ON the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, Ruth Wishart reflects on the horrors of that dreadful evening.


BEFORE Lego there was Meccano – metal parts screwed together to invent all manner of models.

And the morning after the horrors of the night before, the streets looked for all the world as if lorries full of Meccano parts had shed their collective loads.

But the bits of metalwork lying deeply over the main thoroughfares in Lockerbie were actually remnants of a transatlantic airliner.

Thirty years ago tomorrow night, I was sitting in the Glasgow office of The Scotsman newspaper when word came through of an incident with a plane coming down in the south-west of Scotland.

For a while, as we worked on, we were led to believe it was a small private jet. By the time I got home, the full scale of the tragedy was unfolding.

And first thing in the morning, at the editor’s behest, I drove the 75 miles down to Lockerbie, a small town just 20 miles from the English border, destined for the kind of infamy no community wants.

The smell of the fuel still lingered in the air, and, in Sherwood Crescent, which bore the brunt of the crash, those houses which hadn’t disappeared into a vast crater sat with their family rooms sliced open to the elements.

Disbelieving police officers stood guard at striped incident tape, having never thought to witness an incident like this.

A journalist from an English tabloid whom I knew rushed up to me. “You have to go up the hill,” she said. “It’s got lots of bits of bodies lying around.”

Instead, I went to the local library and tried to learn more about the history of a handsome little town suddenly visited by the most appalling devastation.

At that early stage the scale of the carnage wasn’t yet known, but the townsfolk, still shell-shocked, were understandably disinclined to respond to inquiries from the world’s media. Lockerbie, their town, their home, was suddenly on the global map for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve never gone back, but never forgotten. But I have had occasion to interview Jim Swire, whose daughter, Flora, was a victim, and who has always thought the jailing of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the atrocity was a miscarriage of justice, designed to protect larger geopolitical issues and more significant players.

And subsequently I talked to members of Megrahi’s defence team, and to the authors of two books attempting to unravel the story of Pan Am flight 103.

Later still, I chaired a debate at the Edinburgh Book Festival as to the likely facts behind a still contentious verdict, and the outrage which preceded it.

In some ways, for those who lost family members, especially young students going home for Christmas with everything to live for, who killed their precious children is of less moment than the loss with which they have now lived for 30 years.

For others Lockerbie remains not just the worst terrorist atrocity on UK shores, but an enduring conundrum.

And, for me, a stubbornly indelible memory of the night the sky rained body parts.