“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
Elizabeth F. Loftus is a Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology and Professor of Law and Cognitive Science at University of California, Irvine. Her research has demonstrated that people can be led to develop rich false memories for events that never happened.
These false memories look very much like true ones. Indeed, they can be confidently told, detailed, and expressed with emotion. Professor Loftus has kindly agreed to answer a few questions regarding her understanding of Tony Gauci’s testimony and statements. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
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?
Elizabeth F. Loftus –The age estimate was way off. It is suspicious but I do not know there is much research that would definitely show that one would be unlikely to say a person in mid 30s is over 50. Perhaps, one should check if the investigators “moved” his age estimate in the direction of the accused… even subtly.
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.
Elizabeth F. Loftus — One possibility is investigators decided that it had to be the later date… So, the Christmas lights were on… Somehow, this got suggested to Gauci.
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…)
Elizabeth F. Loftus — It was so long ago that I studied the materials…all i remember is basically what is in my article (that was based on my report to the lawyers)…. So I don’t recall this specific about the no shirt/shirt.
But my general view is that Tony Gauci changed his testimony to fit what the investigators wanted to show.
Intel Today — You may know that the FBI has been criticized by the Academy of Sciences for the use of ‘junk sciences’. Has the lesson been learned? Question 4 – Is your research known – and understood – by the FBI? Do you know if your work is being taught to FBI agents in order to ensure that the very best information is obtained from important witnesses? Have you been personally contacted to educate the FBI – and/or other institutions – on this very important subject?
Elizabeth F. Loftus — Their report was more about forensic science such as the analysis of fingerprints, bite marks, etc. There was another report titled “Identifying the Culprit” (2014) that was about eyewitness memory….and presented ideas for “best practices”…
Indeed, I have lectured to the FBI as well as the secret service, the CIA and other law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement is learning about the eyewitness research and, in some cases, they are changing their procedures.
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.
Memory, 2013 — Vol. 21 No. 5, 584-590
Maltese man who determined Lockerbie bombing trial dies— Times of Malta
Lockerbie — The Eyewitness Evidence Against Megrahi : Exclusive Q&A with Pr Elizabeth Loftus