In Depth

Lockerbie bombing: 30 years on from UK’s deadliest terror attack

Families of the 270 victims of plane bombing still have unanswered questions

Friends and relatives of those killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing have gathered to mark the 30th anniversary of the atrocity.

 “A service of commemoration and a wreath laying will take place in the town to mark the anniversary and remember the victims,” Sky News reports. 

The Queen has conveyed her “prayers and good wishes” to the residents of the small Dumfriesshire town, the name of which became known around the world.

The Lockerbie bombing, in which a passenger plane carrying 259 people blew up over southwest Scotland, killing all those on board and a further 11 people on the ground, stunned the nation days before Christmas in 1988. 

“While so significant in its international implications and ramifications”, the tragedy “was personal and local for those on the ground”, says The Herald today. 

In 2001, a high-ranking Libyan state airline official was found guilty of orchestrating the bombing and sentenced to life in prison, but many - including some of the bereaved families - were not convinced by the verdict and, 30 years on, questions remain.

At a memorial service in Lockerbie on the 30th anniversary, now-retired parish priest Patrick Keegan will urge the bereaved to resist succumbing to bitterness or hatred, but will “also question whether they have received justice”, the Herald reports.

What was the Lockerbie bombing?

On 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York blew over Lockerbie, in southwest Scotland, after a bomb concealed in a suitcase exploded. All 259 people on board were killed, along with 11 people on the ground. 

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, head of security with Libyan Arab Airlines, was found guilty of the bombing and sentenced to life in prison in January 2001. 

In 2003, Libyan ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi accepted Libya’s responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims’ families but denied personally ordering the attack.

Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, after more than 40 years of dictatorial rule. 

What happened to Megrahi? 

Megrahi was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in January 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing. He served just eight and a half years of his sentence, before being released on compassionate grounds in 2009 after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. He returned to Libya, where he died almost three years later.

Megrahi always protested his innocence, and others have claimed he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice, including many of the victims’ families, who believe the truth has been withheld. 

After losing an appeal against his conviction in 2002, Megrahi launched a second appeal that he later abandoned without explanation.

“Why he did this has always been a matter for conjecture,” says the BBC’s Reevel Alderson.

“Many people point to the ‘Deal in the Desert’ between Tony Blair and the Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi as forming part of the pressure put on the Scottish government,” Alderson continues.

Relatives of the Lockerbie victims were among those who campaigned to clear Megrahi’s name and pressure the UK Government to identify the “real” killers.

To this day, the details remain unclear, and for many Lockerbie still “brings to mind suggestions of conspiracy, of murky deals done in the diplomatic margins, of international machinations that betrayed justice”, says The Independent.

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