Thursday, 20 December 2018

Probably we will never know exactly who did it

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Mike Wade in today's edition of The Times headlined Lockerbie 30 years on: Flora Swire’s parents tell of the struggle to cope with her death. It reads in part:]

Flora was vivacious, funny, shrewd and beautiful, “a terrific searcher after truth”, in Jim’s words, a young woman of endless curiosity, whose life was cut short by a bomb the day before her 24th birthday in 1988.

Numb with grief, it would take the Swires a couple of days to travel to Lockerbie. When they arrived, Jim demanded to see Flora’s body, in defiance of the official advice. He identified her by a mole on her toe and returned from the mortuary with a lock of his daughter’s hair. A keepsake that Jane has treasured.

Jim’s activism had begun. Within weeks he was a familiar figure on news bulletins, his angular face and shock of hair set off by a lapel badge reading: “Pan Am 103: The Truth Must Be Known.”

Early on he persuaded Cecil Parkinson of the need for a public inquiry, but the transport secretary was “handbagged” by the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and the inquiry never happened. Eighteen months after the attack he carried a “bomb” made of marzipan on to a plane, to demonstrate the inadequacy of British and US airport security.

Over the next decade he campaigned remorselessly to have the suspected bombers brought to court, lobbying the leaders of the Arab League and meeting Nelson Mandela. In 1998, seven years after indictments had been issued for two Libyan suspects, he travelled to Tripoli to urge Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to give up the men.

Jane never joined in any of this. “The how, why, when, what and where questions were unimportant compared with the loss,” she says. “Someone who has been so important in your life suddenly gone, just like that, was too much [for me] to take in. So I could never have been active politically, trying to process this terrible grief.”

When her husband’s activities prompted unwelcome media attention, Jane forgave him. “We are all different, and I felt it helped Jim, because he was so angry,” she says. “I was devastated with sorrow. I envied him his anger confronting these political things. But I didn’t have it, so I could not join in.”

For a whole year, in 2000-01, the couple lived in the Netherlands during the trial at Camp Zeist of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the men charged with carrying out the attack. Typically, Jim attended every day, Jane less often. At the time, she gave an interview to the Daily Mail, suggesting she had lost her husband to the tragedy, along with her daughter.

“It sounds as if I was angry about that, but I wasn’t,” Jane says. “We are all so different and everyone would process this devastating ‘event’ — it sounds too trite a word — in their own way. You’re alone in your grief, it is quite difficult to share.

“You are in a differing relationship with the loving, lovely person that’s gone. He was a father, I was a mother, probably closer really, just trying to survive, doing my best, trying to cope for the sake of our remaining family.” Jim, 82, does not demur. He says: “One of the awful things is you don’t just lose your lovely daughter, you lose what she would have become in later life: the children she would have had; the professorship I’m sure she would have achieved.

“We often get back to this basic divergence about my campaigning, and Jane will say, quite rightly, ‘Whatever you do, it will never bring Flora back.’ ”

His wife, 79, is nodding. “There is a terrible finality in death, which is unequivocal,” she says. A former religious education teacher, her faith has been shaken, but she still holds out hope of meeting Flora in heaven. (...)

Al-Megrahi alone was convicted of the crime, although he died of cancer in 2012 protesting his innocence. Jim believed him, became his friend and for the past 18 years has campaigned to clear the Libyan’s name. He hopes an appeal by al-Megrahi’s family will succeed, opening the way for his daughter’s real killers to be brought to justice.

Thirty years on, do they think Jim’s campaigning will reveal the full truth in their lifetimes? Both are doubtful. “There will be new inquiries. Probably we will never know exactly who did it,” Jane says.

“I think Flora would have appreciated my trying to get to the truth,” Jim says. “At the bar of history I want it to be fairly straightforward for objective investigators to see what was done.” Mum’s grief. Dad’s anger. Flora would have expected nothing less and would have loved them all the more. “She would,” Jane says, “she would.”

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