Sunday, 9 June 2013

New Dumfries police chief talks about her Lockerbie experience

[What follows is an excerpt from an article published today in the Scottish edition of The Sun:]

One of Scotland’s top cops told last night how she plunged into despair as she struggled to cope with the horror of the Lockerbie bombing.

Chief Superintendent Kate Thomson had just finished her FIRST shift as a rookie when Pan Am flight 103 smashed into the town.

The officer, then aged 21, was one of the first emergency workers to witness the hellish scene of devastation on December 21, 1988.

She was quickly tasked with converting the town hall into a makeshift mortuary — and identifying all 270 victims of the outrage.

It was a living nightmare that would take its toll years later as the traumatised young PC was engulfed by grief.

And, in a remarkably candid new interview, Ch Supt Thomson revealed: “I found it hard to get my head around how someone could do something like that.

“As soon as we arrived at Lockerbie we could see the flames.

“I had never experienced anything like that grief, that horror.”
In 1991, the nightmare finally caught up with her and she realised she needed counselling.

Ch Supt Thomson, now the area’s Divisional Commander for the new Police Scotland, said: “I struggled. I cried buckets. It was so heartbreaking to think of the loss of human life.

“But I was professional in seeking help. You are not a machine — you are a human being.

“I went for six counselling sessions and it helped. You have to hear yourself saying there was nothing you could have done.”

The young PC Thomson completed her first day on the beat at Dumfriesshire’s nearby Langholm police station just hours before the terror attack.

She was at home when two ashen-faced colleagues hammered on her door.

They raced to a car where the voice of a senior officer crackled over the radio.

She recalled: “He told us, ‘We have found the cockpit and it says Pan Am Maid of the Seas’.

“We knew then that it was a passenger flight and there would be fatalities on a large scale.”

As emergency crews descended on Lockerbie, she was handed the heartbreaking job of identifying the victims.

Many were American — with shocked relatives thousands of miles away across the Atlantic.

She said: “We were just running backwards and forwards getting information so we could let families know we had their loved ones. They had to know we were looking after them.”

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi — the only person convicted over the bombing — was freed in 2009 after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died at home in Libya last May, aged 60.

Ch Supt Thomson said: “I have my own personal view of the people who did this dreadful thing.

“But, for me, it was the loss of life that was so hard to get my head around.”

After confronting her own pain, she rose through the ranks at Dumfries and Galloway Police.

[It might have been worth mentioning that allegations of criminal misconduct in the course of the Lockerbie investigation have been made by Justice for Megrahi and are currently under investigation by the former Chief Constable of Dumfries and Galloway Police, Pat Shearer.]


  1. There's an implied non sequitur in most articles of this nature. The atrocity was utterly appalling. An "existential nightmare", as someone called it in a post last week. People seeing their airliner come apart around them at cruising altitude; a rain, mostly of living people not dead bodies, falling on the town; people incinerated by their own firesides.

    So, it is implied, we should never be soft on whoever has been accused of this atrocity. We should never contemplate mercy - or even justice.

    How do you handle these attitudes when an innocent person has been accused, and then convicted? The point should not be to convict someone for the crime, anyone will do if they look a bit shady, but to convict the people who actually did it.

    Heaping the blame and the punishment on the wrong person compounds the tragedy, and allows the real perpetrators to go free. But too often we see the extreme horror used to justify continuing hatred of Megrahi and criticism of any attempts to get at the truth.

    I don't know how you counter this mind-set.

  2. Yes, the concerted power of the State to say, 'if you doubt the official line you are inflicting more pain on the victims', is intimidating and a warning not to look.

    And this approach which is applied to other atrocities mostly works, because the consequences of being a dissident can be dire.

    But those dissidents’, who are in a position to resist for various reasons e.g. retired, will need to reassure themselves that the truth is in the public and victims interest.

    And only a few dissidents are needed to be effective if they can find some support within the system and popularise their cause.

    This is why the Justice Committee’s adoption of PE1370 and the new novel Professor of Truth is so significant.