[What follows is an article by Dr Jim Swire that was published yesterday on the website of Scottish lawyers’ magazine The Firm:]
The Health and Safety Executive brought their highest censure down upon the UK Border Agency last week for the latter's arrogant and unsafe probing into an air cargo of munitions which had landed at Robin Hood airport. Because UKBA is a Government agency, the HSE could only impose a Crown Censure upon them, not even a fine, let alone a criminal prosecution for putting lives at risk.
UKBA had unpacked potentially lethal military materials without proper precautions, and both other aircraft or individuals might have been destroyed had there been an accident such as dropping of a single item.
Compare this with the night of 20/21 Dec 1988, when, on the night before the Lockerbie plane took off from Heathrow, an unidentified person broke into the airside portion of the that airport, close to where a dark-coloured hard-sided Samsonite suitcase, exactly similar to the one later confirmed to have contained the bomb was loaded into a Pan Am baggage container, close to the break-in site the following evening, prior to being put aboard the Maid of the Seas there for her final tryst with her fate.
Heathrow airport, although immediately warned of the break-in by its night security staff, and already aware of a heightened terrorist risk to aircraft at the time, whiled away the 16 golden hours before PanAm 103 took off, deciding that it must in fact have been a break-out by disgruntled airport/airline staff, wanting a quick way home that night. This explanation failed to convince the judges at the Zeist trial. Heathrow simply did not make any serious effort to discover whether this obviously potentially disastrous break-in might have been the portal by which a terrorist gained access to the 'secure' area of Heathrow airside that night.
16 hours after the uninvestigated break-in 270 people died in the disaster at Lockerbie.
It would of course have been possible to suspend all outgoing flights during those 16 golden hours, while the motive for the break-in and the search for the perpetrator and his possessions could have been rigorously pursued..
Closing the airport to departures for 16 hours of searching would have cost a great deal of money. How much did the disaster itself cost the country in terms not just of money, but of grief?
We do not know whether it was the fear of lost revenue, or arrogant belief in their security, or laziness or sheer unrealistic management which prevented Heathrow from making the obvious response to the break-in.
Surely whether or not the break-in does turn out to have been the portal of entry of the bomb, failing to act over the potential threat it offered at Heathrow was a far greater threat to life than UKBA's interference with military munitions. Yet so far as is known, no-one, neither HSE nor any other organisation has even criticised Heathrow for their breathtaking complacency that night of 20th/21st December 1988.
Thanks to a letter from the current Chief Constable of Dumfries and Galloway police, Patrick Shearer, we now know that the D & G police of the day had at least been made aware by the Metropolitan police by January/February 1989 of the details of this mysterious break-in.
We also know now that the Crown Office's prosecution case was fatally flawed. The fragment of circuit board they relied upon to convince the court that this was part of a Libyan timer from the bomb that destroyed PA103 could not be true. This of course makes the break-in of far greater possible significance: it may indeed have been the real portal of entry for the Lockerbie bomb. The fragment simply could not have been from one of those timers. Moreover there is no evidence of any other point of origin for the mysterious fragment from among the Lockerbie wreckage.
In a cruel twist of fate, the news of the break-in itself only became public on the very day of the 9/11 disaster in New York, thus hugely diminishing for the public the potential significance of the break-in. The world moved on that day to a new grief, leaving some of the bereaved Lockerbie families in stunned amazement that such an obviously potentially game-altering event as the break-in could have been kept from the Zeist court, from the relatives themselves and from the defence team.
Maybe it is not too late even now to charge the HSE to look into whether Heathrow's failure to investigate the break-in was a breach of airport safety, and more importantly a breach of the safety of the lives of those who died just 16 hours later, both aboard the plane, and on the ground below in Lockerbie..
I can assure the HSE that the failure to investigate this break-in is a cause of grief and anger to some Lockerbie relatives to this day, and that Heathrow is part of a privately owned company and therefore open to charges of criminal endangering of life, unlike the UKBA.
We can however now guess why the police, investigating on behalf of the Crown Office chose to set aside the Met's report about the break-in. Such a thing was irrelevant to their early formed hypothesis that the bomb must have come from the hands of Megrahi in Malta. The Chief Constable's letter records how the police not only set aside the possible relevance of Heathrow's break-in and disgraceful failure to take it seriously, but they did not even bring the existence of the break-in to the Crown Office's attention until 1999 (a decade after having received it from the Met), with the result that it was not known to Megrahi's defence team, nor indeed to the trial court, until after the Zeist court had convicted Megrahi.
We know that the prosecution story of the origin of the bomb having been from Megrahi's hand in Malta was fatally flawed.
Perhaps some of your learned readers can suggest how best to force the Crown Office/Scottish Government to launch a proper independent inquiry into how this case came to fail so disastrously.
But we also now know courtesy of the Chief Constable's letter that it was due to decisions made early on by the D & G police that the case brought at Zeist now looks a poor second on a balance of probabilities against the likelihood of a Syrian type bomb from the PFLP-GC group having been introduced at Heathrow, with their inevitable approximately 38 minute flight times, via the Heathrow break-in.
It appears that the refusal thus far of the Crown Office and the Scottish Police to address the failures within the Lockerbie prosecution, ought, were the world a fairer place, to lay them all open to prosecution for endangering people's lives through the protection they are affording to those who really did murder 270 people at Lockerbie on 21st December 1988.