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Woman Tells of Flight 103 Debris

May 10, 2000

CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands (AP) _ An elderly English woman described today how she found a charred cassette recorder manual in a field 60 miles from where Pan Am Flight 103 went down _ a piece of debris that became essential to the Lockerbie investigation.

Winds carried light debris from the Dec. 21, 1988, blast over Lockerbie, Scotland, for miles into northern England, where some landed in fields around Morpeth, a farming village where Gwendoline Horton lives.

``All the local farmers were collecting it in the fields,″ Horton testified today at the trial of two Libyans accused in the bombing. ``I remember coming upon a document of some sort that made reference to a radio cassette player.″

The testimony sought to establish a key piece of evidence in the case against Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, who are charged with the murders of 270 people _ including 189 Americans. Prosecutors say a plastic explosive inside a cassette recorder stowed in a suitcase detonated in the belly of the airliner.

Police constable Brian Walton confirmed that he accepted Horton’s find, which he described as an instruction handbook for a cassette player. ``It had tiny bits of cinder on the edges,″ he said.

Today when Horton was handed a plastic bag with fragments of the manual, she did not recognize it. ``I’m sure when I handed it in, it was in one piece,″ she said.

Prosecutors did not address whether this manual corresponded to the electronic device that held the bomb. They may do so later, but today’s testimony aimed only to establish the manual’s origin, as Scottish law requires for all incriminating evidence.

Since its May 3 start, the trial has moved tediously through the process of establishing pieces of evidence. But prosecutors and defense lawyers said today they had nearly agreed on a way to speed up proceedings.

They told the presiding judge, Lord Sutherland, they could have an agreement by Thursday morning to dispense with establishing large amounts of uncontroversial evidence.

Prosecutor Alastair Campbell said that if a deal is reached, ``a very substantial amount of court time will be saved.″ The session was adjourned early to allow lawyers to finalize the agreement.

Campbell said he might also ask for a one-week adjournment to prepare the next phase of his case _ on technical and forensic evidence. But he said that time would be saved overall.

The Lockerbie trial is being conducted before Scottish judges on a former U.S. Air Force base in the Netherlands as part of an agreement that persuaded Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to hand over the suspects last year.

If found guilty of murder, the defendants face life imprisonment in Scotland. They have pleaded innocent, blaming Palestinian terrorist factions based in Syria for the attack.