CLUES IN THE CARNAGE; Tiny slivers of evidence exposed the bombers.
GWENDOLINE Horton hated litter.
So when she was told the rubbish near her home had come from the PanAm 103 aircraft disaster, 70 miles away in Lockerbie, she joined the clean-up teams handing debris to the police.
Within minutes Gwendoline, 64, found a piece of paper in a field in her Northumberland village of Longhorsley that was to prove vital.
The instruction leaflet was from a Toshiba BomBeat cassette player into which the bomb components had been packed.
And - together with a torn grey shirt found at the scene - Gwendoline's find proved the major breakthrough which led investigators to the door of Colonel Gaddafi.
Scottish and US police arriving at the scene of the carnage in Lockerbie quickly realised the crash had been no accident.
They initially suspected the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
For, two months before Lockerbie, German police had broken up one of their hidden cells and discovered Semtex explosives and a detonator packed into a Toshiba BomBeat cassette recorder.
However, tests by forensic scientist Thomas Hayes on the grey shirt found a fragment of metal which had come from a sophisticated electronic MST-13 timer manufactured by Swiss firm MEBO.
Their biggest customer was Libya.
In 1985, MEBO co-owner Edwin Bollier watched members of the Libyan army test his timers in a desert training camp.
And, on the eve of the Lockerbie bombing, Bollier had returned fromTripoli with rejected timers - one of which had been programmed for 7.30pm on Wednesday, December 21 1988.
Bollier rushed to tell investigators the name of the high-ranking Libyan he had done business with - Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, an army major who was related to Colonel Gaddafi.
Intelligence sources discovered Megrahi was an officer in the JSO - the Libyan secret service - and, crucially, was head of security for the country's airline.
It was discovered Megrahi had made regular trips via Luqa airport in Malta, where his position gave him inside knowledge of the airport's security and that of international airlines.
His friend, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was the station manager there for Libyan Arab Airlines.
It is possible he was an unwitting dupe who was scared of Megrahi and never questioned his orders. With the focus of the investigation now centred on the two Libyans, detectives needed a breakthrough to back up their suspicion.
It came from forensic tests on crash site debris which proved that the bomb had been contained in a brown Samsonite suitcase and that clothes made in a Maltese factory had been packed around the device.
On September 1, 1989, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Bell travelled there and discovered the factory supplied clothes to Mary's Shop on the island.
Owner Toni Gauci confirmed the distinctive clothes had come from his shop and had been bought by a Libyan two weeks before the bombing .
The man bought two pairs of trousers, two pairs of pyjamas, two cardigans, two shirts, a blue romper suit and a tweed jacket.
Gauci provided details for an artist's sketch which bore an uncanny resemblance to Megrahi.
On another three occasions, including an astonishing identity parade at Camp Zeist, he picked out Megrahi as being the man who "resembles a lot" the mystery clothes buyer.
The net was closing in and the final piece of the jigsaw was provided by one of Megrahi's own countrymen- double agent Abdul Giaka.
He began working with the JSO in 1984 and two years later he moved to Malta where he was an assistant to Fhimah.
That same year the Americans bombed Tripoli and, in the wake of the incident, the head of Libyan intelligence, Said Rashid, asked Giaka about the possibility of placing an unaccompanied bomb on a flight.
Before filing his report, Giaka showed a copy to Megrahi who cautioned: "Don't rush things."
In August 1988, disillusioned by Gaddafi's regime, he walked into the US Embassy in Malta and offered to defect.
However, the CIA persuaded him to return to his job and spy for them.
Early in December, he was at Luqa Airport when Megrahi and Fhimah arrived on a flight from Tripoli.
In the baggage control area he saw Fhimah with a "shiny brown Samsonite suitcase" which was not opened for customs inspection.
He recalled: "Outside, Megrahi introduced me to some other people with them. One of them was from the technical department of the JSO."
By then Fhimah had quit his airport job but still retained the pass which gave him access to public no-go areas.
Crucially, this pass was due to expire on December 31, so any moves had to be made by then.
An entry in Fhimah's diary six days before the bombing read: "Get airline baggage tags for Abdelbaset."
If he had really known about the plan, it's highly unlikely he would have needed to remind himself of it so close to the fateful date.
On December 20, both men returned to Malta from Tripoli, but this time there was one crucial difference in their travel plans.
Megrahi was using a false passport under the name of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad - a fact which was later confirmed by a Libyan government official.
Moloud el-Gharour, who worked in Libya's passport department, said his office had received a letter request from the external security organisation to issue Megrahi with a false identity.
The letter asked for the application to be dealt with "very urgently, given the importance of the matter" but no reason was provided.
In 1991, after being publicly accused of the murders, Megrahi said in an interview: "I was not in Malta. Believe me, I was here in Tripoli with my family."
But records showed that, after arriving on the island on December 20, Megrahi booked into room 514 at the Holiday Inn while Fhimah went to his own flat.
At 7.11am the following day, Megrahi made a brief call to Fhimah's home and shortly after that they met at Luqa airport.
Possibly with the help of Fhimah's pass, the unaccompanied Samsonite suitcase containing the bomb was placed on an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt for onward transmission to PanAm 103.
About an hour after the flight departed, Megrahi and Fhimah flew back to Libya.
It was the last time Megrahi used the false passport.
The suitcase passed through slack security at Frankfurt and Heathrow.
The bomb was primed to detonate at a time when the plane should have been over the Atlantic.
If that had happened, it's likely that all the evidence in the case would have been lost to the sea.
But because of the wind direction, 103 Maid of the Seas flew up the west side of Britain.
It was a route the bombers possibly hadn't planned on and one which was to prove their downfall.
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|Publication:||Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2001|
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