Sunday 17 April 2016

Unfulfilled hopes

[On this date in 2000 an article headlined Dr Jim Swire: My hopes was published on the BBC News website. It reads as follows:]

Since the Lockerbie disaster, Dr Jim Swire has led a high-profile campaign for justice on behalf of UK relatives. Here, he explains his motivation and reveals what he hopes the trial will achieve.

My daughter, Flora wanted to fly to the US to spend Christmas with her American boyfriend.

The week before Christmas is a busy time for transatlantic flights. Twenty-four hours before the fatal flight, Flora was able to get a seat - on Pan Am Flight 103.

Why was that, and why was the 103 only two-thirds full that night?

Our group has sought truth and justice throughout the last 11 years since our loved ones perished so horribly.

We want to know why the intelligence warnings were ignored, why UK aviation security was so inept that its head, who had seen a warning about a bomb in a tape recorder specifically designed to work in the hold of an aircraft in-flight, actually informed his staff, just before Lockerbie, that if they were unsure about a tape recorder: "Any device about which a searcher is unable to satisfy himself/herself must, if it is to be carried in the aircraft, be consigned to the aircraft hold."

No explanation or apology has been forthcoming, for this or for the apparent torpor of the intelligence services.

All attempts to persuade the Conservative Government to hold an objective inquiry were dismissed, even though the doomed aircraft "Maid of the Seas" had been loaded from empty, (and therefore the bomb itself had been loaded) at Heathrow Airport, under the "Host State Protection" of the UK.

Indictments issued
In November 1991, the UK and US Governments suddenly issued indictments against two named Libyans, claiming that there was no evidence for the involvement of any other country, and demanding their immediate surrender for trial in the UK or US.

In 1971, the Libyans, the UK and the US had all been parties to the Montreal Convention, which stated that under these circumstances the accused could be tried under the law of their own country, that is Libya.

I am two-thirds Scottish and my daughter died in Scotland. I wanted the accused tried under Scottish law, with its excellent reputation for impartiality.

Against the background of such demands at international level, and the existence of such a treaty, it seemed very unlikely that an independent state, such as Libya, would ever comply.

It was difficult as a small-town GP in England to see what could be done, but with the help of an Egyptian journalist, Nabil Nagemeldin, who was able to arrange the logistics, I decided I must try to persuade Libya to allow her citizens to be tried under Scots law.

Sealed letters
I had to see Colonel Gaddafi. Leaving sealed letters with a solicitor, in case I could not return, I found myself finally making the nerve-racking trip down the concrete path to the colonel's tent in Tripoli.

I shall never forget that dark cold December night. Fear sharpens the senses.

Unfortunately, his aides did not allow me to bring in my briefcase which contained one or two small presents for him, so my opening gambit was, that while I was very grateful to him for agreeing to see me, I thought he must be almost as scared of me as I was of him.

After that the briefcase was brought and the ice was broken.

The Arabs have a rich tradition of courtesy to travellers, which was honoured that night. The colonel was determined that I should hear that he believed that his citizens were innocent and that he did not know how the disaster had been caused.

His adopted daughter had been killed in the 1986 bombing of Tripoli by the US, and he agreed that in the preserved ruined bedroom, where she had been mortally wounded, a photograph of her and of Flora should be put up side by side, with the message beneath in Arabic and English: "The consequence of the use of violence is the death of innocent people."

So far as I know it is still there.

West sanctions
As I left he allowed me to pin a badge to his robe. It read "Pan Am 103 - the truth must be known".

Western demands remained, and were backed by Security Council sanctions. The Libyans could not try the two because the West would not supply them with the evidence.

In January 1994 Professor Robert Black QC, a native of Lockerbie, had proposed a trial under Scottish criminal law, but in a neutral country. In addition he proposed that such a court have a panel of judges instead of a jury.

Under Scottish law, jurors should not come to a case having already formed opinions as to the guilt or innocence of those upon whom they are to give a verdict.

Where would 15 such Scots be found after the media coverage of the preceding years?

Professor Black had also obtained the agreement of the Libyans to such a solution. With the refusal of the US or UK Governments to consider such a "neutral country" trial, in April 1998 Prof Black and I decided to lobby internationally for support of his proposal.

Cairo trip
With the help of loyal friends we flew to Cairo and obtained the support of HE Esmat Abdel-Meguid, secretary-general of the League of Arab States.

The Organisation of African Unity had gone as far as to threaten to break Security Council sanctions imposed on Libya, unless the west found a solution to the Lockerbie deadlock.

With this encouragement we visited Libya again and obtained renewed and stronger support from both Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyan People's Congresses for the "neutral country" trial solution.

The following month, May 1998, I met Donald K Bandler, special adviser to President Clinton, and member of the National Security Council at the Whitehouse in Birmingham, England.

When asked why the US still refused to consider the concept of a "neutral country trial", his reply was that the Libyans "would never hand them over".

Change of government
Following the 1997 general election in the UK, the new foreign secretary, Robin Cook, while initially taking the line that a neutral country trial was not possible under Scots law, met our group and, with tremendous support from President Nelson Mandela, (who had been lobbying the UK Government during the Conservative years also), had the grace to agree to promote this solution.

How he and Prime Minister Tony Blair persuaded America to join them I do not know.

One piece was missing: the venue itself. That missing piece was supplied by the Netherlands.

The Dutch Government, in line with its magnificent past record in support of international justice, offered a choice of possible sites.

In the end Zeist was chosen to become Scottish territory for the duration of the criminal proceedings.

There remained the delicate task of clearing up remaining difficulties raised by the Libyan defence team.

'Fair verdict'
This was entrusted to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and his team led by Hans Corell, legal counsel to the UN.

Our group has always worked for truth and justice and now we expect to see Scottish criminal justice deliver a fair verdict on the guilt or innocence of two individuals.

After that is done many questions will still remain unanswered.

In December 1998, for the first time since the disaster, a British prime minister (Tony Blair) met us to discuss these issues.

He supported the need to follow up any new avenues opened up by the trial.

He also said that "we had thought that the Lockerbie situation was set in stone and then we heard the voice of the relatives".

I think Flora would have been proud to hear that and that it goes some way to atone for the fearful price that this campaign has exacted from all of us.

That price for me includes the loss of my medical partnership together with much of my pension rights.

But it has also revealed the loyalty of my wife Jane, who has understood that this was something I had to do. Any alternative would have been infinitely worse.

Others in our group have suffered likewise Some have died from stress-related diseases.

Despite all that, we shall still be seeking truth and justice after this trial is over - those we loved were too important for their fate to be pushed under any political carpet.

'Criminal investigation'
The verdict of this court on the guilt or innocence of these two accused will however have removed one of the most potent weapons used to frustrate our search for the truth - the mantra: "You can't have an inquiry because it might impinge on the criminal investigation."

Other major international political issues also hang upon the verdict. Perhaps this unprecedented legal solution may help point the way for future victims of international crime.

Despite deliberations stretching all the way back to Nuremburg, there is still no satisfactory route for the trying of those accused of international terrorist crimes such as Lockerbie.

President Mandela has said that no one country should be complainant, prosecutor and judge.

I would be proud if this trial contributes to fair and just resolution of future terrorist cases.

1 comment:

  1. The unprejudiced attitude and open mindedness of Jim Swire springs clearly from this piece, with a genuine wish to establish the full truth behind the death of Flora and the 269 others.

    "I would be proud if this trial contributes to fair and just resolution of future terrorist cases."

    But that he and we did also not get. Instead, we saw all the most ugly sides of a legal system and investigative forces which we painfully came to learn was dedicated to reach and preserve the outcome they wanted, despite the absurdities in the evidence as pointed out by SCCRC and others.

    Most amazing is the acceptance of Tony Gauci's testimonies, staring with a approx. 50 years 6-foot well-built guy.

    There has been one single light lit by the system in the end of the tunnel: the first finding of the SCCRC.

    The Sandwood-guys will be under enormous pressure.

    I hope that those who still believe that somewhere and somehow a rotten system can cure itself are right.