Saturday 17 February 2024

Jim Swire is a force of nature

[What follows is excerpted from a report published yesterday evening on the website of The Sun:]

Retired GP Jim Swire is a force of nature – a man with balls of steel.

His search for justice after his daughter was murdered in the Lockerbie bombing has been so intense that at times he has put his own life in danger.

The 87-year-old campaigner faced down the late “mad dog” Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s guards armed with AK-47s, sneaked a fake bomb on a plane to expose security flaws and fears he could be a target for Iranian assassins.

But 35 years after 270 people were murdered in the attack over Scotland, on the Pan Am passenger jet flying from London to New York, thoughts of his 23-year-old daughter Flora break his indomitable spirit.

When Jim tries to remember the last words he said to medical student Flora before she left to catch the plane, tears flood his eyes and we pause the interview.

We are speaking in the conservatory of his Cotswolds home because he hopes an upcoming TV drama about the terror bombing will create the same public outcry seen when ITV’s Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, starring Toby Jones highlighted the organisation’s IT scandal.

Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth will play Jim in the Sky series, Lockerbie, which is being filmed now. (...)

Apart from his grief — and bravery — there is also anger at the bungling officials who failed to stop the fateful bomb getting on to the Boeing 747 on December 21, 1988, at Heathrow Airport before it exploded shortly after 7pm. (...)

He tells The Sun: “I am satisfied Colin will do his utmost to portray someone who has been searching diligently for the truth in the name of the murder of his daughter and all those other people.” getting on to the Boeing 747 on December 21, 1988, at Heathrow Airport before it exploded shortly after 7pm. (...)

Jim, a BBC soundman turned GP, believes documents are still being withheld from relatives which could reveal either a cock-up in the investigation or a cover-up.

The worst terror atrocity ever to be visited upon the UK is still shrouded in mystery and controversy.

Only one person has been convicted of carrying out the attack — Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. His country-man Abu Agila Mohammad Masud is awaiting trial.

A call had been made to the US embassy in Finnish capital Helsinki warning that a bomb would be loaded on a Pan Am flight in Frankfurt, Germany, bound for Heathrow then New York.

That information was not passed on to regular travellers.

The threat should have been taken seriously because in October that year terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command were found with bombs in Neuss, Germany, designed to trigger once a plane reached a certain height. (...)

Understandably, Jim cannot hide his rage over this fatal delay. He says of the bomb: “It was in the baggage compartment, almost beneath the feet of my daughter and all of those innocent passengers. It exploded almost 48 hours from the warning having been passed on by the Department of Transport. Have we had an apology? No, we have not.

“Whatever you believe about Libya or all the rest of it, that’s where the explosion occurred, that was the warning they had and that was the way they handled it.

“If that doesn’t make a relative of anyone murdered in that atrocity angry, it bloody well should.” (...)

The late Paul Channon, Transport Secretary at the time, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, denied there had been a security failure but lost his job.

In the wake of Lockerbie, airlines claimed far more stringent inspections of luggage were put in place.

Keen to put that promise to the test, Jim, who had explosives training during a stint of military service, built a replica of the Lockerbie bomb with the Semtex explosive replaced by marzipan.

He managed to get it past Heathrow’s security even though a member of security found the Toshiba tape recorder containing the fake device.

Jim recalls: “The lady who opened up the suitcase said, ‘Sir, have you taken out the batteries?’ and I said, ‘Yes’, and she put it back.

“That poor lady had not been trained in what might and might not be dangerous.”

The Lockerbie crime scene was the largest ever in UK history. (...)

Initially, the finger of suspicion pointed toward Iran, because it had close links to the PFLP-GC and its leaders had sworn revenge for the accidental shooting down of an Iranian passenger jet in July 1988 by a US warship.

Then the FBI investigation, carried out in unison with Dumfries and Galloway Police, pivoted instead toward Libya.

Detectives concluded that Libyan Arab Airlines security chief Al-Megrahi and his colleague Lamin Khalifah Fhimah were responsible for the atrocity. (...)

[F]ollowing pressure from sanctions, the two Libyan suspects were tried in Holland in 2000. As the trial went on Jim started to doubt they had been responsible for Flora’s murder. When Al-Megrahi was found guilty — although Fhimah was cleared and let go — he collapsed from shock.

Jim says: “My son sitting next to me in the courtroom thought that I had died.”

He now believes the late PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril was the true mastermind of the horror that claimed his daughter’s life.

Jibril died of heart failure in July 2021 in Syrian capital Damascus, and Jim says: “I can’t conceal from you I am delighted he is dead.”

He suspects that Jibril’s ultimate paymasters were Iran’s security services.

Pointing the finger at Tehran’s murderous ayatollahs shows how fearless Jim is. He says: “It has often occurred to me that I might get bombed. The more the truth comes out the more possible it is that I might get killed by Iran for wanting revenge.

“It seems to me the direct line came from Iran.”

But Scottish judges have twice upheld the murder convictions of Al-Megrahi, who died from cancer in 2012.

Next year US prosecutors will bring Masud to trial, accusing him of making the bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103.

Whatever any court decides, nothing will take away the pain from Jim and his wife Jane.

As Jim puts it: “When someone close to you in your family gets murdered, you get handed a life sentence.

“Jane and I will go to our graves still mourning the loss of Flora.”

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