Court Aims To Speed Lockerbie Trial
CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands (AP) _ After a week of slogging through largely uncontested eyewitness accounts, a Scottish court agreed Wednesday to find ways of expediting the trial of two Libyans accused of bombing Pan Am Flight 103.
Prosecutors and lawyers were expected to announce an agreement Thursday which would spare the court seven more weeks of tedious testimony on debris recovered from the Dec. 21, 1988, explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland.
According to current estimates, the trial of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah before Scottish judges on this former U.S. military compound is expected to last one year, at a monthly cost to British taxpayers of more than $3 million.
The defendants, suspected Libyan secret agents, are charged with the murders of the 270 victims _ including 189 Americans _ who died when a plastic explosive embedded inside a cassette recorder blew a hole in the aircraft cargo hold.
An elderly Englishwoman from a village 60 miles east of Lockerbie told the court Wednesday that she found an instruction manual for a cassette deck in a field outside her home, in testimony seeking to establish a key piece of evidence in the case.
Prosecutors did not address whether this manual corresponded to the electronic device that held the bomb, although they may do so later.
The explosion had blanketed a 845-square-mile area along the Scottish-English border with wreckage and debris and local farmers were collecting items from their fields, said Gwendoline Horton of Morpeth. ``I remember coming upon a document of some sort that made reference to a radio cassette player,″ she said.
Horton took the find to policeman Brian Walton, who testified he observed that it was singed around the edges.
In order to speed up the trial, the presiding judge, Lord Ranald Sutherland, adjourned early to give prosecution and defense attorneys a chance to agree which witnesses’ testimony on uncontested material could be skipped.
Scottish law requires that the origin of every piece of potentially incriminating evidence be established by at least two sources appearing in court.
Prosecutor Alastair Campbell said an agreement was likely and would allow the court to jump ahead to forensic and technical evidence, which had been expected only at the end of the second month of hearings.
Formal hearings began May 3 at this neutral venue as part of an agreement that persuaded Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to hand over the suspects last year.
The defendants insist they are innocent and have blamed Palestinian terrorist groups active in Europe at the time for the bombing. If convicted, the men face a possible life prison sentence in Scotland.