[What follows is the text of an article published in The Spectator on this date in 2011:]
‘We will know one day why it happened,’ said the mother of Helga Mosey. Helga was just 19 when she was killed in the bomb that destroyed PanAm flight 103 as it flew over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on the night of 21 December 1988. Mrs Mosey was being interviewed the day after, doorstepped at her home in the Midlands by several news teams anxious for a story, a reaction, a headline.
This week’s Archive on 4 was the first in a series, ‘A Life Less Ordinary’, which is not so much reliving history as looking back at the radio interviews, the TV reporting, the newspaper stories to examine the ways in which these very dramatic events impact on the people at their heart. How do they cope? How does it change them? And, especially, how damaging is the attention of the world’s media? It was almost like an episode of The Reunion in the way the producer, Geoff Bird, sought to analyse as well as recall the experience as he looked back through the tapes with the Mosey family and some of the journalists who had been the first on the scene in Lockerbie.
The Moseys discovered what had happened to their daughter as they were watching the BBC’s nine o’clock news, two hours after the bomb had exploded. At first they looked on as bystanders, aghast at the story of a plane falling out of the sky in a ball of fire and killing all those on board plus several people on the ground, murdered in their homes just a few days before Christmas. They had no inkling their daughter was on the plane, failing (or unwilling) to make the connection that earlier in the day John Mosey had driven Helga to Birmingham on the first leg of her journey to New York. Only at the end of the news report was the flight number flashed across the screen, PanAm 103. ‘That’s Helga’s plane,’ said her mother.
As Helga’s father relived the scene with such clarity and spareness of detail, it was one of those radio moments when everything beyond the radio set, the voice, the words being spoken, receded into the distance. His 15-year-old son screamed, ‘No, no, no, no.’ John Mosey was himself literally struck dumb by the shock, speechless. But the next night, by which time the reporters had tracked down Helga’s family in their home, he made a conscious decision to speak out. ‘This is where you prove whether what you’ve taught and preached and said “This is what we believe” is real or just a game.’ He wanted to test himself.
‘You’re a Christian minister,’ he was asked (Mosey is a Pentecostal priest). ‘Hasn’t this destroyed your faith?’ Just 24 hours after hearing the news, he replied, ‘So far the grace of God has been more real than we ever dared believe.’
You might have thought he would have resented being required to answer such a blunt and troubling question. But now he’s grateful. He believes it forced him to rationalise what he was feeling, and to find a form of words to express it. ‘The moment when you encapsulate what’s happened in words, it becomes more real.’
Mosey, along with Jim Swire, has been a key figure in the long battle by the families of those killed at Lockerbie to find out not just what happened, who planted the bomb, who was behind it, but also why the political establishment kept secret the fact that there had been very specific warnings about a bomb which would be hidden on a PanAm flight bound for New York from Frankfurt. Flight 103 was the only plane flying across the Atlantic not to be absolutely full in this week before Christmas. Helga was a student needing a cheap flight.
Since then, Mosey has given countless interviews, as many as 47 in a single day. Did this constant media attention begin to take over? Did he get a buzz out of it?
‘Yes,’ he admits. But having realised that he was becoming addicted to being on TV and radio and that his eagerness to be interviewed was unhealthy he still went on campaigning. ‘We’ve exploited the media shamelessly.’
It was a fascinating reversal of what I would have expected him to say. He felt that he could use the media to convey to the political world that the families of the victims were not going to go away. They wanted to know the truth. And with one or two exceptions (such as the reporter who picked up a seatbelt as a trophy to take back to the offices of his Scottish tabloid newspaper) most of the reporting was very sensitive, refusing to use photographs of the bodies scattered across the hillside.
Is Helga’s mother any closer to an answer to that question of why such a terrible thing had happened to her daughter? ‘The question is not why,’ she suggests, hesitating just slightly. ‘It’s what you do with it…How you react.’