Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Are we just bored with Lockerbie now?

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Jonathan Brocklebank headlined A box-set binge or a genuine murder mystery? published today in the Scottish edition of the Daily Mail:]

Sixteen years ago I sat with a notebook and listened as witnesses told a courtroom what it was like to have a bombed Boeing 747 drop out of the sky in flames onto their town.

A wall of bullet-proof glass separated me from the people giving evidence and from the two Libyan men being tried for the atrocity. It afforded no protection from the searing images haunting the memories of those who watched Pan Am 103’s hellish descent.

These were painted so vividly, so matter-of-factly, that it felt rather like watching Lockerbie happen through binoculars. One man saw a ‘clean wing’, silhouetted against the clouds by the town lights, plunging vertically towards people’s houses.

Amidst a ‘rolling ball of fire’ descending from the sky, he saw much smaller black objects plunging earthward. Were these passengers? He did not say. I guessed so.

The testimony of the Lockerbie residents who travelled to the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands took up most of a day and I will never forget it. Nothing they had to say about the night of December 21, 1988, may have shed any light on the guilt or innocence of the two Libyan men sitting feet away from them in the dock, betraying no emotion.

But their graphic narration left no doubt about the monstrous scale of the crime being tried before three Scottish judges in 2000.  

With a death toll of 270 people, it remains Britain’s worst terrorist atrocity. And, if you’re into that kind of thing, it remains something of a murder mystery.

Even if you believe Adbelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi planted the bomb that blew up Pan Am 103 – and I am not convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that I do – then you almost certainly do not believe that he acted in isolation. Who were his co-conspirators? Are they still alive? How many more years must their victims’ families wait before they are brought to justice?

Alternatively, could it be credible that an innocent man was tried and convicted of carrying out the most heinous act in Scottish criminal history? Can the most crucial trial ever conducted in Scots Law truly have returned the wrong verdict? Alternatively, could it be credible that an innocent man was tried and convicted of carrying out the most heinous act in Scottish criminal history? Can the most crucial trial ever conducted in Scots Law truly have returned the wrong verdict?

This is not simply the belief of a few conspiracy theorists with Sellotape holding their spectacles together. Some highly respected legal and investigative experts believe so, too – not to mention figures such as Dr Jim Swire, a former GP who has spent more than 25 years in pursuit of the truth about his daughter Flora’s killers.

At a time when much of the nation is glued to a documentary series on Netflix called Making a Murderer, concerning a man from Wisconsin whose name meant nothing to us a month ago, these seem questions worth asking... together with this one: are we just bored with Lockerbie now?

Six weeks before the story of convicted US murderer Steven Avery became the most obsessed-over topic at office water coolers across the land, another true crime TV documentary surfaced on BBC4 to little fanfare. It was not the full, three-part investigative film which Ken Dornstein made about the Lockerbie bombing following half a lifetime of research into the atrocity that killed his brother David.

It seems that was too much TV for a feature of global significance about an atrocity in Scotland. Instead, the three utterly compelling hour-long programmes in which Mr Dornstein identifies two possible further suspects for the bombing were chopped into one 90-minute film and broadcast on one of the Beeb’s out-ofthe-way channels on a rainy November night. (...)

As a direct result of his investigative odyssey across three continents, the Crown Office formally announced in October that there were now two new Lockerbie bombing suspects, Abu Agila Mas’ud and Abdullah Al Senussi.

I wonder how Mr Dornstein’s viewing figures on the BBC compared to those on Netflix for Making a Murderer, a tenpart, 607-minute splurge of true crime programming in which viewers are supposed to decide what kind of a man Steven Avery is. (...)

Me, I gave Making a Murderer an hour and no more. By contrast, who placed the bomb on board Pan Am 103, how and why, matters far more to my country, to the US and many other nations whose citizens died.

There are critical questions concerning the compassionate release of Megrahi in 2009 after little more than eight years in prison. Was he really freed by then Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill because of his prostate cancer – and, if so, why three full years before the cancer took his life?

Or was Megrahi packed off home purely to ensure that his appeal against conviction went away, for it was an appeal which might result in an unthinkably embarrassing quashed verdict?

I don’t know the answers to these questions any more than I know who killed Teresa Halbach. But, in the land of Lockerbie, it would be nice to think they were more pressing.


  1. Every so often I read an insightful, up-to-date piece mirrored here, and think about contacting the author to point out the Heathrow evidence to them. I'd even donate a copy of the book to someone in the media who "gets it" and who might find their thinking revved up by the contents. There never seems to be any way to email them. I've emailed a couple of newspapers asking for the email to be passed on, but nobody has ever replied.

    This is another one. Except, Daily Mail. I don't think so somehow.

    1. To journalists who take an interest, the Heathrow evidence is already widely known. A good deal of it was presented at Megrahi's appeal at Camp Zeist - which, of course, failed. The problem is not that journalists don't get it, it is that it's a difficult story to 'sell' - both to editors and to readers - given that much of the evidence has already been tested in court and rejected. Jim Swire has been telling journalists for a very long time that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow. Others, equally vociferously, have been saying he is mistaken. Marcello Mega is a freelance journalist very sympathetic to the 'Heathrow' line and he has written several big pieces for the Mail on Sunday over the years. Staff journalists have been rather more circumspect - perhaps because they have to be. Some have had Lockerbie commentators refusing to speak to them because they continue to entertain the notion in their stories that Megrahi may be guilty. It is a complex balancing act. But I wouldn't be too disparaging about any newspaper writing about Lockerbie. They want good stories on their pages. If they thought the Heathrow evidence could be run as compelling, persuasive and new, they would run it.

    2. What was tested at the Camp Zeist appeal was the Heathrow break-in evidence, which was withheld from the defence at the trial. Dr Morag Kerr's conclusive proof that the bomb suitcase was already in AVE4041 before the feeder flight arrived at Heathrow from Frankfurt has never been led in court and has largely been ignored in the print and broadcast media. See published on 21 December 2013.

    3. What the professor said, really. It was well understood at Camp Zeist that there had been a suspicious suitcase in that container, very very close to the point of the explosion, and that it had never been satisfactorily explained. People have mentioned this from time to time as a point which should, in all justice, have led to an acquittal on the grounds of reasonable doubt.

      Nobody would be interested in running that again, or making a feature of it. However, we're in a different place now. That suitcase has been conclusively proved to have been the bomb. It's not a possibility or even a probability, it's a certainty. The evidence is not difficult to follow if you just take the trouble to read through it. I got it down to 12 pages of A4 (including pictures) for the SCCRC. In fact, it's so easy to follow that it's a huge embarrassment for the original investigation that they didn't spot it.

      "Lockerbie bomb has been proved to have been introduced at Heathrow" shouldn't be particularly hard to sell to anyone, and should be a hell of a splash. The bomb suitcase was definitely seen at Heathrow an hour before the flight from Frankfurt landed, therefore it didn't travel on that flight, therefore it was never on board KM180 at Malta. Megrahi is therefore provably innocent.

      The book was published two years ago. I have positively begged people to find a flaw in the reasoning. No takers. People who read the book uniformly declare themselves convinced, even those who were sceptical beforehand. And then we have the majority, who either refuse to read it because they think they already know what it contains (they're wrong), or refuse even to acknowledge its existence.

      Journalism has deteriorated alarmingly over the past 20 years. Staff are being cut, papers are going under, and the people who are left are cobbling together non-stories out of press releases. Sneering cynicism seems to be the thing that sells papers. Investigative journalism is pretty much a dead duck.

      I keep hoping for a journalist who gets it and who's prepared to get up and run with it, but I'm not holding my breath. Marcello Mega says the papers don't want Lockerbie stories any more (just as this headline implies), and I think he's tired of pushing it.

      I wish to hell someone had spotted this even ten years earlier when there was still some public interest. But nobody did. Now, there's an extra layer of resistance I'm afraid, because almost all the press is viciously hostile to the Scottish government and they like to trot out the line about Salmond releasing a mass murderer. They'd have to stop that if they acknowledged that conclusive proof of innocence had been uncovered.

      I wonder if I could interest them in the line about the evil SNP forcing a dying man to abandon the appeal that would have cleared his name? That at least has some factual basis to run with, unlike all the "oil deal" delusion.