[On this date in 2000 the Lockerbie trial began at Camp Zeist. The fullest account in the media of the day’s proceedings is to be found on Safia Aoude’s The Pan Am 103 Crash Website, from which the following excerpts are taken:]
Members of the court rose when the judges, wearing white wigs and dressed in flowing ivory robes with embroidered red crosses, were led into the chamber by a sentry bearing a silver mace. They took their seats on the bench underneath a Scottish royal crest bearing the Latin words: "Nemo me impune lacessit," which means "None dare meddle with me". The accused have waited almost a decade to have their day in court.
Flanked by Scottish police officers, the two suspects put on headphones to hear an Arabic interpretation of the English-speaking proceedings. Their facial expressions gave little away. Mr Fhimah sat virtually motionless, Mr Megrahi fiddled with his headphones and adjusted his glasses knowing that these new surroundings would become a kind of home over the next 12 months.
The suspects, clad in Libyan national dress of black cap, white robe and waistcoat, then pleaded not guilty to carrying out the bombing of New York-bound Pan Am flight 103 on the night of December 21, 1988. The clerk to the specially-convened Scottish court read a list of Arabic names of people he said the defence would allege were the real Lockerbie bombers.
It included members of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General and members of another group called the PPSF. The indictment against the accused - who sat impassively throughout - took 20 minutes to read, after which the clerk of the court announced that both men were pleading not guilty to all charges. (...)
More than 30 American victims' relatives were getting front-row seats in the public gallery, separated from the court by bulletproof glass. Relatives of the defendants sat on the other side, dressed in white robes like the accused, among them their daughters and Mr Fhimah's 15-year-old son, uncle and father. The two groups made obvious efforts to avoid each. Megrahi's 15-year-old son Khalid, dressed in a black bomber jacket and beige canvas trousers, sat just a couple of meters away from his father -- separated by bullet-proof glass and a Scottish police officer.
Victims' relatives shifted from seat to seat to find the best vantage point. “I like aisles. Aisles are good if I want to get away,” said one American woman. “We believe in faith. Whatever is written cannot be changed. We are not upset because we know they will get a fair trial and we know they are innocent,” said Ali Fahima, Fahima's cousin, speaking to reporters with the Libyan journalist interpreting.
Al-Megrahi's brother, Mohammed Ali Megrahi, said he is convinced his brother is innocent. "We are looking for the truth and we believe he didn't do it," he said outside the courtroom. "If we believed he did it, we wouldn't be here, and he wouldn't have come voluntarily." (...)
"I feel sick," said Susan Cohen, of Cape May Courthouse, NJ, whose daughter Theodora died in the crash. "I saw the Libyans come in, and I'm trying not to look at them." Her husband Daniel Cohen shares a sentiment common to many victims’ family members. “I’m angry and you know I have absolutely no trouble with the word ‘revenge.’ None. I am just that angry.” (...)
“The people who are really responsible are who we are after,” said Kathleen Flynn of Montville, NJ, whose son, John Patrick Flynn, was among the victims. "We will attend every day, either here or in New York," said Kathleen Flynn. "This is the trial of the people who murdered our son, John Patrick Flynn. It will be terrible to sit in a courtroom with the murderers, but a parent has to do that." “I don’t think Fhimah and Megrahi were sitting around a cafe in Malta and deciding, ‘Let’s blow up an American plane today.’ So I think obviously the culpability has to go up the chain of command and we want to know who did it and why.” (...)
No relatives turn up at Dumfries tv-link room in Scotland
It was business as usual at Dumfries Sheriff Court on Wednesday morning, with little evidence that the venue was electronically linked to Scotland's biggest ever murder trial. The legal proceedings at Camp Zeist, where two Libyan men stand accused of the murder of 270 people in the Lockerbie bombing, were relayed live to two screens in a small courtroom. The court was one of a number of venues in Britain and the United States chosen to televise the proceedings for the benefit of relatives and those directly affected by the disaster.
However, no-one had turned up at Courtroom Number Four by 1600 BST on Wednesday. Accredited relatives had been invited to use the facility but so far no-one has asked to do so. This could change, as the trial progresses though, according to Bert Houston, who was one of the first journalists on the scene of the disaster in the nearby town of Lockerbie on the night of 21 December 1988.
He said: "The point is that relatives do visit Lockerbie constantly throughout the summer and they may want to see some of the proceedings. "The idea is that they come across here, spend a couple of hours or spend all day if they want, watching the proceedings. "It's only 12 miles form Lockerbie and I'm quite sure relatives will take advantage of the situation later in the year."
Because it was recognised that not all of the victims' relatives would be able to attend the trial in the Netherlands, it was agreed that special centres should be set up where they could watch a television feed of the proceedings.