[What follows is a letter from Dr Jim Swire published today on the website of The Telegraph and presumably due to appear in tomorrow’s print edition:]
The fascinating release today of recorded conversations between Margaret Thatcher while prime minister and President Ronald Reagan, dating from the 1983 American invasion of Grenada, may give hope of future penetration of the mysteries which still obscure the truth over Britain’s biggest ever loss of life to terrorism: the Lockerbie disaster of December 1988, when 270 innocent lives were lost, including that of my daughter Flora, aged 23.
Lady Thatcher recorded in The Downing Street Years (1993) that Reagan’s precipitate action over Grenada made Britain look impotent, and her references to previous exchanges between No 10 and the White House confirm this impotence.
In the case of Lockerbie, the target had been specifically American, but the plane had been loaded with the bomb at our Heathrow airport. The majority of deaths were American citizens, but upwards of 30 were British.
As the “management” of the Lockerbie disaster unfolded, there were again rumours of telephone exchanges between Downing Street and Washington, apparently agreeing to downplay the origins and implications of the disaster.
A bizarre trial of two accused Libyans followed in Holland, which did inestimable harm to the reputation of Scottish justice, through the gymnastics required to achieve a guilty verdict in the absence of trustworthy evidence.
To this has been added a sorry tale of buck-passing and foot-dragging between the English, the Scots and the US authorities, through all the intervening years. This involved the repeated use of public-interest immunity certificates denying documents to the Libyans’ defence team, and of course to us, the British relatives of the dead.
In The Downing Street Years Lady Thatcher dealt with the fall-out that followed her assistance to President Reagan in arranging the bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986. She wrote: “The much vaunted Libyan counter attack did not and could not take place.” Who then was really responsible for Lockerbie?
Her book was published two years after the Libyans had simultaneously been indicted by Britain and America over the execution of the Lockerbie atrocity. I wrote to ask Lady Thatcher for an explanation, and a reply dated December 3 1993 said:
“Thank you for your letter about the Libyan raid. As you know in the book I went into some detail on this matter and I have tried to indicate the nature of the decision which took place. I don’t think I can add anything useful to that account.
“May I say how much I have thought of the parents and relatives of all those killed in the Lockerbie disaster. The fact that the terrorists responsible have not been brought to justice has added to your unhappiness and anxiety. It is a cause of great concern to me too.
“I most earnestly hope that the matter will be resolved and soon.”
Such are the emollients from the secret world. Her wish for prompt resolution could have been met at any time by her successors in office, all of whom have refused a full inquiry.
We understand that, despite current moves to reduce the influence of the European Convention on Human Rights currently enshrined in UK law, citizens still have the right to share the Government’s knowledge concerning who really killed their families and why those families were not protected.
We now know that Heathrow airside was broken into 16 hours before Lockerbie, but that, far from stopping all outgoing flights after that discovery till airside had been thoroughly searched, the airport took no action. This break-in was known to the Metropolitan Police within days and to the Scots within a month, but was concealed entirely from us, and from the court in Holland 10 years later.
The disaster appears to have been eminently preventable. Why did that prevention so spectacularly fail?
Protection of citizens against terrorism is still trumpeted as one of Government’s prime responsibilities. We are not alone in wondering just why the Lockerbie flight simply was not protected despite all the warnings received beforehand.
[The first comment published beneath the letter reads as follows:]
I am sorry to say that I think it unlikely this country will ever conduct a full and open enquiry into that dreadful event.
However, in passing I'm sure I'm not alone in admiring, and saluting, Dr Swire's tireless efforts to get at the truth. He is a shining example to us all in that he has turned a tragic loss into a worthwhile crusade to uncover the truth. May he find it soon.