding the items sold. In addition there is a clear inference from the timing and context of these inconsistent statements that the witness has been influenced in his recollection by the police inquiries – either by being shown articles such as control samples or fragments or by discussion."
Expert reports published for the first time on the website also question the validity of Mr Gauci’s identification of Megrahi.
A report from Tim Valentine, professor of psychology at the University of London, claims that the first identification by Mr Gauci – in which he did not directly identify Megrahi – would have been the most accurate.
It also says that the circumstances before the line-up generated "a serious risk of mistaken identity".
Steven Clark, professor of psychology at the University of California, and an expert in eyewitness identification, concluded that it would be "extremely unusual" for Mr Gauci to have made a correct identification, because of the passage of time since the incident (nine months before the first questioning) and all the other influences including the numerous newspaper and magazine reports he saw.
A third expert report prepared by Professor David Canter and others, of the University of Huddersfield, reached this conclusion:
- Any account of a relatively mundane event that happened once and is first called to mind a year or so after it happened is open to potential distortion. From what we know of the psychology of memory those distortions are likely to increase over the subsequent decade as various suggestions and explorations are conducted into the alleged event. These problems apply to all aspects of the event, including the subsequent identification of a person who was considered central to the event who has not been seen for a number of years. The difficulty in relying on Mr Gauci’s testimony is thus not only the weaknesses in his identification of the Mr Megrahi but also in whether the alleged episode in the shop ever occurred. That Mr Gauci remembers customers of about 50 years old of medium build and Arab ethnicity buying clothing in his shop seems quite probable but whether one such individual was a customer in late 1988 is less safe from the evidence he has provided.
Bribery at the heart
In response to an article by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, a Lockerbie bombing victim's brother, Matt Berkely, answered one of the questions raised ("Does [the prospect of evidence at the appeal] perhaps explain why Megrahi was eventually bundled so speedily out of the country?") as follows:
- Dear Mr Snow,
- Thank you for your interest and your questions.
- The words, "shopkeeper who identified clothes…as having been bought…by al-Megrahi" may need nuance, and you or your colleagues may like to know why. The trial judges quoted Mr Gauci:
- "He would perhaps have to look about 10 years or more older…of all the photographs I have been shown, this…is the only one really similar…if he was a bit older, other than the one my brother showed me" (1991, paragraph 62);
- "Not exactly the man I saw in the shop…the man who look a little bit like exactly is the number 5" (1999, paragraph 55);
- "He is the man on this side. He resembles him a lot" (2000, paragraph 55).
- For the "not absolute" identification, and contrary evidence on rain, age, height, and skin colour, perhaps paragraphs 55-7, 62-9, 88 and 89; for lack of evidence on method, 38-9 and 82; for a suitcase coincidence at Heathrow, 23-5.
- "Yes, Millions to Malta: Who Says Tony Got $2 Million"
- "Fresh doubts on Lockerbie conviction"
- "Miliband blocks release of key Lockerbie files"
- "Maltese man who determined Lockerbie bombing trial dies"
- "Report by: Professor David Canter, Dr Donna Youngs and Dr Laura Hammond, International Research Centre for Investigative Psychology, University of Huddersfield"
- "Bribery at the heart of Megrahi’s Lockerbie conviction?"
- "Gauci evidence"