You see Jim and Jane Swire would give up all the riches on earth, all the money in the world, just to be able to pick up a phone and speak to their daughter Flora and enquire after her life, her work, her travels and her hopes for the future. But they can't. They are denied that simple delight because their "vivacious, funny, shrewd and beautiful" daughter, "a terrific searcher after truth" is gone forever, claimed ruthlessly on this evening exactly thirty years ago across the Scottish town of Lockerbie on the eve of her 24th birthday.
Flora perished alongside 258 other passengers and crew on board the Pan Am 103 flight from London to New York and 11 residents of Lockerbie unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as the wreckage of that fateful plane crashed to the ground causing carnage, pain and devastation which still cuts deep into the memories of all affected and the whole of Scotland 30 years on.
Within weeks of this terrible tragedy in Lockerbie, the incredible Jim Swire became a face on our TV screens and newspapers and an eloquent voice for truth and justice in relation to the atrocity. The lapel badge he wore read: "Pan Am 103: The Truth Must Be Known" and through his unbearable pain and intolerable grief he demanded answers and justice for his daughter and the other 269 victims and their loved ones devastated by the bomb which exploded on that Boeing 747 that dark winter night.
Now 82 years of age Jim Swire continues to fight for truth and justice in relation to Lockerbie. Like anyone with a morsel of brain matter in between their ears he knows that the trial of Abdelbaset al Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah in a makeshift Scottish Court convened in the Netherlands in late 2000 that led to the conviction of Megrahi in January 2001 was not just a farce but a concerted and contrived cover-up involving the British and American governments at the highest levels.
The pre-trial preparations, live trial obfuscations and subsequent conviction of Megrahi represent the darkest day in Scottish legal history and process. The collusion of some of the most senior judges in Scotland in what was no more than a pantomime of justice is shocking and although criminal conduct has been surprisingly ruled out by a lengthy police investigation, Operation Sandwood, professional negligence charges should still be brought against the three senior judges who jointly prosecuted the case against the two accused and determined their guilt or innocence. The role normally reserved for a jury of peers in murder trials was subsumed by three judges whose decision to find Megrahi guilty on the basis of the evidence presented was both bizarre and troubling.
The Justice For Megrahi (JFM) Campaign was formed after he was convicted of 270 counts of murder on 31st January 2001 and involves victims’ families, former and current legal practitioners and others concerned with opposing miscarriages of justice. One of its members, Len Murray a retired Scottish criminal court solicitor, said of the conviction of Megrahi:
“any notion that the case against Megrahi was "overwhelming", "could not be further from the truth"… and
"It is worth bearing in mind that while the three [Scottish] judges [who tried the case] were experienced judges, judges in our High Court have never ever had to determine guilt or innocence — that's always left to the jury," he added. "But, when for the first time in modern legal history, it's left to three judges, they get it appallingly wrong."
It is a fact of life that atrocities lend themselves to miscarriages of justice. The more grotesque the crime the greater the clamour for some sort of justice and corners in investigations will be cut, proper legal processes warped and even evidence concocted or withheld to secure convictions. Think of the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six, Maguire Seven all prime examples of unsafe convictions delivered on the back of false testimonies, fabricated evidence, withheld evidence and warped police investigations and judicial failures. In the pursuit of those guilty of heinous crimes often innocent citizens can find themselves framed and ruined.
Do yourself favour over the next couple of weeks. Take a rest from festive films and watch Jim Sheridan’s ‘In The Name of the Father’. It is based on the autobiography of Gerry Conlon, ‘Proved Innocent: The Story of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four’ and is a devastating condemnation of the British justice system. If you watch it and are not enraged and driven to tears of anger at the injustice it portrays you are bereft of humanity.
I dedicate this column to the victims of Lockerbie 21st December 1988 and the truth and justice campaigners like Jim Swire who have managed to deal with the unbearable pain and suffering associated with the loss of a child in such tragic circumstances but still pursue the truth on behalf of the whole of society. He will not rest until the truth about Lockerbie is uncovered and he and all affected by the horror that visited Scotland 30 years ago deserve those answers and that truth to be revealed. As for the rest of us let us reflect today and tonight just how lucky we are to still be able to hug our children and loved ones and tell them how much we love them.