Friday 30 November 2018

Lockerbie families: we were spied on by state

[This is the headline over a report published in today's edition of The Times. It reads in part:]

Relatives of the Lockerbie bomb victims said yesterday that they have been repeatedly bugged by the security services as it emerged that secret government documents suggested the families needed “careful watching”.

Previously classified government files, seen by The Times, reveal that Margaret Thatcher, when she was prime minister, had been warned that the families were becoming increasingly organised and it was suggested to her that they be put under observation.

Speaking about alleged state surveillance for the first time, the Rev John Mosey, a church minister who lost his teenage daughter, Helga, in the bombing, said that after speaking publicly his phone calls were often disrupted and documents relating to the bombing had gone missing from his computer.

Jim Swire, a GP who became the public face of the campaign to secure an independent inquiry into the atrocity, reported similar intrusions and claims that he was grilled by people he now believes were from the security services. (...)

Their stories were corroborated by Hans Koechler, who was appointed by the UN to be an independent observer at the trial of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person to be convicted for the worst act of terrorism in Britain. The academic and humanitarian, based in Vienna, revealed that his computers had been accessed and data removed after he compiled reports into the case.

Dr Swire and Mr Mosey believe that crucial evidence was withheld from Megrahi’s trial and that his conviction may have been wrongful.

The latest Lockerbie files have been released by the British government and sourced from the National Archives.

One of the documents is a letter sent from the Foreign Office on August 10, 1989, to Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Scotland’s most senior law officer, and circulated to Thatcher, which raises concerns about the families. It said: “Another aspect which will need careful watching is the activities of relatives of Pan Am 103 victims. The US relatives have for some time been well organised and vocal. More recently the UK relatives have formed the group ‘UK Families Flight 103’ and have written to various ministers. We must be totally consistent in our responses to them.”

Later documents suggest that the relatives were regarded as a nuisance by the government. Lord Fraser, then lord advocate, wrote: “I have recently received a letter from the UK families expressing a wish for a public inquiry. I have sought to head off this demand of relatives here and in the United States.”

Relatives believe the files finally confirm their long-standing belief that they were spied on.

Dr Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed, said: “I cannot believe that a supposedly decent country could behave in such a way towards grieving people whose only crime was to seek the truth. It is unethical, improper and totally unjustifiable.”

He claimed that his communications had been interfered with for decades after he spoke to two men in 1989 who claimed to be journalists.

“These two guys asked to meet me in the countryside near Cambridge,” he said. “They turned up in a high powered foreign sports car and made me feel quite uneasy, almost scared. They seemed satisfied with what I said, almost as if they discovered I didn’t know as much as they feared I might.”

Dr Swire claims that he deliberately included false information in private correspondence, only for it to appear in the press days later, adding: “It made me suspicious that Cheltenham [home of the spy agency GCHQ] made sure that everything I was doing was known beforehand.”

Mr Mosey, who is based in Lancaster, said: “I could hear little clicks and clunks when I was on the phone and documents regarding Lockerbie were disappearing from my computer.”

Dr Koechler said that the documents and the allegations of surveillance were a cause for deep concern.

“I had similar experiences in the time after the publication of my first report on the Lockerbie trial,” he said. “The state should respect the privacy of communication and should not interfere into lawful activities of civil society. These documents further confirm my doubts about the integrity of the investigation.” (...)

The Foreign Office said: “We will not be commenting on the contents of our archive files.”

[RB: For what it is worth, I also had suspicions about interception of email communications and monitoring of telephone conversations both at my home and at my university office. In telephone conversations Dr Swire and I would sometimes deliberately include misleading information and on other occasions, if clicks and hissing made the apparent monitoring more than usually obvious, Dr Swire would say "Hi, guys!"]

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