Every time I pass through the small town of Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland I think of the devastation caused 25 years ago today when a bomb exploded on board an aircraft in the sky above, sending the Boeing 747 crashing to earth and disintegrating on impact. 270 people including 16 crew and 11 people on the ground were killed when Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York was blown up, half an hour into its journey. I wrote about Lockerbie a year ago and included some pictures of gravestones of two of the victims who were buried in the cemetery at a local church.
Wreaths have been laid in Lockerbie to mark the 25th anniversary of the bombing and a service has been held in a local church. Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and Lord Wallace, Advocate General for Scotland, were among those who took part in the wreath-laying ceremony at Dryfesdale Cemetery.
The service was led by the Rev John MacLeod. Lord Lieutenant Jean Tulloch represented the Queen. During the service Rev MacLeod said: “It is 25 years after the day on which certain men chose to set aside their humanity and destroy the lives of 270 people in the air over this area of Scotland and here in the little town of Lockerbie – not only their lives but also those who survived, families and friends. What we the people of Lockerbie in this area will never tire of saying is we welcome you once again to this place where you know you are always welcome. In doing so we seek to comfort and console you.”
A representative of the US government, Craig Lynes, also spoke at the event. He said: “We have seen changes great and small throughout the world in the years since December 21st 1988. It is with pride that we declare once again our unshakeable commitment to continue the fight against terrorism. We owe that to each of you. Nobody can return what was taken from you that night. But we can and will continue to work and to fight for justice.”
Mr Salmond told BBC News: “Out of disaster, there are the bonds of friendship. Lockerbie has been a welcoming place for the relatives of those who died, and over the last 25 years has taken as good care of people as it possibly could. I don’t think you ever move on, you certainly never forget, but people do rebuild their lives and many have.”
Other gatherings to mark the anniversary of Britain’s worst-ever terrorist attack include a remembrance service at Westminster Abbey in London. In the United States, a ceremony is being held at the memorial cairn in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington DC.
Most of the passengers and crew on board the aircraft were US citizens. A service of hope and remembrance was held at the Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University in New York state, which lost 35 students who had been studying at its London campus. The service was followed by a procession to its Wall of Remembrance. A further service will also take place at the university’s Lubin House in New York.
Events at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia will centre on the Pan Am 103 Memorial Cairn. It is made of 270 blocks of Scottish sandstone, one for each of the victims of the bombing. Scotland Office Minister David Mundell is attending the service there.
One man, Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was convicted of the bombing at a special Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands in 2001. He was released from jail on compassionate grounds in 2009 after being diagnosed with cancer. He died at his home in Tripoli last year. His family have repeated their intention to pursue an appeal against the conviction.
In a message reflecting on what he described as ‘a shocking event’, the British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the fortitude and resilience of those affected by the Lockerbie bombing. He said: “Over the last quarter of a century much attention has been focused on the perpetrators of the atrocity. Today our thoughts turn to its victims and to those whose lives have been touched and changed by what happened at Lockerbie that night. To families, friends, neighbours, loved ones, and all those caught up in the painful process of recovery, let us say to them: our admiration for you is unconditional. For the fortitude and resilience you have shown. For your determination never to give up. You have shown that terrorist acts cannot crush the human spirit. That is why terrorism will never prevail.”