Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Bernard Ingham on Lockerbie

[The following is an excerpt from a Yorkshire Post column written by Sir Bernard Ingham, Chief Press Secretary to Mrs Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister.]

[A]fter the IRA's present to me of a bomb-in-a book, and the Brighton atrocity, nothing quite shook me as did Lockerbie, the sad destination of Pan Am's Clipper Maid of the Seas and its 243 passengers and 16 crew en route from Heathrow to JFK.

The day began with the discovery of an IRA bomb gang in Clapham. It ended with us waiting for the Prime Minister's return from the Commons to No 10 to face, with her steely calm resolution, the possibility that the plane had been blown out of the skies. But by whom? After 24 hours, we still did not know or, precisely, the cause or the death toll.

That was not surprising, Bodies were scattered over the countryside. In Sherwood Crescent, where 11 residents were killed, we found a 150ft-long crater and houses vaporised where the wings had fallen, the black stink of kerosene polluting the air.

Three miles east of the town, we were taken to the nose cone of the plane in a field, surrounded by belongings and bodies, and the gruesome visible remains of two stewardesses frozen in death in the wreckage. It seemed an awful intrusion just to look, but there was no point in going unless we took in the full horror.

It was a very shaken and troubled party that returned to No 10, leaving Britain's smallest police force – the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary – leading Britain's largest criminal inquiry.

They eventually put Abdelbaset al-Megrahi behind bars, only for our contemptible politicians to release him after only eight years allegedly on compassionate grounds but really to oil the wheels of trade with Libya.

It is not that which unduly troubles me. I have grown used to Labour's perfidy. Incidentally, I do hope they don't make things worse by trying again to kid us it was all the governing Scottish Nationalists' doing.

Instead, I can never work out what manner of people can make a profession out of blasting jumbos out of the sky. What cause can possibly be enhanced by following up Lockerbie by flying jets into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon?

Who will benefit from the Taliban and al-Qaida murderously and repressively taking over Afghanistan as a base for more potential terrorist spectaculars?

These are the questions first posed by Lockerbie that every Islamic leader now has to answer. In our season of goodwill, their silence is deafening.

[The following comment comes from Peter Biddulph.]

I'm sending this to your email address, because I can never get the ID right on your blog site comment. (...)

Sir Bernard Ingram ends his piece about Islamists: "In this time of goodwill, their silence is deafening."

You and I - and countless others - recall another time of goodwill, Christmas 1988, when the Iron Lady sheltered behind the excuse of silence.

In the following extract, Lady Thatcher claimed to Tam Dalyell that she "knew nothing of Lockerbie". A fair interpretation of Sir Bernard Ingram's account of the event would be that in 1995 the Lady lied, and continues to lie, through her teeth.

[Extract from book Moving the World by Dr Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph]

The Lady's not for Remembrance.
November 1993.

The Downing Street Years,[1] the official memoirs of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, became an immediate best seller around the globe. One day after the Lockerbie explosion, she walked upon the hillside where lay the crushed cockpit of Maid of the Seas. By the Church of Tundergarth Main she stood wrapped against the Scottish cold, around her across the hills and town streets and gardens two hundred and seventy bodies and bits of bodies.

Her memories regarding other happenings around the time of Lockerbie were interesting. While at the Rhodes European Council[2] of December 1988, she was invited by German Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl to meet him at his home in the charming village of Deidesheim near Ludwigshafen in the Rhineland-Palatinat. During a subsequent visit in the spring of 1989, she remembered that "lunch was potato soup, pigs stomach (which the German Chancellor clearly enjoyed), sausage, liver dumplings and sauerkraut." They drove together to the great cathedral at Speyer, in whose crypt were to be found the tombs of at least four holy roman emperors. She recalled that as the party entered the cathedral the organ struck up a Bach fugue.

In July 1989, on a visit to the USA, she remembered standing in the heat of Houston, Texas, and remained untroubled in the hot sun.[3] The Americans had fitted underground air conditioning and blew cool air from below so that the assembled dignitaries would feel comfortable.

Among the important international events of 1990 she mentioned the restoration of relationships with the Syrians. She related that immediately after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, she and President Bush assembled their potential allies. Turkey was one of the first on the list, and soon came President Assad's Syria, whom she saw as a "less savoury ally" against Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Indeed, three years earlier, just weeks after the April 1986 American bombing of Tripoli, the Syrian government had backed an attempt by a terrorist, Nezar Hindawi, to plant a bomb on an El Al aircraft at Heathrow. This too she recalls in some detail.[4]

Nine months after the night of the Lockerbie attack, she travelled to Siberian Russia on a stopover from Tokyo. Her plane refuelled at the frozen town of Bratsk. In her diary she recorded finding herself in a chilly barn-like building with local Communist Party leaders, engrossed in two hours of coffee and conversation regarding the intricacies of growing beetroot in a Russian climate. As she departed, firmly imprinted on her excellent memory was the request by Oleg, the KGB guard outside the door, who asked for a signed photograph. This she immediately provided, and then - equally quickly observed - a general request for more photographs.[5]

Yet that freezing Lockerbie hillside and town strewn with the remains of the dead; that first traumatic memorial service in the tiny church of Lockerbie; repeated pleadings by the bereaved for a personal hearing at Downing Street; revelations of international terrorism on a massive scale; German, Iranian, Syrian and Palestinian reputations questioned; the most severe peace-time attack on her nation since the Second World War[6] – all in some mysterious way were expunged from the Thatcher version of history. Among nine hundred and fourteen pages of tightly written text, hidden deep in the chronology, the reader would find but four simple words: ‘December 21 - Lockerbie bombing’.

Such an event demanded an entire chapter of its own. Yet in the main text not a word, not a whisper. Could it be that the Lady wished to erase the event from Britain's memory? That would have been a naive expectation, and Thatcher was not naive. We are left with but one conclusion. To use a word frequently employed by the Justices who would five years later come to a verdict on the Libyan suspects, we may draw an inference. The Lady had been got at. Her long-time friend America did not wish her memoirs to include the story of Lockerbie.

We on the British relatives' group sent her a respectful and polite letter, asking why her memoirs made no mention of our tragedy. She replied, regally: "We wish to add nothing to the text". This, from the comfort of her Chester Square home she presumed sufficient of a reply. By her silence in 1989 and since she persists in her insult to our dead. Her weakness in the face of American imperialism set in train a procedure that prevents - and will continue to prevent - an inquiry into the tragedy. Such would reveal too much of American covert activities and use of Pan Am - and now that Pan Am is no more, their successor carrier - for US intelligence work and "high risk" operations.

It would take another fifteen years before the truth would finally emerge and our suspicions be confirmed. In August 2009, the then retired Member of Parliament for Linlithgow and Father of the House Tam Dalyell revealed that in 2002, in a conversation with Thatcher, she claimed that she had not written about Lockerbie because she "knew nothing" of Lockerbie.

At the time of our 1989 series of meetings with Cecil Parkinson, there was only one British Cabinet colleague who could possibly have told Parkinson that he was forbidden to do something in his own department. That was Prime Minister Thatcher. Thus, when Parkinson came back to us to convey the cabinet refusal, it was clear who had imposed it.

"Fast forward thirteen years," said Dalyell. "I was the chairman of the all-party House of Commons group on Latin America. I had hosted Dr Alvaro Uribe, the president of Colombia, between the time that he won the election and formally took control in Bogota. The Colombian ambassador, Victor Ricardo, invited me to dinner at his residence as Dr Uribe wanted to continue the conversations with me.

The South Americans are very polite. A woman, even a widow, never goes alone into a formal dinner. And so, to make up numbers, Ricardo invited me to accompany his neighbour Margaret Thatcher. I had not spoken to her, nor her to me, for seventeen years. I'd been expelled from the House of Commons for accusing her of a self-serving lie in relation to the Westland affair.

As we were sitting down to dinner, I tried to break the ice with a joke about a recent vandal attack on her statue in the Guildhall. I said I was sorry about the damage.

She replied pleasantly: 'Tam, I'm not sorry for myself, but I am sorry for the sculptor.' Raising the soup spoon I ventured: 'Margaret, tell me one thing - why in eight hundred pages...'

She purred with obvious pleasure. 'Have you read my autobiography?'

‘Yes, I have read it. Very carefully. Why in eight hundred pages did you not mention Lockerbie?'

She replied: 'Because I didn't know what happened and I don't write about things that I don't know about.'

My jaw dropped. 'You don't know? But, quite properly as Prime Minister, you went to Lockerbie. You witnessed it first hand.'

She insisted: 'Yes, but I don't know about it and I don't write in my autobiography things I don't know about.'"

Tam's honest conclusion was that Thatcher had been told by Washington on no account to delve into the circumstances of Lockerbie. And she'd complied. In one unguarded moment at a Chester Square dinner table she had revealed an abandonment of responsibility for the care of her citizens. Friendly obedience to a US administration for a British Prime Minister transcended everything, even the truth.

[1] Published by Harper Collins, November 1993.

[2] Pp 747-748.

[3] P 764.

[4] P 510.

[5] September 1989, p 792.

[6] It would later emerge that the bombing of Pan Am 103 accounted for 40% of all casualties in 1988 resulting from terrorism throughout the entire world.


  1. Mrs Thatcher was deliberately coy about Lockerbie because she was was only too well aware that her apartheid South African friends, P W and Pik Botha, were behind the bombing (see and

  2. Mrs Thatcher was deliberately coy about Lockerbie. Interesting. I wonder why? Who out there could explain EXACTLY what she was thinking?

    I hadn't realized how specific her playing-down was. A 900-page book with only the words.
    “December 21 - Lockerbie bombing”
    When asked why, she specifies only
    "We wish to add nothing to the text"

    O Her Majesty's Serviceable Secrets.