LOCKERBIE 25 YEARS ON

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.

Families and relatives at Dryfesdale cemetery, Lockerbie  Photo: Getty Images ex BBC News

Families and relatives at Dryfesdale cemetery, Lockerbie Photo: Getty Images ex BBC News

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.

Lockerbie Memorial Cairn, Arlington cemetery  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Lockerbie Memorial Cairn, Arlington cemetery Photo: © Michael Fisher

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.

Plaque on Memorial Cairn, Arlington Cemetery  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Plaque on Memorial Cairn, Arlington Cemetery Photo: © Michael Fisher

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.

Lockerbie Memorial  Photo: PM Office website

Lockerbie Memorial Photo: PM Office website

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.”

LOCKERBIE: BEFORE AND AFTER

Helga Mosey's Grave

A small stone near a church on a Scottish hillside marks the grave of 19 year-old student HELGA MOSEY. She was among 243 passengers on board Pan Am flight 103 brought down by a bomb on December 21st 1988. The explosion at 31,000 feet and immediate crash also killed 16 crew and 11 residents of Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway, where Clipper Maid of the Seas came down. I visited the well-kept churchyard at Tundergarth some four miles from Lockerbie four years ago, as I was returning from Newcastle on Tyne. My younger daughter, then 23, had just graduated. Only now on the 24th anniversary of the bombing am I seeking out the story of Helga and some of the other victims. On a gap year in the United States, Helga was returning to her job as a nanny and hoped to study music at Lancaster University. One of her favourite songs, a German aria “Bist du bei mir”, was sung at her memorial service. Helga’s body had been found where sections of the Boeing 747 including the nose cone fell from the sky, some 500 yards from the parish church. For Helga’s parents, Pentecostal Minister Reverend John Mosey and his German-born wife Lisa, the loss of their daughter was a watershed according to a Daily Telegraph interview three years ago. For them, everything is now “before” or “after” Lockerbie. One of the things they did to commemorate Helga was to set up a trust to help disadvantaged children in several countries, including Libya, where those behind the bomb attack came from.

John Cummock's Grave

In the same graveyard lie the remains of one of the many American victims. Like Helga, JOHN BINNING CUMMOCK was also flying from London Heathrow to JFK airport in New York. He was a 38 year-old father of three from Coral Gables in Florida. His widow Victoria Vice President of the Pan Am 103 Families group representing over 180 next-of-kin made a submission to Congressman Charles Schumer when the US House of Representatives was debating counter-terrorism legislation in 1995. Tomas Van Tienhoven from Buenos Aires (and London) is also buried at Tundergarth. The main memorial to the victims is at Dryfesdale cemetery in Lockerbie, where three of the victims from the plane and one local resident are buried (Britton: “Elegies of Darkness: Commemorations of the Bombing of Pan Am 103” p.65). Three of the victims were of Irish nationality. Brigid (53) and Thomas (51)Concannon lived at Banbury in Oxfordshire and were travelling with their 16 year-old son Sean, born in Britain. Peter Dix aged 35, a management consultant, lived in London and was originally from Dublin. His former school St Columba’s, Whitechurch, has an annual poetry prize named after him. Syracuse University will also have a special reason today for pausing to remember the 35 students who were caught up in the terrorist attack, returning from visits abroad. In May 2000 the trial began in the Netherlands of two Libyan intelligence operatives accused of the bombing and the murders of 270 people. One of them was convicted, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. After serving eight years of a minimum 27 year sentence he was released by Scotland in 2009 on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. He died at his home in Tripoli earlier this year, aged 60.

Cairn Plaque

Cairn Plaque

Lockerbie Memorial Cairn    
Lockerbie Memorial Cairn

There is another memorial where many of the families will be gathering on this anniversary. It’s at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington DC. On a visit three years ago, I remember seeing the memorial cairn which is crafted from 270 blocks of red sandstone quarried in the Lockerbie area. I stopped to say a prayer for the victims and I do so again tonight.  MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.