Friday, 11 January 2013

'Despicable' Lockerbie play had to be made

[This is the headline over a report published yesterday on the website of the Alloa Advertiser.  It reads as follows:]

The director of an Alloa play branded "despicable" by a woman whose daughter was murdered in the Lockerbie atrocity says he respects her view - but believes he was right to make the production.

Alan Clark's The Lockerbie Bomber, which depicts convicted and now deceased Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi as a victim, goes on show next week at the Alman Theatre amid a storm of controversy.

Its story centres on a belief held by many - including another victim's father - that Megrahi was wrongly held responsible for the 1988 terrorist attack on Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York, which killed 270 people.

However, that view was met with revulsion last week by American Susan Cohen (74), whose 20-year-old daughter Theodora perished in the blast.

She said, "Megrahi murdered my daughter - he's not a victim. It is repulsive to put Theodora's name in with his. Does he have any idea how horrible that is to the families?

"It's despicable and so insulting to those who lost relatives."

Speaking to the Advertiser, Alan (59), who wrote the play under the pseudonym of Kenneth N Ross, was at pains to stress that he sympathised with Susan's grief.

It is his belief, though, that Megrahi, who died of cancer in May 2012 almost three years after he was granted compassionate release from prison in Scotland, was the victim of a cover-up - and he hopes his play will cast a new light on to the matter.

Alan said, "I am so sorry for Mrs Cohen's loss. She clearly believes Megrahi was guilty as charged and I respect that view. She obviously wants closure and doesn't want this painful memory opened up again.

"However, the verdict now looks increasingly flawed and I hope that the play casts some light on this evidence. I hope it leads to a public enquiry into the prosecution of the case and the evidence suppressed and tampered with."

Alan was inspired to write the story after Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill declared on Megrahi's release that he "now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die".

Alan, from Larbert, said, "It sounded biblical. I wondered if it was all as it seemed. I came with an open mind and thought Megrahi must be guilty. He was convicted - surely they got it right. The more I delved, the more I thought it was strange and could make an interesting play."

The director, who has acted and directed with Falkirk's Tryst Theatre for around 20 years, took six months to finish the play - from the initial idea to the final 14th draft.

He managed to obtain authentic props from a disused Boeing 747 at Prestwick Airport and on Googling the plane's reference number was shocked to find out that it was a sister Pan Am of the Lockerbie one that crashed.

The harrowing play is set in the present day and looks at the tragedy from three different perspectives - a victim's family, journalists investigating the case, and the UK and US security services engaged in covering up what happened.

Grangemouth, Greenock, Glasgow and Guantanamo Bay are cleverly linked in the gritty and fast-moving 75-minute piece.

The play highlights several questions in the Megrahi case - including a claim that evidence was suppressed following an alleged break-in at the Heathrow baggage area 16 hours before take-off, and further theories that a fragment of the bomb found at Lockerbie did not come from a batch of timers sold to Libya in 1985, and how the Scottish criminal cases review commission found six separate grounds of appeal.

Alan's compelling writing also puts a spotlight on Maltese storekeeper Tony Gauci - a crucial witness for the prosecution who testified that he had sold Megrahi the clothing later found in the remains of the suitcase bomb.

At the trial, Gauci was said to have appeared uncertain about the exact date he sold the clothes in question, and was not entirely sure that it was Megrahi to whom they were sold.

Gauci was the only witness to link Megrahi directly to the improvised explosive device (IED) and it was later reported in October 2007 that he received a $2 million reward for testifying.

Alan added, "I personally believe Megrahi was set up and there's been a miscarriage of justice. Sooner or later, to protect itself, the Scottish Government will have to cast the Crown Office adrift and abandon the fiction that Megrahi's conviction is safe."

Falkirk's Tryst Theatre presents The Lockerbie Bomber at the Alman's Coach House Theatre, Alloa, from January 17-19 at 8pm. Tickets are £10 and are available from the Alman Box Office on 07929 561331.

[A review of the premiere of this play can be read here.]


  1. As a play, it's absolutely brilliant. Fast-moving, dramatic, and completely gripping. The acting is by far the best I have ever seen from an amateur company - indeed, the standard was wholly professional.

    It's not factual. It's a drama. To a large extent, what you take away from it will depend on what you bring to it. While I sympathise with Mrs. Cohen, I don't think it's a legitimate tactic for her to use her loss to try to interfere with other people's artistic expression.

  2. "Now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power."

    Let's run with that quote, and that theme, Mr MacAskill.......for if it applies to Megrahi then one day you too will face a sentence imposed by a higher power for your jiggery pokery in this case.

  3. I think you're being kind to Susan Cohen Rolfe.

    Of course we sympathise with her loss: it is her approach in this debate that upsets me sometimes because of the viciousness she employs much of the time. (I think SM posted some examples on a separate thread.)

    She is not a stupid woman clearly which rather makes me wonder why she seems to care more about defending a (much discredited) verdict and her country's role in the investigation than with considering clear evidence in the public domain that screams out the need to re-examine that same verdict. If it was my daughter I know what my priority would be.

  4. Cognitive dissonance is a bummer, I'm afraid.