Wednesday 2 December 2015

An' then the world came tae oor doorstep

[What follows is taken from an item published on this blog on this date in 2008:]

An' then the world came tae oor doorstep: Lockerbie Lives and Stories
by Jill S Haldane, with a foreword by Robert Black.

Product Description
The Lockerbie Stories tell of the absolute incomprehension of something as alien as hunks of aeroplane and associated detritus falling through the roof of the home from aerospace above, penetrating the security of the family and exposing the self to chaos and despair, inverting life's experience from relatively familiar to discrete. The grief and trauma that followed, dealing with veil of death and destruction as victims and their belongings rained on homes, gardens and streets, together with the shock and upset involved in evacuation from your home and disruption of your routine. The frustrating inability to communicate with family and friends out with the community; the violation of all pre-conceived representations of Christmas and the descending swarm of strangers. To see your wee space on the planet, on the screen and beamed to innumerable other homes across the world. The silence then the noise: the sound of people and busyness was deafening to the quietude of the town and the echo reverberated for a few years. This is not a comparative study of how the Lockerbie bombing compares to any other disaster, natural or premeditated. By nature, disasters are variously horrific for the people directly and indirectly involved.

The book consists of accounts by Lockerbie indwellers of their experiences on 21 December 1988 and the years that followed.

Product Details
Paperback: 332 pages
Publisher: The Grimsay Press (December 19, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1845300637
ISBN-13: 978-1845300630
List price: £16.95/US$32.50

[RB: My foreword reads as follows:]

The only previous book of which I am aware which is devoted to recording something of the social life of the town of Lockerbie is Lockerbie: A narrative of village life in bygone days (Lockerbie: Herald Press, 1937) by Thomas Henderson, Solicitor, of the law firm Henderson & Mackay (which exists to this day). The author’s intention was to record with historical accuracy (albeit in a loose, fictionalised narrative form) what was known about life in the town at the time of the Napoleonic wars, while there were still people around who had heard first-hand accounts from parents and others who were alive at the time. My copy contains a clipping of a lengthy and laudatory review (probably from the local newspaper, The Annandale Herald) by the then minister of Dryfesdale Parish Kirk, Rev John Charlton Steen MA (who, incidentally, some ten years later, baptised me).

At least part of Jill Haldane’s aim in the present book is not entirely dissimilar: to record accounts by inhabitants of Lockerbie of the recent event with which the name of the town has become indissolubly linked and to reflect on how that seminal event may have changed, for good or ill, the life of the town and its indwellers.

Here, in brief, is my, and my family’s, story.

In 1988, both of my parents were still alive and living in the town’s Hillview Street. I was due to join them there on 23 December to spend Christmas and the New Year.

The first news of the Lockerbie disaster came to me through BBC radio. I was at my home in Edinburgh preparing my evening meal with, as usual, my wireless tuned to Radio Four. The first reports were, inevitably, sketchy and, I remember, suggested that Langholm too had been affected. But as soon as it was indicated that a plane had crashed on the town, my immediate thought was that it must have been one of the RAF jets that used the locality for low-flying exercises, to the great concern of the local inhabitants who often predicted that there would one day be a tragedy.

I immediately tried to telephone my mother, but all the lines were down and I could not get through. Shortly after 8pm a university colleague phoned me. Her first words were: “Bob, are you sitting down?” When I said that I wasn’t, she said “I think you should.” She then said that television programmes had been interrupted to announce that a plane had crashed on Lockerbie. Knowing that I did not have a television set (and twenty years later I still don’t) she assumed that I would not have received the news.

As the gravity of the incident became clearer, so my concern for the safety of my mother and father increased. However, at around 8.15, I received a phone call from my niece, at that time a nurse in a hospital in Glasgow. It transpired that she had actually been on the phone to my mother when the plane came down and, because the line was not cut until a few minutes thereafter, was able to confirm that her grandmother and grandfather had not been killed or injured. At the actual moment of impact, my father had been outside the house, posting a letter in the pillar box just across the road. He rushed to the alleyway between the houses and sheltered there while small items of debris rained down on the street.

When I drove in to Lockerbie on 23rd December, I was asked by the police what my business there was and, having convinced them that it was legitimate, was instructed to take a circuitous route to Hillview Street because the direct route was closed. That route would have led through Park Place which, of course, was one of the locations (other than Sherwood Crescent) most affected by debris from the plane.

Hillview Street itself had not been damaged. But a short distance away, just beyond Lambhill Terrace, the local golf course was one of the main sites from which bodies were recovered. Indeed, the main immediate impact that the disaster had on my family’s daily life was that it prevented my father from taking his daily walks over the golf course with his elderly next-door neighbour’s equally elderly dog.

The most obvious signs to me over the next few days that all was not normal were: the presence of multitudes of strangers in the town; the prevalence of baseball caps (not at that time a common item of headgear in Scotland) among the (presumably American) incomers; and the constant noise of helicopters.

My parents – typically, I think – did not then, or in the years that followed, talk a great deal about the event. Nor did their friends and neighbours. These were not people who wore their emotions on their sleeves. Scorn and distaste were, of course, expressed for the disaster groupies who felt compelled to visit the principal sites of destruction and gawk. But apart from that, reticence was the keynote of local reaction. And while there may well have been some citizens of the town who made use of the counselling services provided, on the whole the denizens of Lockerbie did not provide fertile ground for trauma counsellors.

My personal involvement in the aftermath of the destruction of Pan Am 103 began in early 1993. I was approached by representatives of a group of British businessmen whose desire to participate in major engineering works in Libya was being impeded by the UN sanctions that had been imposed on Libya in attempt to compel the surrender for trial in Scotland or the United States of America of their two accused citizens. They asked if I would be prepared to provide (on an unpaid basis) independent advice to the government of Libya on matters of Scottish criminal law, procedure and evidence with a view (it was hoped) to persuading them that their citizens would obtain a fair trial if they were to surrender themselves to the Scottish authorities. This I agreed to do, and submitted material setting out the essentials of Scottish solemn criminal procedure and the various protections embodied in it for accused persons.

In the light of this material, it was indicated to me that the Libyan government was satisfied regarding the fairness of a criminal trial in Scotland but that since Libyan law prevented the extradition of nationals for trial overseas, the ultimate decision on surrender for trial would have to be one taken voluntarily by the accused persons themselves, in consultation with their independent legal advisers. For this purpose a meeting was convened in Tripoli in October 1993 of the international team of lawyers which had already been appointed to represent the accused. This team consisted of lawyers from Scotland, England, Malta, Switzerland and the United States and was chaired by the principal Libyan lawyer for the accused, Dr Ibrahim Legwell. The Libyan government asked me to be present in Tripoli while the team was meeting so that the government itself would have access to independent Scottish legal advice should the need arise. However, the Libyan government expectation was clearly that the outcome of the meeting of the defence team would be a decision by the two accused voluntarily to agree to stand trial in Scotland.

I am able personally to testify to how much of a surprise and embarrassment it was to the Libyan government when the outcome of the meeting of the defence team was an announcement that the accused were not prepared to surrender themselves for trial in Scotland. In the course of a private meeting that I had a day later with Dr Legwell, he explained to me that the primary reason for the unwillingness of the accused to stand trial in Scotland was their belief that, because of unprecedented pre-trial publicity over the years, a Scottish jury could not possibly bring to their consideration of the evidence in this case the degree of impartiality and open-mindedness that accused persons are entitled to expect and that a fair trial demands. A secondary consideration was the issue of the physical security of the accused if the trial were to be held in Scotland. Not that it was being contended that ravening mobs of enraged Scottish citizens would storm Barlinnie prison, seize the accused and string them up from the nearest lamp posts. Rather, the fear was that they might be snatched by special forces of the United States, removed to America and put on trial there (or, like Lee Harvey Oswald, suffer an unfortunate accident before being put on trial).

The Libyan government attitude remained, as it always had been, that they had no constitutional authority to hand their citizens over to the Scottish authorities for trial. The question of voluntary surrender for trial was one for the accused and their legal advisers, and while the Libyan government would place no obstacles in the path of, and indeed would welcome, such a course of action, there was nothing that it could lawfully do to achieve it.

Having mulled over the concerns expressed to me by Dr Legwell in October 1993, I returned to Tripoli and on 10 January 1994 presented a letter to him suggesting a means of resolving the impasse created by the insistence of the governments of the United Kingdom and United States that the accused be surrendered for trial in Scotland or America and the adamant refusal of the accused to submit themselves for trial by jury in either of these countries. This was a detailed proposal, but in essence its principal elements were: that a trial be held outside Scotland, ideally in the Netherlands, in which the governing law and procedure would be that followed in Scottish criminal trials on indictment but with this major alteration, namely that the jury of 15 persons which is a feature of that procedure be replaced by a panel of judges who would have the responsibility of deciding not only questions of law but also the ultimate question of whether the guilt of the accused had been established on the evidence beyond reasonable doubt.

In a letter to me dated 12 January 1994, Dr Legwell stated that he had consulted his clients, that this scheme was wholly acceptable to them and that if it were implemented by the government of the United Kingdom the suspects would voluntarily surrender themselves for trial before a tribunal so constituted. By a letter of the same date the Deputy Foreign Minister of Libya stated that his government approved of the proposal and would place no obstacles in the path of its two citizens should they elect to submit to trial under this scheme.

On my return to the United Kingdom I submitted the relevant documents to the Foreign Office in London and the Crown Office (the headquarters of the Scottish prosecution service) in Edinburgh. Their immediate response was that this scheme was impossible, impracticable and inherently undesirable, with the clear implication that I had taken leave of what few senses nature had endowed me with. That remained the attitude of successive Lord Advocates and Foreign Secretaries for four years and seven months. During this period the British government's stance remained consistent: United Nations Security Council Resolutions placed upon the government of Libya a binding international legal obligation to hand over the accused for trial to the UK or the US authorities. Nothing else would do. If Libyan law did not currently permit the extradition of its own nationals to stand trial overseas, then Libya should simply alter its law (and, if necessary, its Constitution) to enable it to fulfil its international duty.

However, from about late July 1998, following interventions supporting my “neutral venue” scheme from, amongst others, President Nelson Mandela, there began to be leaks from UK government sources to the effect that a policy change over Lockerbie was imminent; and on 24 August 1998 the governments of the United Kingdom and United States announced that they had reversed their stance on the matter of a "neutral venue" trial.

Although many within the governments of Britain and the United States and within the media were sceptical, the suspects did eventually, on 5 April 1999, surrender themselves for trial before the Scottish court at Camp Zeist. That trial, after lengthy delays necessitated by the defence's need for adequate time to prepare, started on 3 May 2000 and a verdict of guilty was returned against one of the accused, and of not guilty against the other, on 31 January 2001.

I feel a measure of pride in the part that I, a Lockerbie boy born and bred, played in resolving an international impasse and in bringing the trial about. I have reason to suspect, however, that the United Kingdom government feels no sense of gratitude towards me. And I feel no pride whatsoever in the outcome of the proceedings. The conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on the evidence led at the trial constitutes, in my view, a flagrant miscarriage of justice, and one that I hope to live to see rectified as a result of the reference of the case back for a further appeal by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission in June 2007.

Many in Lockerbie hoped, I think, that the twentieth anniversary of the tragedy would signal an end to the town’s exposure to the eyes of the world. Regrettably, because of the Crown’s delaying tactics, it looks as if the new appeal will not be concluded before 21 December 2008. But the town’s wish will surely be fulfilled before the twenty-first anniversary and Lockerbie will be permitted to sink back into decent obscurity. But future generations will be grateful that, before that happened, Jill Haldane had the vision and the persistence to find a way of ensuring that the voices of the people of Lockerbie were heard and preserved.

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