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"This set of discussions and negotiations are at a very delicate moment," Powell told a small group of reporters. "Some of my people have just come back in and I would like to sit and talk to them for a while about the offers that are on the table and how those offers are being received by family members," he added.
Transcript: from Washington Files, March 18, 2003
QUESTION: Has Libya given the United States assurances that it will take responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing? If it were to do so publicly and to pay compensation, would that be sufficient to get them off the terrorist list? If not, what else would they need to do?
SECRETARY POWELL: This set of discussions negotiates at a very delicate moment and I would rather not answer your question at this time, because I would, some of my people just got back in and I would like to sit and talk to them for awhile about the offers that are on the table and how those offers are being -- are received by family members and there's different sets of issues with respect to air sanctions, UN sanctions, things of that nature. And exactly what we are, in the international community, expecting. And so I would, I will give you an answer, but I need to do a little bit more work with the guidance so we can generate a decision.
QUESTION: Can I ask you one thing that's related which maybe you can take on? How concerned are you about WMD development in Libya?
SECRETARY POWELL: We are concerned that Libya continues to pursue programs that could lead to possession of weapons of mass destruction. (end transcript)
The tragedy of Pan Am Flight 103 took place on Dec. 21, 1988 when the plane exploded over Lockerbie, killing 259 passengers and 11 people on the ground. Families of the victims of the nearly 15-year-old disaster are still seeking compensation. Judith Ivey stars in the play written by Deborah Brevoort and directed by Wilson Milam. The cast also includes Larry Pine (Wrong Mountain), Jenny Sterlin (Major Barbara), Kathleen Doyle (The Odd Couple), Angela Pietropinto (Tartuffe: Born Again), Adam Trese (A View From the Bridge) and Kristin Sieh (Aquila Theater Company’s The Iliad: Book I).
Ivey recently starred in the Broadway revival of Follies. Her other numerous theatre credits include Voices in the Dark, Piaf, Blithe Spirit, Precious Sons, Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, Hurlyburly and Steaming. The actress garnered Tony Award nominations for the latter three works, winning for final two. The design team for The Women of Lockerbie includes Derek McLane (set), Jason Lyons (lighting), Ken Travis (sound) and Mattie Ullrich (costumes). The dialect coach is Stephen Gabis.
For tickets to The Women of Lockerbie at the Theatre @ St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, call (212) 279-4200. For more information, visit the co-presenters websites at www.thenewgroup.org and www.womensproject.org.
The Met officer added: "He was released on December 11 and he was down here the next day. He didn't wait before he was up to his old tricks again. " He arrived in Scotland two years ago claiming to be a top advocate involved in the Lockerbie trial. He caused a stramash on a train after claiming his laptop computer had been stolen and managed to con a stay at a five- star Edinburgh hotel out of Virgin trains.
Sources say he is expected to appear in court on Monday. Bint was released from Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison last December after serving 17 months for stealing a £55,000 Aston Martin supercar that was up for sale.Previously, he has conned cash and cars out of his victims. Bint, 40, has even carried out medical procedures in hospitals while posing as a doctor.
Sources last night claimed the Foreign Office had stepped in to make sure the Home Office gave the application a priority to prevent any problems arising for British nationals in Libya. Previously, the family had visitors' visas which, under Home Office rules, can only be renewed by the bearer returning to their home country and applying. They have now been issued with a visa that can be renewed without leaving Britain. The issue of visiting rights played a key part in the lengthy negotiations to that eventually brought al-Megrahi to trial. Under a deal brokered by the United Nations, he was offered unlimited access to diplomatic and legal aid and "normal" family visiting rights if he was convicted. A spokesman for the Home Office said they could not discuss individual cases.
Scotland On Sunday, March 16) Meanwhile, the Libyan government is expected to set up a bank account in a neutral country this week as a sign of its willingness to strike a compensation deal with the families of victims of the tragedy. The account would be used to channel money to the families of those murdered by terrorists. Yesterday Dr Jim Swire, a leading Lockerbie campaigner whose daughter Flora died in the attack, said around £1.7bn would be placed in the account, which will be released to relatives when economic sanctions, imposed on Libya after the terrorist atrocity, are lifted. Swire said: "My diplomatic contacts said that the account will be set up [this] week."
Megrahi’s wife and children had left Scotland in February, days before their old visas expired on March 2. The UK had to give guarantees over Megrahi’s rights to see his family as part of the negotiations that saw the Libyan brought to trial and convicted in January 2001. The Megrahi family have now returned to their five-bedroom, two-storey, detached house. Megrahi’s wife and four of his children had been staying in Scotland on visitors’ visas, which could only be renewed by the family returning to Tripoli and submitting an application from there. They have now been granted a different form of visa, which they can renew without having to leave Britain. Megrahi’s eldest daughter, Ghada, a 19-year-old student, has another form of visa and did not have to return to Libya. The family’s home was bought for them by the Gaddafi International Foundation, a Libyan-based organisation headed by Gaddafi’s son Saif al Islam. The family are believed to be guarded by Libyan security personnel. The house has several floodlights and is protected by a CCTV camera system.
Neighbours have reportedly been unhappy at the Megrahis’ presence in their community. But Claire Nicholas, the wife of ex-footballer Charlie Nicholas, rejected speculation that they had put their home up for sale because the Megrahis had moved in nearby. They recently took their house off the market. Yesterday Claire Nicholas said: "It is nothing to do with the Megrahi family. They are very quiet and don’t cause us any trouble at all." A spokeswoman for the Home Office refused to comment on suggestions that the Megrahis had received priority treatment. She said: "We don’t comment on individual cases."
Meanwhile, representatives of the Libyan regime have returned to Tripoli to update Gaddafi over talks last weekend in London with the UK and US governments over the long-running compensation row. Yesterday Swire, who has visited Tripoli, said Libya would set up a bank account, known as an escrow account, in a neutral country this week. The spokesman for the UK Families Flight 103 said: "This is a step forward. By placing the funds in this kind of account, the Libyan government shows that it is willing to pay out but also controls when the money is released." Swire said: "The suggestion is that a third of the money will be released when the UN drops its sanctions, a third when the US drops its sanctions and a third when President Bush removes Libya from his list of countries sponsoring terrorism." Swire said Libya’s move was intended to show the US its goodwill at a time when America "needs all the Arab friends it can get". It is not clear if the US government, which has been pressing for Libya to accept full responsibility for the attack, will be prepared to compromise.
Swire added: "We could have a deal in weeks, or months, or it could be years yet. But the account is a step forward."
"We've been told things are slowly moving forward, but the Foreign Office says it is going to have to hold further talks so there is no news for us just now." Mrs Berkley said she wasn't confident the tripartite talks - the latest in a series held in London on Tuesday - would give her the answers she was looking for. "All we want to know is the real truth behind the Lockerbie bombing and I don't know if these talks will help us get any closer to that." David Ben-Aryeah, who has acted as adviser to British victims' relatives for 14 years, said their hopes had been built up this week after reports suggesting a deal was imminent. After it emerged a deal had still not been reached, he said relatives were suffering "intense distress and anguish". Families blamed the confusion on the lack of briefing by the Foreign Office. Mrs Berkley said it had been up to her to contact the Foreign Office as no one there had been in touch with her.
"Having been an adviser to the relatives since 1989, I am deeply puzzled and concerned that since Robin Cook ceased to be Foreign Secretary the UK relatives have had very little briefing from Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials," said Mr Ben-Aryeah. "This week they knew about the meeting in London, mainly from the media, but received no briefing in any form from the Foreign Office. "The misconception that each relative would receive £6.5m and then the news that the deal was not on has caused intense distress and not a little anguish on the part of the many relatives."
While the research has focused on aircraft luggage containers for widebody aircraft, the TSA report and the possible actions that it spawns could still affect all-cargo carriers like FedEx Express and UPS. Hardened blast-resistant cargo containers could become another government-mandated cost. Whereas standard containers are aluminum, blast-resistant containers are made of Kevlar composites or aluminum/fiberglass composites, which makes them heavier. The blast-resistant containers weigh about 150 pounds more than standard containers, which adds to the airplane's fuel costs, according to the GAO report. The extra weight of the blast-resistant containers would add $5,000 in fuel costs for a Boeing 747 traveling from New York to Tokyo, the report stated. Also, a blast-resistant container costs about $15,000, 15 times that of a standard container. It's also likely that they would have to be replaced sooner than standard containers, according to the GAO report. Few airlines use them.
"It's quite a significant increase per container," said Matthew Panhans, a mechanical engineering professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Panhans said costs might come down if the blast-resistant containers are purchased in bulk. But that possibility and so much more remains unknown at this point, said FedEx spokesman Sally Davenport. David Bolger, a UPS spokesman, said the primary issue about the technology is: What is it trying to accomplish? Bolger said the container debate must also focus on leaks and other incidents that may occur. That reality, not cost concerns, has limited the implementation of hardened blast-resistant containers.
"... the overwhelming feeling, was, yes, there is some sort of a statement which has been, if not agreed to, at least is certainly being passed around and this whole thing may be settled within a matter of weeks," said Dan Cohen, whose daughter Theodora, then 20, was killed in the bombing. He said lawyers for the families would fly to Paris next week to set up escrow arrangements for payments that may reach $10 million per victim, or some $2.7 billion in total. "I think there absolutely is progress," Rosemary Wolfe, whose stepdaughter Miriam died, told reporters after meeting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns. Burns met Libyan and British officials in London on Tuesday.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. officials would carefully review "progress" made in the London talks to see if it satisfied U.N. resolutions on Lockerbie. "It will take a little while. I think probably days and weeks" before the evaluation is completed and any deal might be final, said a senior U.S. official who asked not to be named. A deal would end a lingering dispute between the Western powers and an Arab state shortly before a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq.
Cohen and other relatives expressed bitterness that the United States may be on the verge of war with Iraq but close to a deal with Libya. "This is what it's about," said Cohen, holding up a picture of his daughter. "It's not about money. It's not about diplomacy. It's about the murder of 270 innocent people. Lawyers acting for the Lockerbie families last year struck an agreement with lawyers acting for Libya. Tripoli would pay up to $10 million compensation for each death but that deal is contingent in part on Libya accepting responsibility. The source close to the talks said a breakthrough came on Friday when Libya was convinced a statement of responsibility would accept civil liability for the acts of a state employee, not criminal responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing.
But Cohen said Burns denied Libya would escape criminal responsibility through any statement. "The idea of sort of taking only civil responsibility rather than criminal responsibility is not on the table," Cohen said. "He (Burns) stressed ... this does not free Libya from any possible future actions as far as the criminal case."
"It's a precedent that if we can prove terrorist activity in the World Trade Center, 3000 people will be compensated in the same way, but we just have to prove that terrorism is connected to a sovereign government." Chesley says the settlement with Libya proves terrorists can run but not hide from American or international law. He says it takes time and patience, but eventually, they will pay.
Flora Swire, a medical student, died as she flew out the day before her 24th birthday to see her boyfriend in New York. She was one of 259 passengers and crew on board the Pan Am Flight 103 from Heathrow on 21 December, 1988. Last night, her father Dr Jim Swire, 65, said that the reports that Libya had accepted civil responsibility for the atrocity did little to alleviate the suffering the victims’ families continued to endure. He added: "For a start you cannot give money to replace people’s lives. No amount of money in the world is going to compensate us for that, or what we really want, which is basically the truth. "This also doesn’t remove the urgent need for an independent inquiry into the bombing, despite Jack Straw’s appalling decision not to grant one.
"It doesn’t explain why Britain didn’t take reasonable steps to avert this atrocity or why security at Heathrow airport at the time of the bombing was so appallingly lax. "We are still no nearer the answers that we need, everything seems murkier than ever, but our search for the truth is a battle we will not concede." The retired GP from Staffordshire added that he believed the Libyans were exploiting the situation to enable the lifting of economic sanctions. He said: "I fully believe it suits the Libyans to accept accountability or ‘civil responsibility’ for the bombing. It enables them to ask for the assistance of the United Nations to remove economic sanctions. This is about restoring trade and nothing to do with accepting the blame. For the Libyans it is worth their while."
According to the Rev John Mosey, 62, who lost his 19-year-old daughter Helga , money will help some families. But he added: "Civil compensation isn’t the best word for this deal from the Libyans. It’s effectively blood money. "Nothing compensates for the death of your loved ones. The money will enrich many people’s lives, of that I’m sure. From our perspective we plan to put it to good use and build a children’s home and that will help us in many ways. Others will take to the money differently." But he added: "We must remember money is the only one thing that has been settled here. Many of the families have serious doubts about the validity of the court’s verdict in the case. Let’s just say I didn’t find the evidence against Megrahi as convincing as the courts, but like many I accepted the wisdom of the judges and I have tried to move on. "To myself the money has always been the least important thing. We have really only ever wanted to know why this was allowed to happen in the face of so much intelligence.
"The failings of the government, airport security and MI5 have been well documented. What we want is an independent inquiry that will get to the bottom of this and one with teeth so major players like Margaret Thatcher and intelligence heads can be brought before a committee and explain their prior knowledge."
An American campaigner, Susan Cohen, whose daughter, Theodora, died in the tragedy, added that her frustration had overspilled when she heard about the wording of the Libyan offer. She said: "Civil responsibility means they have just agreed to pay. That is not good enough. They are supposed to accept responsibility. "We always knew Gaddafi was going to pay but we were supposed to have a statement of responsibility first. I suspected it would be weak and lousy. What does the statement of responsibility say? What is the deal, what does this consist of? That is the key. Until we know, this is all highly speculative."
Another grey issue remaining last night was the promised compensation settlement for the soldiers, police officers and local volunteers who helped clean up in the aftermath of the disaster. Two days after the bombing, the then Scottish Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, said: "Anyone who develops emotional problems, psychological difficulties, will be helped, because we have learned such a lot from Piper Alpha and the Bradford fire disaster. We will all work closely together to give whatever help is required, both financial help and emotional support." Yet 14 years on, the soldiers and police officers are still waiting for help. There have been recorded claims that many soldiers continue to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder from the incident.
According to observers of the events leading up to last night’s deal, the true winners will not be the families of the victims, but the legions of lawyers involved in the protracted negotiations. It emerged recently that US lawyers acting for the families of the Lockerbie bombing victims are expected to earn more than £500 million in commission from any compensation settlement. The US firms involved defended the deal, which will mean them taking about 30 per cent of the pay-out to each family. The deal comes eight years after the majority of the victims’ families signed "no win, no fee" deals with a number of top American legal firms based in New York.
Last night, Mr Mosey said that despite the anticipated financial settlement he fully expected the families to continue their battle for the truth. He said: "We have a families group meeting soon and the calls for an independent inquiry will be top of our agenda. "The ideal for us is the Home Office are forced into appointing a high-profile figure, not a politician, to carry out this investigation. That’s what we need here, not millions of dollars."
A UK Foreign Office spokeswoman has refused to give details of what she called a "useful session". "We made further progress. Now the delegations are reporting back to the capitals to consult on the next stage," she said.
more on same topic:
BBC NEWS /// It is understood Britain agreed the wording of a Libyan statement but the Americans were unhappy. If an agreement is reached, relatives from both the UK and the US will study its wording.
Kathleen Flynn, of New Jersey, whose son John Patrick was among the victims, said US relatives would oppose any lifting of sanctions until Libya complies with other UN demands. These include revealing all that Tripoli knew of the planning for the bombing in which 259 people on a Pan Am jumbo jet died, along with 11 in the Scottish town of Lockerbie. The Rev John Mosey, from Herefordshire, whose daughter Helga was a passenger on the jumbo, is sceptical that after 14 years agreement can be reached as the US and UK prepare to go to war against Iraq, another Arab nation.
WATCH AND LISTEN
(AP WORLD) David Ben Ayreah, a spokesman for the families of the victims, said they were not aware of Libya accepting responsibility or of any compensation deal arising from Tuesday's meeting. At the Libyan Embassy in London, nobody was available for comment.
(ITN NEWS (UK)) But David Ben Aryeah, an advisor to the UK Lockerbie victims, told ITV News that this is not a real development: "There are various conditions attached to it (the offer) and even if all those conditions are complied with the families won't be seeing $10 million per family, because we suspect at least 20 per cent of any compensation paid will be taken by the lawyers." He said the problem has always been the wording of how Libya would accept it was behind the Lockerbie bombing.
And Scottish law expert Professor Robert Black from the University of Edinburgh said he would be "absolutely astonished" if Libya was ready to admit responsibility. He said: "Certainly for some time, Libya has been prepared to pay money. The sticking point is admitting responsibility. "There is a form of words that would have been acceptable to Libya but up to now that form of words has not been acceptable to the US." He added: "Libya is not going to hold up its hands and say fair cop, we did it." David Ben Aryeah said there was no reaction from the families right now, because any payment was not yet reality: "No one is going to get rich over this and at the moment we are talking fantasy."
(THE MIRROR - UK) Relatives of Americans who were among the 259 killed on Pan Am flight 103 have been invited to a meeting by the US State Department today to discuss the $10million per person deal. But families of British victims said they were still in the dark about the payout. Jane Swire, whose husband Jim has been a campaigner for Lockerbie justice, said: "We have heard nothing official." Their daughter Flora, 22, was among the 33 UK passengers killed. Jane, of Bromsgrove, Worcs, added: "We hope it's true. It's a better settlement than endless revenge attacks. "But there have been previous reports of settlements. We'll believe it when we see it."
(THE HERALD - UK) Last night, Jane Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the bombing, was cautious, saying victims' families had "been here before" and, as yet, there had been no official confirmation from the Foreign Office. "It's been dragging on for years," she said. "The money would make life easier for us and many others. We could do good things with it but we won't have our lovely daughter."
(THE STAR LEDGER - NJ/USA) The deal will not, the victims' families expect, satisfy their need for justice, truth or equity. But it may be the best they are ever going to get, says Robert Monetti, an engineer from Cherry Hill who heads Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, and who lost his 20-year-old son, Rich, in the explosion. "We hope the State Department isn't lying to us," about the Libyan admission of culpability, Monetti said yesterday. "We know whatever the agreement says will not be enough for us. Ideally, we want a full admission of guilt and a full apology by (Libyan leader) Moammar Gadhafi. "But maybe it will be enough that we can finally put this thing to rest," said Monetti with a sigh. "It has been so long, and we are all getting so tired."
(CNN.COM) Kathleen Flynn thinks she already knows the answer. Her son was among those killed and she's doubtful the victims' families will ever receive any compensation. "I personally am going to put on my skeptic hat on that," she said. "But I think it's important that the dwelling of the information be on the fact that Libya did this to the families and that some type of retribution should be made." Vickie Cummock, who lost her husband when the plane exploded, has also learned not to get her hopes up. "How can anyone believe this Libyan offer is real?" she said. "It would be like bin Laden saying 14 years after 9/11 that he accepts responsibility for the attacks and is willing to pay the families of his victims for their loss. ... It is blood money, it is insulting to all of us."
(AP) Lynn Moses of Staten Island, N.Y., whose 20-year-old son died in the bombing, said she is feeling good about the possibility of an end to the legal and diplomatic maneuvering. "It's taken 14 years of my life and took the life of my son," she said. "I just want to be able for the first time since his death not be imbued with international issues, courts, the media and friends on this."
(THIS IS EXETER 15/03 (UK)) The father of the Exeter schoolgirl killed in the Lockerbie bombing has said he doubts Libya will take responsibility for the 1988 terrorist attack. Paul Hudson, who lives near Washington DC, America, lost his 16-year-old daughter Melina, an exchange student at Exeter School, when Pan Am flight 103 exploded above the Scottish border town on its way to America. Mr Hudson, 55, is not convinced. He said: "If Libya does issue a statement of responsibility and the wording is clear this will be a very gratifying and important step, but I am worried it will be worded in a way that they can deny responsibility."I am sceptical that the UN conditions will be reached."
Mr Hudson said that at the moment he was not even considering the possibility of compensation from Libya. He said: "So far they have paid nothing and taken no responsibility and there is no indication they will do so. If and when the UN sanctions are lifted and the conditions are honoured, then the money may be paid." But he said the compensation would never replace the loss of his daughter. He said: "They can never replace a lost child. I would view the money as some sort of compensation but I will not accept anything unless it is coupled with the UN conditions and at the moment there is no immediate prospect of this happening."
Mr Hudson said: "So far none of these conditions have been met. "I don't think anyone can have any confidence in Libya. I am just hoping there will be justice in this case."
Asked if Burns' talks had resulted in an agreement, the State Department official said: "As we said, it was a useful meeting but it is not our practice to publicly discuss what has taken place in (such) meetings." Separately, family members of passengers on Pan Am flight 103 last week said the State Department had invited Lockerbie victims' families to a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the issue. The State Department holds such meetings with the families periodically.
One source close to the multi-billion law suit, whose result will hang on any agreement, said: "There’s a good chance that tomorrow’s meeting will announce Libya’s acceptance of responsibility." An agreement will rest on breaking a logjam over the wording of Libya’s statement accepting responsibility for the bomb, which a succession of UN Security Council resolutions have demanded. It will depend on approval not by the Libyans, but hardliners in the Bush administration, said to include the hawkish deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz. Libya has produced wording on a statement of its role in the Lockerbie bombing that is acceptable to the UK. But the US has baulked, say several sources. "The Libyans have been ready for this since early February," said one Arab journalist, who has followed the case. "The UK was ready but the US was holding off." The Libyan embassy in London did not return calls last night on whether any agreement was reached.
If Libya agreed to accept responsibility for the bombing, it could pave the way on a first payment from a £7 million pound settlement for the relatives of each of the 270 victims. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was convicted of the bombing of Pan Am 103, on 21 December, 1988 . He is now serving a life sentence at Barlinnie high security prison in Glasgow. Dan Cohen, whose daughter died in the bombing , said: "William Burns is a big fish in the State Department and he is not going to meet with us on the eve of a war with Iraq just to tell us there are no new developments."
"Libya knows exactly what it must say and how it must say it," says Jim Kreindler, lead attorney for victims' families. There was no immediate comment from the Libyan government. "We've been assured by people in the State Department that with everything else that's going on, Burns would not be going to London just to tell the Libyans again what they have to do," says Dan Cohen of Cape May Court House, N.J. His daughter, Theodora, 20, was one of 189 Americans killed in one of the worst acts of foreign terrorism against U.S. citizens before Sept. 11, 2001. A total of 270 people died, including 11 in Lockerbie, Scotland, where the plane crashed. A settlement would be in the interests of both the United States and Libya, analysts say. Libya hopes to remove the terrorist label affixed to it for two decades. For the Bush administration, a deal would be a timely demonstration to Muslims that the United States is prepared to reward a country for disavowing terrorism.
"It would represent real progress and show some U.S. reasonableness in an international context," says Robert Pelletreau, a former assistant secretary of State. A settlement would also please Britain, which took the lead drafting the statement that Libya is expected to sign. Britain is sensitive to charges that it is anti-Muslim for being the only nation other than the United States to contribute substantial troops to an Iraq war. The Libyan statement is the last hurdle before the United Nations permanently lifts sanctions on air travel and investment, which were imposed in 1992. The sanctions were suspended in 1999, after Libya surrendered two suspects for trial. One of the suspects, Libyan intelligence official Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, was convicted two years ago and is serving a life sentence at a high-security prison in Scotland. Lawyers for the relatives agreed on terms for a financial settlement last October. Under it, each family would receive $10 million if the United Nations and the United States both lift sanctions.
But an end to a U.S. embargo is unlikely because some Bush administration officials charge that Libya is trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Libya is also believed to have a small chemical weapons program. If U.S. sanctions are not lifted within eight months, each family would get $5 million.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration, which oversees aviation security, says that even though all of the explosive-detection systems are not yet operational at Newark, all bags are being checked for bombs in some ways. Mark Hatfield, the TSA's regional spokesman, defended security at Newark Airport, saying the agency is making progress toward hooking up all the EDS machines and that all bags are being checked. Even though some airports got an extensions until Dec. 31 of this year, the goal remains to bring the equipment on-line as quickly as possible.
"This whole airport security thing is really a public relations ploy to get people to fly," said Robert Monetti, president of Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 Inc. and an outspoken critic of aviation security. "I would guess that the major airports, which were overcrowded to begin with, will have a hard time putting them (the bomb detection machines) in. It's very frustrating." Monetti, who lost his son in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, also cited the well-publicized limitations of the explosive-detection systems. Tests have shown the machines mistake certain items like chocolate and cheese for a possible explosive as often as 25 percent of the time. Dense items like books that are packed too closely also can confuse the machines, causing delays.
"Both of the certified bomb detection (machine) makers are working furiously to get the false-alarm rate down," Monetti said. "When they do, they will be an important piece of equipment."
In exchange for a formal statement of admission, the United Nations Security Council is expected to permanently lift crippling sanctions against Tripoli. Discussions have been going on for years about compensating relatives of the 270 people who died when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Scotland in December 1988. Libya has previously denied reports that it was prepared to pay Pounds 7m to each Lockerbie victim, provided sanctions were lifted. It is currently on the US state department's list of countries that sponsor international terrorism. This week's London meeting will involve Burns, a US assistant secretary of state, and a senior Libyan official, probably Mohammed Abdul Quasim al-Zwai, Gadaffi's ambassador in London. A senior Foreign Office official will also attend.
The security council has demanded that Libya pay "appropriate compensation" and accept general responsibility for the bombing. As well as renouncing terrorism, it must also undertake to comply with any future inquiry. If those demands are fully met, UN sanctions - imposed in 1992 but suspended at the moment - will be scrapped. Dan Cohen, who lost his daughter at Lockerbie, said he believed the wording of a statement admitting Libya's responsibility had already been agreed.
Two hundred and seventy people died when PanAm Flight 103 blew up over the Borders town of Lockerbie just after 7pm on December 21, 1988. It was the biggest mass murder in Scottish history -- and, 15 years later, many of the facts remain shrouded in mystery. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan, was convicted of the bombing , but few of the bereaved families feel satisfied with the outcome. Ashton and Dillon -- whose novel Me And Ma Gal was last week chosen in a World Book Day poll as the work that best represents modern Scotland -- are not alone in suspecting a serious injustice might have been done and that Megrahi is innocent.
But if Libya didn't do it, who did? There are any number of theories, some of which are rehearsed in Lockerbie 103. Dr Jim Swire, whose 22-year-old daughter Flora was among the 270 people murdered, believes the bomb was planted by Iranian agents intent on revenge for the shooting-down of an Iranian airliner by an American warship earlier that year. Others claim Syria commissioned Palestinian terrorists to carry out the bombing. But perhaps the most chilling theory of all is that it was the result of a deal between the secret services of the US and Iran -- that in return for the destruction of the Iranian airliner the Americans agreed to the destruction of 'one of ours' .
But no stories or theories can ever match the horror of that night in Lockerbie, when wreckage and bodies rained down on the town. Pensioner Ella Ramsden was at home in Rosebank Terrace when the roof fell in . Sixty-nine corpses were recovered from the wreckage of her council house. Among them were the bodies of Warren and Lorraine Buser, the husband and daughter of Geri Buser from New Jersey. The body of Mrs Buser's son Michael was never found; she learned later that Lorraine was pregnant.
Geri Buser still makes regular pilgrimages to Lockerbie -- and, when she does, she always visits her friend Ella Ramsden. Like many of the American families who lost loved ones in the bombing, she retains a strong affection for Lockerbie . The Americans were deeply moved by the way the people of Lockerbie gathered the victims' clothes, carefully washed and ironed them, wrapped them in tissue paper and returned them to their families. 'We were told by the US State Department that we couldn't have the clothes back,' says Aphrodite Tsairis, whose 20-year-old daughter Alexia was killed. 'They said things were too badly damaged. But the people of Lockerbie just did it. I cannot tell you how much that meant to us.'
The emotional dynamics set in train by the bombing are powerful. New Yorker Georgia Nucci lost her son at Lockerbie, just a few months after her daughter had died of an illness in South America. Her response? To fly to Colombia and adopt three street children from an orphanage. The Rev John Mosey and his wife Lisa lost their daughter Helga. They used the money that flooded into their church in the West Midlands after her death to build a children's home in the Philippines, and believe there are youngsters now alive who would have died if Helga had not been killed. In that they find some comfort.
Other bereaved relatives have joined families' groups seeking some kind of justice. Dan and Susan Cohen, who lost their only daughter, Theodora, have become the scourge of the US and British authorities. 'One of the great myths about all of this is that tragedy makes you a better person,' says Dan Cohen. 'Oh no it doesn't. I'm not a better person than I used to be. I'm an angry and bitter person. I don't believe in justice any more. I have no problem with the word revenge.'
Capturing on stage even a fragment of the multi-layered tragedy will require all the energy and talent Dillon and Ashton can muster. Whether their fictionalised take on the calamity is successful remains to be seen : but at least they realise the importance of continuing to examine the many loose ends.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:
Why Aisha Megrahi has been refused permission to stay in Britain, even though her husband is serving a life sentence in Barlinnie gaol; whether it is normal policy to refuse wives permission to stay in this country when their husbands are imprisoned here; and, if so, whether this is consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights. [HL1717]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin):
There are no special arrangements for overseas nationals coming to the United Kingdom (UK) to visit a spouse or other family member who has been imprisoned here. Such applications are considered under the general provisions for visitors as set out in paragraphs 40 and 41 of the Immigration Rules (HC 395). To qualify for entry to the United Kingdom as a visitor an applicant must demonstrate that he or she is genuinely seeking entry as a visitor for the period stated, has sufficient funds for personal support and accommodation, holding any dependants without working or recourse to public funds, and that he or she will leave the United Kingdom at the end of the visit. The maximum period allowed for a visit is normally six months. We do not consider that this policy is inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.
But Dillon would beg to differ. A fiercely opinionated man whose words spill out of him in conversation as quickly as they do on the page (he once wrote six books, two screenplays, 30 episodes of High Road, a stage play, 50 short stories and "millions of poems" in a five- year period), he insists that he is your archetypal turn-his-hand-to-anything sort, a journeyman writer. Anyway, though he claims that politics bores him stupid, he reckons his work is all political in a way, finding links between the use of Scots dialect words in Ma Gal and the criticism of River City, with the government's reaction to Lockerbie - and even to the fact that his favourite film is ET ("What other writer would say that? They'd all say some subtitled thing, but I love it!") that all tie back to his firm sense of class.
Still, Lockerbie 103 is more of an overtly big-P political drama, being based on research by investigative journalists John Ashton and Ian Ferguson (published as Cover Up of Convenience: The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie) who argued that there were severe flaws in the official case and trial against Libyans Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi (found guilty) and Lamen Khalifa Fhima (acquitted). Their case is a complicated one, which suggests that Western intelligence services didn't act on warnings and later covered up evidence of Iranian and Syrian involvement in the attack on the airliner, in which 270 people died.
The play itself, which has been carefully vetted by lawyers and rewritten several times, doesn't claim to present the final verdict on what happened in December 1988, but it does raise various questions about the case against the two Libyans. Dillon, though, says his motivation for writing the play was more about the story and the reactions to the tragedy - a topic which has been strangely little touched on in Scottish drama or fiction, especially compared to the plethora of "responses" which followed the September 11 attacks - than about uncovering a potential scandal. The show was commissioned by journalist Ashton's sister Rachel Ashton, artistic director of the Barrow-in-Furness-based theatre company The Ashton Group. Similar personal connections led to Dillon, through the other journalist Ian Ferguson who, like him, grew up in Coatbridge, although they didn't meet until years later.
"When they went to the Traverse to talk about doing this play, they were asked if they had any writers in mind and he said he knew me, and the Traverse were interested. So then they asked me, but I didn't really want to write it because I knew it would involve a lot of work," explains Dillon. "I assumed that the two guys on trial were guilty and I didn't really care any more about it, but I went out with Ian one night for a Chinese meal and asked him lots of questions. He went on and on about it and he got me interested. It's not something that I would have chosen to write, but it's a good story." While the crash had a huge impact on Lockerbie itself, and remains a vivid memory even for most who just watched it on the news that night, somehow it hasn't quite become part of the national psyche in the way that the World Trade Centre attacks seemed to prove a fundamental turning point for many Americans. Dillon believes that that's because the issues around the attack have been pushed under the rug.
"You can't do nicey-nicey about Lockerbie but you can't do a hard- hitting thing either, so people just don't talk about it. People are scared because they don't know how to approach it. I have done it with absolute honesty. I have taken a couple of earthy Scottish characters and put them in there to shake it up and turn it in on themselves," he says. "One thing I found quite amazing is that the Americans hate it. They haven't seen it but they know they hate it. But the Scots families are just: 'Oh well . . .' It's different attitudes. "One of the American relatives gave a quote about it and it's actually a line that someone says in the play - he just firmly believes that they did it and there's no discussion to be had. But in the play, the character who says that takes a journey and he comes to think there's maybe doubt about it."
It is possible that the Lockerbie attack could be seen as a precursor to current preoccupations with terrorism and with the problem of how to deal with rogue states and with revenge. In the play, the son of one of the victims comes seeking a scapegoat and it's suggested he's after the wrong targets - sounds timely. Dillon pays tribute to Tara Arts, who co-present the tour, for sticking with it ."I had written the play before 9/11 and then it exploded. It's kind of a metaphor for what's happening now," he says. "I cried sometimes writing this play because I knew what had gone on. I knew it would set up all kinds of emotions. "I watched the play for the first time two weeks ago and was quite nervous because of all the publicity, but when I came out I felt as though I'd let the critics down - I felt guilty in a strange way because it's not that controversial."
What might prove shocking to some is the comedy in the play, of which Dillon gives vehement defence. "The play is full of humour, but not at the expense of anybody. "Working class people tend to use humour when emotions are too high. My stuff is full of it because I can't remember a time in my life that hasn't been full of craic and jokes. The funniest time in my life was sitting in cells waiting to be taken to court after getting picked up drunk. My culture always accepted that if you do something wrong you've got to get punished for it, so there's no point moaning." His culture is something he wears on his sleeve, though not uncritically. Me And Ma Gal was recently chosen as one of ten books to "represent" modern Scottish literature. Or, as Dillon puts it: "It represents the Catholics. I don't mean I'm a religious Catholic, but it represents that whole Catholic experience and nothing else on that list does, it's a big thing. I wrote it years ago so I can be objective and say it's a great wee book."
But he may not write any more novels. "I think I should be doing plays now really. I'm the kind of guy who goes into a pub - well, I don't do that now, I don't drink anymore - but I'm kind of like Billy Connolly. I do the patter, I tell stories, I could be a stand-up comedian. It's more natural to write dialogue and have it come to life." Dillon is scathing about what he sees as the negative elements in Scotland, the ones which have rubbished River City (and previously, High Road) and, he claims, are responsible for keeping his work in a ghetto labelled populist. "River City is as good as any other soap opera, it's just Scotland,. We can't accept people being successful, there's that kailyard thing. Ninety per cent of the people who make the telly are middle class and most people who watch it are working class. There's snobbery, yeah.
"Last year I went and studied popular culture with the Open University because I was stressed out going to meetings, putting up ideas and wondering why I was getting that rejection. It was a great course, it really opened my eyes." Dillon certainly talks a good game and, course or no, he could probably sell you an idea. But whether Lockerbie 103 really starts people wondering whether the full truth has come out about the tragedy remains to be seen. He admits himself he's "25-30 per cent nervous" about how the play will go down in Scotland. "One thing I hate is any kind of artist thinking they can change the world. The only thing really is to entertain the audience."
Lockerbie 103, Wednesday, March 12-Saturday 15, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, 8pm, £10 (£6, £4), 0131-228 1404
Professor Robert Black, of Edinburgh University's law faculty, a member of the society, last night described the hearing as "absolutely astonishing", but agreed the issue had to be ddressed.
It has been raised by Robbie the Pict out of his concern about the influence exerted on his campaign against Skye bridge tolls by members of the society. It was founded in 1764 by a group of Edinburgh luminaries, including William Creech, Robert Burns's publisher, who met in rooms at Edinburgh University for the improvement of literary composition and public speaking. It still meets once or twice a week and includes among its members the most senior judge, Lord Cullen, the lord justice general, and the Duke of Edinburgh as an honorary member.
Robbie the Pict argues it is a closed debating society with an invited membership which describes itself in its own literature as "a sodality and a brotherhood bound by intangible ties of shared loyalty and common tradition". He contends that judges who are members should not be allowed to sit on Skye bridge cases because they might be biased or, crucially, give the appearance of being biased. In October, he told the appeal court under Lord Gill that among members of the society were Sir Ian Noble, chairman of the Skye Bridge Company, when it opened in 1995, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, former Scottish Office minister with responsibility for the construction and financing of the bridge, and Lord Cullen. He pointed out that, in a series of Skye bridge decisions, 12 out of 14 involved Speculative Society members. Even at the October hearing, one of the three judges was Lord Osborne, a "Spec" member.
Lord Gill noted: "For a better understanding of the matter, Robbie the Pict invited us to read the History of the Speculative Society, to which Lord Osborne contributed a chapter." The lord justice clerk concluded: "This objection involves an assessment of the impact, if any, of membership of a private society on the integrity of the judicial process. In our opinion, the objective appearance of impartiality that is required by both Scots law and the (European) Convention necessitates that a judge who is a member of the society should not take part in a decision on the question."
Robbie the Pict said yesterday that Lord Gill's approach was most welcome. "I am, however, very aware that many in authority believe my argument to be utter nonsense. But during the Pinochet extradition debacle four years ago, the fact that Lord Hoffman's wife was a member of Amnesty International was sufficient to cast doubt on his impartiality.''
Professor Black said it was true that the extradition of General Pinochet, the former Chile dictator, and Lord Hoffman's role had provided the benchmark, and thought tomorrow's hearing, under Lord Gill, was highly significant. "There has never been a hearing like this one. It is absolutely astonishing. I am a member of the 'Spec' myself and I do not believe it is sinister. It is a debating society. But under human rights legislation the test is how it looks to an informed observer from outside. So if the chairman of the bridge company, the minister with responsibility for the bridge and judges are all members of a society, there is an issue." Lord James Douglas-Hamilton has described it as "a light-hearted debating society".
As well as Lord Cullen, high-profile members include fellow law lords Osborne, Maclean, Coulsfield, Milligan, Abernethy, Johnston, Marnoch, Hamilton, and Prosser. Members from the House of Lords include Lords Clyde, Hope, Jauncey, Keith, Mackay of Clashfern, the former Lord Chancellor, and Cameron of Lochbroom. - Feb 17th 2003.
The interactive web-conference will take place on April 4, 2003 at 1400 hours UTC on the website of Bolliers company MeBo at www.mebocom-defilee.ch/
Mystery still surrounds precisely how he came to fall out of a seventh-floor window as there were no witnesses in the room at the time. The Syracuse Police Department, however, believes the balance of evidence points to a tragic accident and has closed its investigation. McClune had a blood-alcohol level of 0.17 - the equivalent of 170mg per 100ml - when he died, Sergeant Tom Connellan said. The UK legal limit for driving is 80mg per 100ml. McClune was attending Syracuse University on a scholarship commemorating the 1988 Lockerbie disaster. The university lost 35 students who were returning to the US after European exchange visits when Pan Am 103 crashed.
McClune had sent his old headteacher at Lockerbie Academy, Gordon Herbert, an e-mail just days before his death saying how much he was enjoying the experience . His mother, Deborah Scott, and stepfather Sandy Scott visited Syracuse to collect his body and also attended a memorial service at the university last month. The family was not available for comment at their Lockerbie home
From the pale coloration of these works, the eye is suddenly hit by Glaswegian artist Jim Lambie's Zobop -- an entire gallery floor covered with lines of his trademark brightly coloured adhesive tape tracing the room's contours. Various videos invite the viewer to watch a garden sprinkler at work or old people asleep or even visit an array of underground London public toilets. One striking body of works is by Nathan Coley who sat through much of the trial of the Lockerbie bomber which took place under Scottish law but at a Dutch army base in 2001.
A replica of the witness box at the trial lurks in the middle of the room, surrounded by paintings of items of evidence produced at the trial which convicted Libyan Abdel Basset al-Megrahi of the 1988 bombing that killed 270 people. "These works needed their own space to make their point. They confront us with questions of truth," Nesbitt said. The exhibition is also part of an effort by the formerly fusty Tate Gallery -- reborn as Tate Britain barely three years ago -- to stake its claim to be as cutting edge as its sister Tate Modern and Charles Saatchi's soon-to-open new gallery.
A spokesman for his Scottish solicitor, Eddie MacKechnie, confirmed that the family had left for Libya. Visiting rights were a key part of the agreement under which Libya allowed Megrahi and his co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifah Fhimah, to stand trial. The spokesman added: "There is no conflict with the Home Office at the moment and we are pursuing this application normally." Megrahi's 18-year-old student daughter has a different visa from the tourist visa issued to the rest of the family and she has been allowed to stay in Scotland.
Megrahi's wife, Aisha, and the couple's five children moved to Newton Mearns, a plush suburb on the outskirts of Glasgow, in June 2002 and they are supported by a charity connected to the Libyan government. His lawyers had argued that forcing the family to return to Libya to reapply for their visa contravened the UN-brokered agreement which specified that "normal" family visiting rights should be offered to the two accused.
A spokesman for the Home Office said they could not discuss individual cases. Megrahi is currently challenging his conviction and is awaiting a response from the European court of human rights following a submission made in September.
A comment in THE SCOTSMAN, February 21, 2003:
It is understandable that the family of Abdelbaset Ali Moh-med al-Megrahi is upset that it will have to leave its house in Glasgow and return to Libya (your report, 17 February). But the fault does not lie with the Scottish justice system or United Kingdom visa regulations - it rests solely with him.
If he wished to protect his family from sadness and shame he should have chosen a career other than that of assassin.
He has been convicted of mass murder in connection with the Lockerbie bombing and the conviction has been upheld. He has been given considerations far beyond those offered to men convicted of far less heinous crimes. Enough is enough. He is in prison, where he belongs, and he should rot there.
I write as the father of Theodora Cohen, murdered in the bombing of Pan Am 103."
Cape May Court House
New Jersey, USA
Kreindler was also known as a passionate champion of victims' rights who played a key role in winning changes to U.S. laws and international treaties that limit victims' claims against airlines. "His life was a challenge to making the law better for people who needed help," said Marc Moller, a partner at Kreindler & Kreindler. "He was very much a catalyst for the improvement of aviation law and safety."
Widely considered the dean of aviation accident lawyers, Kreindler's clients included plaintiffs in litigation stemming from the 1988 bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland; the 1996 crash of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 off Long Island, New York, and the 1998 crash of the Swissair MD-11 airliner in Canadian waters off Nova Scotia. In the Pan Am case, Kreindler showed that the airline had committed gross security lapses that allowed an unaccompanied suitcase carrying the bomb to be loaded on to the plane. After winning a jury verdict and several appeals, Kreindler was able to get full compensatory damages for passengers' families. He continued the battle in 1996 by suing Libya for its alleged role in the explosion. Libya recently offered to settle the case and other claims for $2.7 billion but a final accord has been delayed. <å>A graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, Kreindler was also a down-to-earth man, often seen sporting an old blue golfing hat, who could patiently translate complicated aviation and international law into plain English. He was also known for his vast knowledge of aeronautical engineering and aircraft operation. In October 1996 he was criticized by some other lawyers for suing over the TWA Flight 800 explosion before the government determined what caused the disaster. The suits claimed the airline and the maker of the plane were liable because a mechanical malfunction most likely caused the explosion. Kreindler told Reuters there was nothing frivolous about the lawsuits and that they had been filed only after his office had completed its internal investigations and shared its findings with the National Transportation Safety Board.
"There's a need to bring lawsuits as soon as reasonably possible to get the litigation going. There's a limit to what we can do just relying on public information," he said. He said information gathered by his office could help the government determine the cause of the explosion aboard the Paris-bound Boeing 747. In August 2000, the NTSB said that design flaws in the plane contributed to the explosion. It said that flammable vapors had most likely ignited in a center wing fuel tank.
He said: "This has been an ongoing matter of disquiet and concern. "The family have come to be close to their husband and father and have been told that visas have expired and the only way to renew them is by having to go back to Libya, but there is no guarantee that they will be allowed back in. "I can quite understand that many will say ‘Why should there be any concern about a man convicted of mass murder?’, but I believe he is entirely innocent and against this backdrop I think it is appropriate that the family stay."
Aisha Megrahi and the couple’s five children, aged four to 18, moved to Scotland last June and are supported by a charity connected to the Libyan government. Visiting rights played a key part in negotiations to bring Megrahi and his then co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, to trial. Mr MacKechnie said that, under a deal brokered by the United Nations, the two men were offered unlimited access to diplomatic and legal aid and also to normal family visiting rights if they were convicted.
He said: "The family were given normal visiting rights, but it seems to be a bit of a false position when they say ‘Yes, but we won’t let you stay in the country’. "Most citizens understand that the family are innocent, whatever they may know about the true facts of the man convicted. "The Megrahis are an innocent, religious, law-abiding family. It seems to be a bureaucratic nightmare." The family’s six-month visitor visa ran out in December and was extended until March, by which time they have been asked to leave the UK.
Mr MacKechnie added that he was still hopeful his client’s case would be accepted by the European Court of Human Rights, following a submission made to the body in September. If the complaint for wrongful conviction is accepted, then the UK government would be called to answer the case. The lawyer said a similar application was likely to be presented in May to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which can examine cases and refer them to the High Court, even if an appeal has already been made. Megrahi is serving his life sentence in solitary confinement for his own protection at Barlinnie.
The Home Office refused to comment on the case.
"The play doesn’t say he didn’t do it," says Ashton. "Although one of the characters does. It takes the position that there are sufficient doubts around the conviction to make it look unsafe.
"My position is that basically Megrahi didn’t do it," says the drama’s author, Des Dillon, the acclaimed Scottish novelist who made his name with blackly comic tales of working-class Scottish life, such as Me and Ma Gal and The Big Empty. Dillon has written for the theatre before but has never taken on something this controversial.
Lockerbie 103 opens in Barrow-in-Furness next week, then goes on a national tour, which includes the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. It is a play by one of Scotland’s best-loved writers about the worst act of mass murder to scar Scottish soil, though most of the people who died were Americans in the air, not Scottish on the ground.
It is not quite the first play about Lockerbie, but it is the first to take on the ambitious task of addressing the doubts about Megrahi’s conviction. The production team insist it is a work of fiction. But it dwells heavily on the alternate theories of the crime - that early in the investigation the focus was on Iran and a Palestinian terrorist faction, so why did it turn to Libya? That there were mysterious doings in Lockerbie after Pan Am 103 went down, hauls of heroin and cash from the fallen plane.
Controversy means publicity, and publicity means, crudely, bums on seats. So the Ashton Group, which commissioned and produced the work, are perhaps not worried that the Lockerbie MP, Russell Brown, fired the first shot well before the curtain went up. In an exchange of correspondence in December, he told Ashton that he was "bitterly disappointed that at no time did you or the playwright, Mr Dillon, make any effort to consult with the people of Lockerbie or indeed the representatives of the families of the victims of these appalling murders, prior to your decision to mount this play."
Many people in the local community, he added, found the book by which the play was inspired - co-authored by Ashton’s brother, John - "deeply offensive". More generally, they fear another media circus when the play opens just over the Border.
I have not read Cover Up of Convenience: The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie, by John Ashton and Ian Ferguson. But Ferguson, a journalist and long-time researcher on the Lockerbie case, believes so adamantly in Megrahi’s innocence that since last April or May - years after production on the play began - he has been working as a paid legal investigator for the lawyers planning his next appeal. He also threatened to sue me, in a fairly friendly fashion, if I suggested that what was in the play was in his book.
When I met Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah in Tripoli a year or so ago - the man acquitted by the same Lockerbie court that convicted Megrahi - I found a Libyan Arab family man, a Hibs supporter, a popular figure at his local football club, a warm, comfortable figure, a glad-hander. So it came as a bit of a shock, reading the script of Dillon’s play, that within the first few pages someone is trying to have him killed, on the grounds he got away with murder in the bombing of Pan Am 103. Not that Fhimah has much of a part. Colonel Gaddafi, the man whose regime the Americans still loudly blame for ordering the bombing, has none, which in dramatic terms is probably a missed opportunity.
Terrorism is theatre. But can you take an act of terror and turn it into art? Specifically, can you make the case in a two-hour stage play that the decade-long investigation and then conviction of Megrahi is faulty and then that someone else - the Iranians, Palestinian terrorists, and of course the good ol’ CIA, or the DEA - might have been to blame?
The man once dubbed the poet laureate of Coatbridge has at times cursed himself for taking this project on: £7,000 was all he was paid. He thought of setting it in Camp Zeist; then he moved the action to Scotland. He had to rewrite it when Megrahi got convicted and Fhimah got off, which critics say is one of the most inexplicable parts of the conviction.
He’s carved out a formidable plot and some good lines: "Every time you have turned a stone there are five stones underneath to be turned. And each of them has five stones." He, and others, are at pains to insist that this is a work of fiction, with fictional characters. At the same time it is cut through with trial transcripts and witness interviews that more or less ridicule the case against Megrahi. It zeroes in on evidence from two witnesses whose credibility many observers questioned: Abdul Giaka, and Tony Gauci.
The play’s action opens when an American backpacker turns up at a B&B in Lockerbie. Michael Vogler, American naiveté writ large; so persuaded that the Libyans are to blame for the bombing of Pan Am 103, that he wants to have one of them killed. Later in the action, confronted with possibilities too complex for his innocent mind to grasp, he weeps. He is right out of The Quiet American; as Graham Greene had it, "God save us from the innocent and the good." Without giving too much away, his interaction with an altogether more worldly Palestinian man is central to the drama.
Close to the dénouement of this work, a character makes the case that "elements within the American government" gave the Iranian secret service the go-ahead to bomb an American passenger jet. It flags the possibility that American intelligence was running drugs on the plane, and it took advantage of the drugs pipeline to kill a would-be whistle-blower. "A lot of people I know have tried to follow the Lockerbie case but they find it so damned complicated. One of the aims of the play is to reconnect the audience to the story," says Ashton. "Des Dillon is a fantastic story teller to be able to create a form that we hope will just engage people in the way that you are engaged by a thriller.
"We have been very careful because it’s sensitive, and we understand that, the way our story teller makes it clear what is conjecture, what is fact, and what comes somewhere between the two."
Dillon’s position on his play, in a tele-phone interview, is broadly that the playwright’s job is to jerk the audience into attention. He read the book, read the script of two documentaries that were also used "read a lot of stuff on the BBC site", and then took a position. He swings between insisting on details - that the South African government were warned in advance that someone would be carrying a bomb on board Pan Am 103 - to an artist’s disinterest for facts. The first few drafts were boring; others "went right through the roof", and named specific people in the American government, he says.
"I find it hard to believe the Americans didn’t know there was a bomb going on board, then why did they let it happen? I’ve got documentation that shows they all knew.
"I’m not interested in politics anyway, it bores the arse right under me. Legal readings, I must have done about 30 drafts in that play, because it was being read for libel at every single stage.
"Any thing that was said at the trial had to be verbatim. Any character that could be legally argued was a real person had to say stuff that was legally true. We had to change some stuff for moral and legal and ethical reasons; we changed some of the stuff so that people couldn’t be identified. You can’t identify any of the Lockerbie people."
He invented a character, Annie McDowell, who is "an amalgamation of everybody in Lockerbie, I suppose". He wanted to use the story of a woman who held on to a fridge, when everything was falling about her, but he couldn’t.
"The decision was made early on not to use real people, because it might offend them ... they didn’t want to approach these people and get involved. The only people that were involved in the play that were Scottish were me and Ian Ferguson: he investigated years of it, whatever."
Ferguson and he were friends; both originally from Coatbridge. He ended up taking the job on "by accident". "I write from my imagination, it is so much easier. I recognised this was going to be a long hard job.
"I don’t go for these middle-class British values," says Dillon, "that everything must have a moral or a meaning or a life, the only reason I have done the play is that it is a good story, because that is the culture I come from.
"I’m not really pointing fingers, I am not saying the Americans ordered the bombing, I have a character that is doing that. I’ve not made it up, as I normally do as a writer. It would have suited the drama much better, but I couldn’t do it."
Dillon doesn’t apologise for not doing any original research; he got his facts from two journalists whoaltogether spent 24 years working on the case, he says. "I’ve not gone to people whose houses have been blown up, asked them what do you feel about that. "My job was to write the play and make it entertainment, and make sure it didn’t bore the pants off. Would you rather be bored for two hours or would you rather enjoy what you want to see and take something away with you?
"All I am trying to do is put information across. There is nothing in that play that I didn’t get from another source. All the stuff that is in that play was published in newspapers or books, it’s not wild airy fairy conspiracy theory stuff.
"If someone thought I was into conspiracy theories, I would think they are f*****g loonies, as soon as I get that stuff, I just switch right off and get away from them."
In the end, he says: "I’m just a guy from Scotland … I just want to walk the beach and eat my dinner and go back to short stories and novels."
After 11 September 2001, do we still have to talk about Lockerbie? The relatives of those who died will never forget it, but can’t we begin to? For most of us, the lingering, conflicting theories about the case, have long ago turned too complicated any way.
No, says Jatinder Verma, artistic director of Tara Arts. Tara - regarded as Britain’s top Asian theatre company - signed on to the production of Lockerbie 103 in the wake of 9/11. "The more we worked on the play, what for me is very integral, is that events like Lockerbie, like 11 September, is that there are almost as many things we don’t know as we do know. "Today we are faced with tanks at Heathrow. We are told this is because there’s information about a terrorism threat." But ordinary people, he says, don’t get the full picture. "It’s searching for the real truth, the objective truth. Which is the real priority in today’s times."
Truth about 11 September, to my mind, is still relatively easy to grasp; we know the what, when, where, who, though we may argue about the whys. If anyone tells me that the CIA did it, I’ll tell him he’s loopy. The truth about Lockerbie has always been harder.
I asked Dillon what would happen if Gadaffi admits, apologises, or pays billions of dollars in compensation for the Lockerbie bombing - as a UN resolution broadly demands, and which are the subject, apparently, of ongoing talks between British, US, and Libyan officials. "If he does, I’ll have to rewrite it again."