Tuesday 5 December 2017

Frank Duggan "not familiar with certain aspects of Lockerbie"

[What follows is excerpted from an obituary of Frank Duggan published in today’s edition of The Herald:]

Frank Duggan, who has died of cancer aged 79, was a combative and often controversial lawyer and campaigner for American victims of the 1998 PanAm/Lockerbie disaster four days before Christmas 1988. He headed the organisation Victims of Pan Am 103 Inc, representing families in the US who lost relatives in the terrorist bombing in which 270 people died.

Whether he represented all the families of the 190 American victims was never quite clear - he once told George Galloway MP he had "never really counted them" - but he was instrumental in the legal action that won $2.7 billion from the Libyan government for the bereaved families, minus a stunning 30 percent in American lawyers' fees. He reportedly worked for the families initially for no pay but is thought to have shared in those fees.

Mr Duggan was incensed when Kenny MacAskill, Scotland's justice minister at the time, decided to release the convicted bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, on humanitarian grounds in 2009. Describing the decision as obscene, Mr Duggan was vociferous in insisting the then Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi had ordered the PanAm bombing. This brought him into often bitter conflict with many of the Scottish and other UK victims' families, notably the most-outspoken UK relative, the GP Dr Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora perished in the tragedy.

Dr Swire and many other families always believed al-Megrahi's conviction was a miscarriage of justice and that Iran may have been behind the terrorist bombing in retaliation for a less-publicized tragedy. That was when an American Navy guided-missile cruiser, the USS Vincennes, shot down an Iran Air Airbus passenger aircraft over the Persian Gulf on July 3, 1988, killing all 290 passengers and crew - more than the later total of the Lockerbie tragedy. The Americans said they thought the airliner was a fighter plane and the deaths received a fraction of the publicity worldwide that the Lockerbie deaths would receive nearly six months later.

By all accounts, Frank Duggan was a good man, a man who recovered from years of alcoholism and who sincerely fought for the American victims of PanAm 103. But he was perhaps rather naive when it came to the media, as demonstrated in a telling telephone interview with George Galloway MP for talkRADIO in 2009.

In the call, Mr Duggan admits he was not familiar with certain aspects of Lockerbie, notably the evidence of the Maltese witness Tony Gauci, who said he had sold the clothes later found to have been wrapped around the bomb which brought PanAm 103 down. Mr Galloway asked Mr Duggan why the US government had given Mr Gauci a $2million "reward,"to which Mr Duggan replied that there was no proof of such a payment and that he was "not that familiar" with Mr Gauci's evidence.

Mr Duggan then proceeded to call Jim Swire and others of being "all of these cranks." Again, Mr Galloway pulled him up for calling Dr Swire a crank. It was too much for Mr Duggan and in the end he told Mr Galloway: "I don't have time to waste with people like you. I've got to go. Bye bye." And he hung up. (...)

It was George H W Bush who in early 1989, prompted by the Lockerbie tragedy, appointed Mr Duggan to the Presidential Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism (PCAST) where he became a liaison between the US administration and the American Lockerbie victims.

According to a colleague at PCAST, former FBI agent J Brian Hyland, whose desk was next to Mr Duggan's, the latter had a tendency to sing or hum the patriotic Battle Hymn of the Republic (Mine Eyes have seen the Glory) to keep his colleagues in a positive frame of mind.

Despite the fact that he did not have a relative on the PanAm 103, the families - or at least a majority of them - trusted him and appointed him president of the group they called Victims of PanAm 103 Inc, and he represented them until the day of his death. In return, the families supported Mr Duggan, notably after his daughter was hit by a drunk driver and went into a coma. She eventually awoke but with brain damage.

As family liaison, Mr Duggan lobbied for their interests and listened to them with patience and understanding. After being appointed to Presidcent Bush's PCAST, he continued lobbying for the families as the trail turned to Libya. During this time, he went to work for one of the legal teams representing the families, headed by Allan Gerson, whose 2001 book noted that “for six years Duggan had worked for the families and had earned nothing for it except their trust and gratitude.”

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