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Twenty years on : Lockerbie, justice & injustice in Scotland – a time for reflection

21 Dec

Twenty years today, Pam Am flight 103 while flying over the small town of Lockerbie in Scotland was blown up by a bomb, Scotland’s worst incident of mass murder and as it would turn out possibly the longest and most complicated case of injustice for the victims, their bereaved families and those accused of the bombing.

While some believe justice was served by conviction of Abdel baset al-Megrahi who was convicted under Scots Law of the bombing, there are many who believe otherwise – both inside & outside the legal fraternity, and over the years, ‘evidence’ has come to light the prosecution and the trial of Al Megrahi under Scots Law at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands was more politically motivated than truth motivated.

Whatever the outcome of Abdel baset al-Megrahi’s ongoing appeal for release, one thing can be sure – the interests of justice and the interests of Scotland have not been served by the Lockerbie Trial and its failings, many of which are yet to be (if ever) resolved.

Noticeably today (Sunday), some of the politicians involved in the original case have felt the need to invoke highly personalised & distasteful attacks on even bereaved family members of the victims of the Pan Am bombing, the authors of these views, which you can read HERE no doubt believing their public stance serves the purpose for what they are intended .. the self preservation of the ailing and discredited justice system we are forced to live with in Scotland.

I speak of course of Lord Fraser of Carmyle’s broadside against Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Fiona was on board the fateful flight. Lord Fraser, who today accuses Dr Swire of being a hostage to “Stockholm syndrome” over his continued involvement in the case, does himself no favour in his ill chosen words for a victim’s parent, nor do Fraser’s words serve to engender any respect for Scots justice, for justice is gained & supported on the foundations of truth & honesty, not on the backs of victims, their families left behind, and falsehoods.

What these words of criticism for those who seek to defeat the ends of injustice show, is there are still many in the legal & political establishment who are intent on holding back such ideas as Truth & Reconciliation, for fear developments could hold themselves accountable for wrongdoings, some of which we are yet to discover ..

Fortunately there are many more cooler and more respected heads among us, who admire Dr Swire for his tireless efforts to get to the truth of the Lockerbie disaster, whatever that truth may be, and give Scotland back a sense of justice which itself has been robbed by motivations which can certainly not be in the interests of the public or the country.

Let us pause for a moment then, and reflect along with Father Patrick Keegans, the Parish Priest of the town of Lockerbie who along with other townsfolk saw the sheer devastation on that December night twenty years ago.

Father Patrick Keegans address to Holyrood last week :


The following report from the Scotsman newspaper :

Lockerbie remembered: Priest tells MSPs of night Pan Am 103 fell

TWENTY years on, Fr Patrick Keegans, who narrowly escaped death in Lockerbie, reflected yesterday in the Scottish Parliament
on the disaster

“AND I will lead the blind in a way they know not; in paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, and rough places into level ground” (Is. 42, 16).

These words from the Prophet Isaiah have great significance in my life. When I was the parish priest of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Lockerbie, I was in my house at 1 Sherwood Crescent on the evening of 21 December, 1988. My mother, Mary Keegans, was with me.

The darkness came. At 7:04pm Pan Am flight 103, destroyed by a bomb on board the aircraft, crashed into the town of Lockerbie. The darkness came. The lights went out. The house shook violently. An almighty explosion tore Sherwood Crescent apart; and then there was a silence and stillness, and still the darkness.

Then another kind of darkness took over: the thick, suffocating darkness that comes from extreme grief: the darkness that invades the human spirit, that threatens to crush and destroy – 270 people had been murdered: 11 residents of Sherwood Crescent and 259 passengers on Pan Am 103.

And into that darkness there came light. That light came from the people of Lockerbie. It was the light of genuine love, care and concern for all who were suffering. The people of Lockerbie, shocked to the core, looked not to themselves but to others. They are a shining jewel in the Crown of Scotland.

The words of John’s Gospel speaking about Christ come to mind: “A light shines in the darkness, a light that darkness could not overpower” (John 1, 5). The love, light and compassion of Christ were shining through the people of Lockerbie, as it does to this very day.

Approaching the 20th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster, our thoughts and our prayers turn to those who died; and we remember our friends in the USA, our UK families, all other nationalities, and all who, in some form or another, are victims of the disaster.

At a time of great sorrow I was asked by Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter, Flora, died on the plane, to conduct a service for the UK families. The words of Isaiah came to me. I pray and reflect on these words every day: “And I will lead the blind in a way they know not; in paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, and rough places into level ground” (Is. 42, 16). I pray that each day God will lead us and guide us.

I am honoured to be with you in a very special place and to speak these words to you. Thank you.”

Holyrood moved by survivor’s reflections

HEADS bowed in silent reflection, MSPs yesterday contemplated the powerful words of a Catholic priest who narrowly escaped death in the Lockerbie tragedy.

The Very Rev Patrick Keegans, just days before the 20th anniversary of the tragedy this Sunday, told the Scottish Parliament how an “almighty explosion” tore apart the street in which he lived.

He also described the “thick, suffocating darkness” of the grief that followed the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which resulted in the deaths of 270 people, including 11 neighbours from Sherwood Crescent.

At the time, Father Keegans was the parish priest of Lockerbie’s Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church. Now the administrator of Ayr Cathedral, he came to Holyrood to address MSPs at the Time for Reflection slot, which starts each week’s parliamentary business.

Fr Keegans told MSPs that he was at home in Sherwood Crescent with his mother when the plane came down at 7:04pm on 21 December, 1988. He then went on to praise the response of the people of Lockerbie, describing them as “a shining jewel in the Crown of Scotland”.

It was a short sermon that moved all in the chamber. For David Whitton, the deputy Labour Party spokesman on finance, the words took him back to when he worked for Scottish Television and covered the disaster.

“I remember interviewing Fr Keegans, as well as the terrible destruction of Sherwood Crescent. There was almost nothing left, just a hole in the ground. I thought he spoke brilliantly. At a time, just before a debate when we would be taking pops at each other, it was important to put things into perspective.”

Alex Neil, SNP MSP, added: “There could not have been a more apt person to speak in the parliament as we approach the 20th anniversary. Lockerbie will be in the thoughts of many people over the next week.”

A Conservative MSP, Derek Brownlee, was pleased by the sermon’s balance.

He said: “Fr Keegans managed to capture the horror of what happened on that terrible night, while still managing to look to the future. Lockerbie remains a vibrant town and, while for many it remains tied to a disaster, it is so much more, and I thought Fr Keegans managed to get that point across,” he said.

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