Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lockerbie Revisited

38 minutes after taking off from London en route to New York on 21st of December 1988, Pan Am flight 103 exploded at 31,000ft and crashed down on the small Scottish town of Lockerbie killing 270 people - 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 from the town.

The event, the flight number and the small town of Lockerbie (pop under 4,000) will be forever in the minds of those affected by this act of terrorism and have been rekindled today with the news that the only man charged and imprisoned for the atrocity has been released and allowed to return to Libya on compassionate grounds.

This news has not gone down well with everyone and the Scottish Justice Secretary, knowing full well that for the only time in his career he was in the world spotlight, laboured to tell us that due process had been performed and although the terrorist had shown no remorse or compassion for killing 270 people, he was still going to show compassion to him.

My memories of that terrible event are very clear, which is usual for me ! In those days I regularly went up to the ferry port of Stranraer to go over to N. Ireland to see my mum and as it was approaching Christmas, I had booked for a crossing two days after the tragedy. I remember standing in front of my tv set, shocked at what I was seeing as I knew exactly where it had taken place.

Two days later I decided to set off earlier than normal as I knew there would be traffic disruption at some point along the route and sure enough I noticed a build up along the M6 as it approached the Scottish border. When I left to go onto the A74, I came upon the first signs of police activity with notices warning of diversions and delays ahead. Before I came to any, my route took me onto the A75 which runs all the way to Stranraer and so I wasn't impacted in any way. When I came to Dumfries there were more police signs as this is the nearest large town to Lockerbie, 12 miles away, and there were lots of tv and press vans scattered around the road leading to the crash site.

Once on the ferry, the event was the only talking point among the passengers and I remember thinking if my plans to fly to America for the first time the following summer should be abandoned. Like most others, I decided that flying would be safer than ever after the Lockerbie tragedy and so I went ahead and have been going every year since.

I doubt we've all heard the last about Lockerbie. The plane may be gone (although a lot of it is still in a scrap yard in rural Lincolnshire), the convicted terrorist may be dead in a couple of months but I'm sure every 10 years we'll revive the memories of that fateful evening.

So was it right to release Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi ? Well the procecution case against him back in 1991 was flawed to say the least and we can't even be sure if anyone from Libya was involved at all. Huge payments were made to the relatives by Libya but it was always maintained that was to get UN sanctions removed and Libya has flourished as a result.

So maybe Megrahi was a scapegoat as we all needed someone to take the blame. Who knows.

The one part of this whole disaster that has remained with me to this day involves one of the flight attendants onboard Pan Am 103. She was found by a farmer's wife in a field close to Lockerbie, still straped to her seat. And still alive ! She died soon afterwards before help could be summoned. Can you imagine her last few minutes ? It still makes me shiver.

If it was 100% sure that Megrahi was involved in planting the bomb, then thinking about those last few terrifying moments endured by that flight attendant would be enough to convince me that even if he is about to die of cancer, then he should die in prison.

He's now been given the chance to die with dignity; to die surrounded by family and friends; a peaceful death in fact.

All things denied the 270 people who he may have been responsible for killing 21 years ago.

If only we knew for sure.............


Milo said...

Oh that's awful, I had no idea someone was found ALIVE only to then die. Terrible.

Daphne said...

I too remember with horror the story of the woman found alive - those passengers' final moments must have been unimaginably horrific and the whole story has lingered in my imagination ever since.
I think it's right to release this man on compassionate grounds. As you say, he may well have been a scapegoat and not involved anyway. But even if he was, I suppose I'd like to show that we are more caring, more compassionate and with more humanity than the evil bastards who blew up the plane. Jim Swire and many of the relatives have shown this again and again. Let's show that WE have standards of human decency! (Oops, got right up on my soapbox there).

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Ronald Biggs v Megrahi? Which one most deserved compassion? After all, what did Biggs do? He was not the one who clouted the train driver and yet repeatedly Jack Straw denied him the compassion so easily given to a mass murderer who walked on to the plane home with a walking stick. Does the name General Pinochet ring a bell?

jay said...

If only we knew for sure. How true! But I think I'm in agreement with those who say that the fact that the criminals do not show compassion to their victims should not prevent us from showing compassion when it's right to do so.

The point about Ronnie Biggs is also a good one. I find it disturbing that so often in these cases it's not justice which is being done, but a nod to the media and public opinion. These things should not have anything to do with the process of law. If they did, there'd be torture, murder, and hideous cruelty inflicted in the name of 'justice'. Can you imagine?

'If I get hold of (insert name of paedophile/murderer/rapist/etc of your choice) I'll hang, drawn and quarter him, but not before I've ... blah blah blah '

Do we want that? I don't think so.

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