[This quotation forms the sub-heading over the account published today on the website of The Guardian of an interview with Gareth Peirce to mark the forthcoming publication (on 1 November) of her book Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice. The following is an excerpt from the interview:]
The story of the treatment of Giuseppe Conlon's corpse, when staff at Belfast Airport refused to handle the coffin, is told on the final page of Peirce's book: "His body was flown back to England three times. A British army officer, after Conlon's body was flown to Belfast a fourth time, informed the undertaker, 'It is on that plane but it is not coming off. The problem is the press have been notified and we can't be seen to be handling the body of an IRA man.'"
Peirce relates this incident not just to show how a lie can pursue an innocent man after his death, but to draw a parallel between the treatment of Giuseppe Conlon and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan jailed for the Lockerbie plane bomb in 1988 in which 243 passengers and 16 crew were killed. Giuseppe, she writes, was wrongly convicted on disputed forensic scientific evidence, as later was al-Megrahi.
Peirce has no doubts that the Libyan, like the Conlons, was fitted up for a crime he did not commit by a British state prioritising its own supposed interests over justice. She writes: "Only a simpleton could believe that Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi . . . was not recently returned to his home in Libya because it suited Britain considerably to have him do so. The political furore has been very obviously contrived, since both the British and American governments know perfectly well the history of how and for what reasons he came to be prosecuted."
There is, Peirce argues, "clear and compelling evidence" linking the bombing to a Palestinian splinter group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, which at the time hired itself out to regimes known to sponsor terrorism, notably Syria and Iran. On this account, Lockerbie was a tit-for-tat response to the US shooting down an Iranian plane and killing 290 passengers, including pilgrims flying to Mecca, in July that year. For two years, the Lockerbie investigation focused on that link. Then something changed, and the Palestinian splinter group was no longer in the frame for Lockerbie.