Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Frank Duggan "not familiar with certain aspects of Lockerbie"

[What follows is excerpted from an obituary of Frank Duggan published in today’s edition of The Herald:]

Frank Duggan, who has died of cancer aged 79, was a combative and often controversial lawyer and campaigner for American victims of the 1998 PanAm/Lockerbie disaster four days before Christmas 1988. He headed the organisation Victims of Pan Am 103 Inc, representing families in the US who lost relatives in the terrorist bombing in which 270 people died.

Whether he represented all the families of the 190 American victims was never quite clear - he once told George Galloway MP he had "never really counted them" - but he was instrumental in the legal action that won $2.7 billion from the Libyan government for the bereaved families, minus a stunning 30 percent in American lawyers' fees. He reportedly worked for the families initially for no pay but is thought to have shared in those fees.

Mr Duggan was incensed when Kenny MacAskill, Scotland's justice minister at the time, decided to release the convicted bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, on humanitarian grounds in 2009. Describing the decision as obscene, Mr Duggan was vociferous in insisting the then Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi had ordered the PanAm bombing. This brought him into often bitter conflict with many of the Scottish and other UK victims' families, notably the most-outspoken UK relative, the GP Dr Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora perished in the tragedy.

Dr Swire and many other families always believed al-Megrahi's conviction was a miscarriage of justice and that Iran may have been behind the terrorist bombing in retaliation for a less-publicized tragedy. That was when an American Navy guided-missile cruiser, the USS Vincennes, shot down an Iran Air Airbus passenger aircraft over the Persian Gulf on July 3, 1988, killing all 290 passengers and crew - more than the later total of the Lockerbie tragedy. The Americans said they thought the airliner was a fighter plane and the deaths received a fraction of the publicity worldwide that the Lockerbie deaths would receive nearly six months later.

By all accounts, Frank Duggan was a good man, a man who recovered from years of alcoholism and who sincerely fought for the American victims of PanAm 103. But he was perhaps rather naive when it came to the media, as demonstrated in a telling telephone interview with George Galloway MP for talkRADIO in 2009.

In the call, Mr Duggan admits he was not familiar with certain aspects of Lockerbie, notably the evidence of the Maltese witness Tony Gauci, who said he had sold the clothes later found to have been wrapped around the bomb which brought PanAm 103 down. Mr Galloway asked Mr Duggan why the US government had given Mr Gauci a $2million "reward,"to which Mr Duggan replied that there was no proof of such a payment and that he was "not that familiar" with Mr Gauci's evidence.

Mr Duggan then proceeded to call Jim Swire and others of being "all of these cranks." Again, Mr Galloway pulled him up for calling Dr Swire a crank. It was too much for Mr Duggan and in the end he told Mr Galloway: "I don't have time to waste with people like you. I've got to go. Bye bye." And he hung up. (...)

It was George H W Bush who in early 1989, prompted by the Lockerbie tragedy, appointed Mr Duggan to the Presidential Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism (PCAST) where he became a liaison between the US administration and the American Lockerbie victims.

According to a colleague at PCAST, former FBI agent J Brian Hyland, whose desk was next to Mr Duggan's, the latter had a tendency to sing or hum the patriotic Battle Hymn of the Republic (Mine Eyes have seen the Glory) to keep his colleagues in a positive frame of mind.

Despite the fact that he did not have a relative on the PanAm 103, the families - or at least a majority of them - trusted him and appointed him president of the group they called Victims of PanAm 103 Inc, and he represented them until the day of his death. In return, the families supported Mr Duggan, notably after his daughter was hit by a drunk driver and went into a coma. She eventually awoke but with brain damage.

As family liaison, Mr Duggan lobbied for their interests and listened to them with patience and understanding. After being appointed to Presidcent Bush's PCAST, he continued lobbying for the families as the trail turned to Libya. During this time, he went to work for one of the legal teams representing the families, headed by Allan Gerson, whose 2001 book noted that “for six years Duggan had worked for the families and had earned nothing for it except their trust and gratitude.”

Monday, 4 December 2017

Should the air disaster be marked this year?

[This is the headline over an item published yesterday on the DnG24 website. It reads as follows:]

Dumfries and Galloway Council last week confirmed that they have no plans to mark the anniversary of the 1988 attack, in which 270 people died, including 11 on the ground.

However, Lockerbie Community Council remain unsure on how, and if, the people of Lockerbie want to honour December 21 this year.

And they are urging locals to get in touch and make their wishes known to the community group.

Discussing whether or not to mark the tragic event, councillor Adam Wilson said: “It is important that the anniversary is marked and all those who tragically lost their life 29 years ago are remembered.

“But any anniversary must be respectful of the local people who live with the memories and scars of that tragic night.”

And Colin Dorrance, who has a dual connection to the disaster, says it’s a complex issue. As a teenage police officer Colin was one of the first at the scene on December 21.

But he has also seen that good that can grow from tragedy in the form of the Syracuse Scholarship, which was awarded to his daughter Claire in 2012 and son Andrew earlier this year.

Through his children’s connections to the States he has formed his own bonds with the New York college and the people that keep the scholarship going and keep alive the memory of their students who died that night.

Colin said: “I feel that the subject remains a difficult, complex one for the town to deal with. There are those who still live in the community that were profoundly affected, who perhaps wish not to be reminded – that should be respected.

“Remembrance can be a very personal thing.

“It’s also understandable that the town does not wish to be forever defined by a tragedy.”

He added: “However, as the incident passes further back into history and the town moves forward, I sense that there is also a growing need to be more open and public about what happened and that we should find a way to express that somehow.

“Out of the depths of one of the most horrendous crimes in British history, our town rallied, its services pulled together and there are thousands of accounts of selfess acts of kindness, consideration and support shown – to others, to next of kin, their friends, families, and to visitors from all over the globe – then and in the decades since.

“There is something in all of that to be actively remembered and publicly commemorated. The ongoing links between Syracuse University and Lockerbie Academy exemplify this and we should perhaps explore how to extend those precious bonds wider into the Lockerbie community.”

Sunday, 3 December 2017

"He didn’t get it on the plane"

[What follows is excerpted from an obituary of Frank Duggan published today on the website of The Washington Post:]

Francis J “Frank” Duggan, a lawyer and federal official who spent years as a pro bono advocate on behalf of families of the victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, died Nov 1 at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 79.
The cause was lung cancer, said his son, Tim Duggan.
On Dec 21, 1988, a bomb exploded, killing all 259 people aboard Flight 103, plus 11 people on the ground, when the disabled aircraft crashed into the town of Lockerbie. The victims came from more than 20 countries.
In 1989, Mr Duggan was named to the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism, which examined the causes of the bombing. He was the commission’s liaison to the victims’ families and continued to act as their pro bono advocate until his death. He eventually was named president of Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, an organization composed mostly of victims’ families.
“He was always the linchpin that made things happen,” said the group’s board chairwoman, Mary Kay Stratis, whose husband was killed on Flight 103. “He made connections in Scotland and the UK with journalists who understood our plight and had his finger on the pulse of our organization.”
Mr Duggan helped lobby Congress and federal officials to improve airline security and called on law enforcement agencies to bring charges in the case.
In 2001, more than 12 years after the incident, a onetime Libyan intelligence officer, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, was convicted of 270 counts of murder for his role in placing the bomb on the airliner. He was sentenced to life in prison.
The Libyan government agreed to accept responsibility for the bombing and to pay a penalty of $2.7 billion to the victims’ families in 2003, in return for the easing of international sanctions on the country. [RB: The Libyan government did not “accept responsibility for the bombing”; it accepted “responsibility for the actions of its officials”. The relevant document can be read here.]
In 2009, al-Megrahi was released from prison in Scotland on grounds of “compassionate relief” because he was believed to be terminally ill. He returned to Libya, where he lived until his death in 2012.
Mr Duggan strongly opposed al-Megrahi’s release and maintained that as many as seven other co-conspirators were never brought to justice.
“Obviously it wasn’t just one guy,” Mr Duggan told the Syracuse Post-Standard in 2013. “One guy didn’t make the bomb and transport it . . . He didn’t put it on the [luggage conveyor] belt. He didn’t get it on the plane. There were other people that the investigation suspects, very strongly.” (...)
Mr Duggan was instrumental in arranging for a memorial cairn, consisting of 270 stones quarried near Lockerbie, which was dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery in 1995.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Salmond condemned after casting doubt on Lockerbie conviction

[This is the headline over a report in today’s edition of The Times. It reads as follows:]

Alex Salmond has provoked criticism for claiming that the only man jailed for the Lockerbie bombing was wrongly convicted.

The former first minister said he believed that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi was guilty of playing a part in the terrorist attack that killed 270 people in December 1988, but that the court was wrong to convict him.

The declaration by the man who led the Scottish government at the time that Megrahi was released in 2009, on compassionate grounds, provoked surprise and condemnation.

Dick Marquise, head of the US Lockerbie task force between 1988 and 1992, told The Times that Megrahi had been “rightly convicted”.

Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the crash and who has campaigned for Megrahi’s conviction to be re-examined, asked why Mr Salmond had not spoken up earlier, when his views might have had an impact.

Mr Salmond made his comments on his television programme, The Alex Salmond Show, for RT, formerly Russia Today. [RB: The programme can be viewed here.] Mr Salmond said: “Here is my view: is it possible for someone to be guilty, yet wrongly convicted? Yes it is.”

He said that the forensic science evidence showed Libyan involvement and that Megrahi was working for Libyan intelligence at the time. He added: “His conviction was not just based on the strength of that evidence but on identification evidence which is . . . open to question.”

The former SNP leader said he was aware of issues with the identification back in 2009, the year Megrahi was released by Kenny MacAskill, who was justice secretary at the time, because he was gravely ill. He died three years later in Libya. Mr MacAskill has said that while Megrahi was probably involved, others may have played key roles.

Dr Swire said: “Just like Kenny MacAskill, it is a shame Alex Salmond waited until after he left office before revealing these doubts.”

Mr Marquise said: “Based on the preponderance of all the evidence, Megrahi was rightly convicted. For two political types who never spent one minute talking to or observing the demeanour of a witness during the trial, to make comment such as ‘his conviction was not just based on the strength of the evidence but on identification evidence’ is just stupid.

“The inference can be made from these comments that identification evidence is worthless and it is not.”

A Scottish government spokesman said: “Megrahi was convicted in a court of law – his conviction was upheld on appeal — and that is the only appropriate place for his guilt or innocence to be determined.”

Alex Salmond’s intervention in the Lockerbie saga is puzzling on several counts (Magnus Linklater writes).

First, the timing: he was aware of the grounds for a possible miscarriage of justice, explored by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, five years ago. Yet he has not hitherto voiced doubts about the safety of Megrahi’s conviction. By concluding that he was “guilty” of being a participant in the bomb plot, but wrongly convicted, he must have changed his mind, but offers no real explanation as to why. He must know that the identification issue was only a part of the prosecution case, and he must know that in the past two years the only new evidence to have emerged has gone towards confirming the guilty verdict.

It would be better if Mr Salmond produced the new evidence on which he bases his conclusion, rather than further adding to a thicket of conspiracy theories.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Alex Salmond casts doubt on Lockerbie bomber conviction

[This is the headline over a report published this afternoon on the website of The Herald. It reads in part:]

Alex Salmond has cast doubt on the conviction of the Lockerbie bomber, suggesting it was based on evidence that was “open to question”.

The former First Minister – who was in office when Abdelbaset al Megrahi was controversially freed from prison on compassionate grounds – said it was possible “for someone to be guilty, yet wrongly convicted”.

He made the comments after interviewing former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who came under fire for releasing Megrahi in 2009, on his Russian TV chat show. (...)

Mr Salmond said: “As Kenny MacAskill has told us he made his decision to release Mr Megrahi according to the law of Scotland and on compassionate grounds.

“Here is my view: Is it possible for someone to be guilty, yet wrongly convicted? Yes it is.

“Kenny MacAskill was correct, the forensic evidence complied by the Scottish authorities and the FBI clearly identified Libyan involvement and Malta as the place where the bomb was planted.

“Mr Megrahi was a high ranking Libyan intelligence official on the scene at the time. This supports the charge that he, acting with others, was part of the Lockerbie conspiracy.

“However, his conviction was not just based on the strength of that evidence but on identification evidence which is to say the least open to question.

“Back in 2009 Kenny MacAskill was aware of this, as was I as Scotland’s First Minister. And we were aware of something else – the total cynicism of some of those who attacked the Scottish Government for our decision.

“Throughout this period the British government, of first Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown, were secretly acting to promote Mr Megrahi’s release. And not on the grounds of compassion or justice, but for trade, for big business and for oil. Such is State hypocrisy.”

[RB: The spuriousness of the argument that Megrahi, although perhaps wrongly convicted, was nevertheless involved in Lockerbie is demonstrated here and here.]

US and UK were ‘double-dealing’ on Megrahi release

[This is part of the headline over a report in today’s edition of The National. The following are excerpts:]

It was one of the most controversial decisions taken during Alex Salmond’s time as First Minister – now he is to revisit the 2009 release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi with the man who made that call, former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill.

In a special St Andrew’s Day edition of the Alex Salmond Show on RT today, MacAskill makes the explosive claim that Scotland was “slapped about mercilessly” by the British and American governments, who he accuses of “double dealing”.

Salmond himself says the identification evidence which helped convict Megrahi is “open to question” and berates the “total cynicism” of those who attacked the Scottish Government over the decision to send the Libyan home on compassionate grounds because he had terminal prostate cancer. He says the UK Government wanted Megrahi sent home to secure an oil deal. (...)

Salmond and MacAskill were colleagues in the Scottish Government when both came under huge pressure not to release Megrahi.

After they did so, his life was prolonged by American-made cancer drugs not available in Scotland before he died in 2012.

MacAskill tells Salmond: “A month after I was being criticised for releasing Megrahi, it was coming to light that the British [Government] through the Police Service of Northern Ireland, were training Gaddafi’s elite battalion.

“It’s also since become clear that Britain, through and with assistance of the United States, was rendering prisoners to Colonel Gaddafi.

“So this was about building a relationship between the West and Gaddafi and Scotland was slapped about mercilessly. I believe we did the right thing and yet Britain and America were conniving to achieve what we delivered, but blaming us for doing what we did for the right reasons.”

Asked by Salmond if the full truth about Lockerbie would ever be known, MacAskill replies: “I think it is going to be a bit like the grassy knoll at Dallas. I think there will always be doubts because there will always be people that don’t accept it and there still is that million-dollar question of how did they get the suitcase on board at Malta? But it’s got to be remembered that as a consequence of getting it on board at Malta, Pan Am went into administration.

“So, I think it went on at Malta we don’t quite know how. I have a theory in my book about how I think it went on, but I think there is no doubt that Libya did it, but they were aided and abetted by others. Megrahi had a role, but it was a relatively minor role.”

[Kenny MacAskill’s “theory” and his conviction that Libya “did it” and that “Megrahi had a role” are convincingly demolished in this review of the MacAskill book by James Robertson and this review by John Ashton.]

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

"We are not going to let the media tell an incomplete story"

[What follows is excerpted from an article published yesterday on the PBS NewsHour website:]

The story [Michelle Ciulla Lipkin] shares starts out in 1988, just before Christmas. Then-17-year-old Ciulla Lipkin had dropped off poinsettias at her home in Park Ridge, New Jersey, in preparation for the holidays when the family would be together again. At around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Michelle’s mother, Mary Lou, had the TV on when her soap opera was interrupted with breaking news.

“It was true breaking news. Not breaking news like it is today,” said Ciulla Lipkin.

It was nighttime in Lockerbie, Scotland, and the images were dark and unclear, save for the flames, and the sounds of the ambulances. The same images flooded the television screens; the news outlets didn’t have much to go on, Ciulla Lipkin said, so they repeated them over and over again.

“No cellphones, no internet, no tracking his flight, no special announcement,” the youngest of three recalled. “The only news they got was what everyone else was getting,” something that would be hard to fathom today, she said.

It would take another 13 hours for the family to receive confirmation that their father, Frank Ciulla, was a passenger on board Pan Am 103 when it exploded over the UK on Dec 21, 1988.

Ciulla, a 45-year-old executive for Chase Manhattan Bank, was killed along with 258 [sic] passengers and crew and 11 local residents.

Almost 30 years later, his daughter remembers “like it was 10 minutes ago.” Ciulla Lipkin thinks often of that moment when her mother’s soap opera was interrupted — an interruption that would go on to symbolize the media’s long intrusion into her family’s life.

Iconic images like the cockpit lying in the open field, the crater where houses once stood and the searchers combing through the wreckage in the days after the Lockerbie bombing have seared themselves into the public’s memory. But the way the public remembers a major news event is not the same as those who experience the trauma firsthand, Ciulla Lipkin said.

“Once you are the subject of a news story, your entire perception of all news and all-things-media changes, because it’s about you and your family and your experience,” she said, “And that is something that I think people forget a lot.”

Like nearly all news stories pre-internet, the story of the Lockerbie bombing was a story largely told by the news media. “And I believed that story was my dad’s story,” Ciulla Lipkin said.

“Finding out three and a half years later later that that actually wasn’t his story — it was part of the whole story of the plane crash, but it was nowhere near my dad’s personal story — changed everything.”

In 1992 the Ciulla family discovered important details about what had really happened to their father in the bombing and crash. During a conversation with the Connells, the family who found Frank Ciulla’s body on their farm in Waterbeck, Scotland, they learned he had actually died six miles from the crash site — far from the crater where houses once stood. He was sitting upright, still strapped into his seat.

While it had taken 10 days after the crash for authorities to give official word that they had found and identified their father, the Connells knew after 20 minutes. They went to work shielding Frank Ciulla’s body and protecting him from the press. Like many others in the area, they washed and ironed the clothes of the deceased to give to family members.

Not long after this conversation, the Ciulla family visited the Connells in Scotland. Seeing the spot where he died gave them some hope in a story that had been solely filled with tragedy, Ciulla Lipkin said. After the visit, the Connells sent the Ciullas a letter, writing, “He was never just another victim to us. For months we called him our boy. Then we found out his name, he was our Frank.”

Learning more details helped the Ciullas feel some control over their father’s story for the first time — they felt they had taken their power back, she said.

“You don’t often meet the people who found your loved one after a plane crash. You don’t often create a relationship with them and visit them. You don’t often have them over to your home in New Jersey from Scotland,” Ciulla Lipkin said.

“We turned it around and decided we are not going to let the media tell an incomplete story. We are going to get out there and tell this part of it,” she said. But knowing how to access, analyze and evaluate media — and create media yourself — known as media literacy, takes education that, as a young teenager, she didn’t have.

“If I had been more literate about media and news, my reaction and processing of my dad’s death would have been different. I would have asked different questions. I would have wondered different things. I would have wanted different information,” Ciulla Lipkin said.

Monday, 13 November 2017

The long road ahead

[This is the headline over an article published in today’s edition of the Maltese newspaper The Times.  I find it sad that such uncritical acceptance of the official version of the Lockerbie tragedy can still be found, especially in Malta and in the columns of The Times. That newspaper and its sister publication The Sunday Times have been in the forefront of exposing the flaws in the investigation and prosecution that culminated in the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi.]

The tragic death by assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia will require detailed and widespread enquiry to find the perpetrators, as commentators in this newspaper have already pointed out.

I would like to stress the importance of minute forensic examination, cooperation with the best technical support for significant findings, and close liaison with the police and security forces of any country to which a connectionis demonstrated. Any witness or informant of this case must also be very carefully investigated.

All this clearly requires constant stamina, resources, and patience in sustaining the hunt.

I would like to give an authentic example of how critical the thoroughness, scale of the enquiry, and international help, all are in obtaining success.

On December 21, 1988, Pan Am flight 103 was destroyed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing everybody on board and 11 people on the ground. One of the largest and most detailed forensic investigations in the world began.

The Scottish police force is not large, nor is that of Malta (which has the third smallest security and public order budget in the EU), and they quickly needed help from the FBI and English security forces.

A tiny piece of metal with a serial number on it traced the timer to its provider in Switzerland. The buyer had signed the receipt.

The radio had been wrapped in a series of clothing garments in the suitcase. Pieces of some of these still had legible labels and were traced to a Maltese brand. Scottish police came to Malta, talked with security personnel here and found the manufacturer and a retailer in Sliema, where the clothes were sold.

On questioning the shopkeeper, he remembered the sale to one customer of a number of garments, portions of all of which had been found in the wreckage. An umbrella had also been sold and pieces of an identical type were also found.

The date of the purchase was known, and the shopkeeper could recognise the purchaser, whom he had seen locally a number of times.

This accumulation of evidence, and the presence of the accused in Malta at the time (with a false passport from Libya) led to his arrest, trial and conviction at an internationally organised court in the Netherlands, but not until January 31, 2001.

It was established that the suitcase bomb had travelled from Malta to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to London, and so onto the Pan Am flight to New York as “unaccompanied luggage”.

All this shows the tremendous difficulties (plus diplomatic ones) which exist in finding a criminal in an international situation. We must also note that none of any supposed accomplices have yet been found.

But if such difficulties were overcome on that occasion, I think we may hope that the murderers of Daphne will be implacably hunted down. Neither time nor place hiding them from human justice.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Death of Frank Duggan reported

Today’s edition of The Times reports the death at the age of 79 of Frank Duggan, President of the US Lockerbie relatives’ organisation Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, Inc.

References to Frank Duggan on this blog can be found here. He was not himself a relative of a Lockerbie victim but was on the staff of the Presidential Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism (PCAST) set up after the disaster, in charge of family liaison.

The death notice in The Washington Post can be read here.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Heathrow security

[What follows is the text of a letter from Dr Jim Swire that was published in The Daily Telegraph on 31 October 2017:]

You report (October 30) that a memory stick found in a London street contained 76 extensive, unencrypted files relating to core aspects of Heathrow’s security.

There appears to be no evidence of awareness on the airport’s part, nor of the alarm being raised, before the files were found. We cannot know whether the information has fallen into hands bent on mischief, either through ransom or, far worse, terrorism. Given the latter possibility, Heathrow must make major changes to its security procedures. The airport says “we have reviewed all of our security plans and are confident that Heathrow remains secure”. This is highly complacent.

In December 1988, Pan Am 103, on leaving Heathrow, was destroyed by a bomb in the luggage hold over Lockerbie, with the loss of 270 lives. We now know that Heathrow’s airside had been broken into about 16 hours before the plane took off. The broken padlock and breached security door were reported by a night watchman, but his superiors decided that airside staff had simply taken improper routes to get home quickly for Christmas.

No search was made, nor were any flights cancelled. If such precautions had been taken, my daughter and 269 others might still be alive today.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

While Libya took responsibility for the bombing … Iran was actually responsible

[What follows is one paragraph from a long article headlined Iran and 9/11: Down the Rabbit Hole of Blame by Kristen Breitweiser, the widow of a 9/11 victim, published yesterday in Huffington Post:]

The 9/11 Families’ case against the Saudis has been dismissed at the trial level for a myriad of reasons, more recently, because the Kingdom was not a named State Sponsor of Terrorism. In case you didn’t already know this horrifying dirty little secret, for the most part, getting on and off the official State Sponsor List is mostly a political decision, having very little to do with reality—i.e. whether you really deserve to be on the list in the first place. And typically, you can get off the list by buying your way off, just as long as you are deemed “in favor” with the right people and/or Presidents at the right time. This is what happened with Pan Am Lockerbie and Libya, by the way. Notably, while Libya took responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Lockerbie, more recent reports have shown that Iran was actually responsible for the terrorist attack.

29 years later: How Lockerbie moved on from the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103

[This is the title of a moving and perceptive article published today on the website of The Daily Orange, the newspaper of Syracuse University, thirty-five of whose students died aboard Pan Am 103. It consists in part of the memories of the disaster and its aftermath of a young police officer whose son is this year one of Syracuse’s Lockerbie Scholars. The following are brief extracts:]

For Colin Dorrance, Dec 21, 1988, was supposed to be a night off. Then 18 years old, he had recently joined the police force and was driving to a Christmas party at home in Lockerbie. (...)

Then he saw the explosion. It burst behind a line of trees, silhouetting them in the darkness.
He thought a truck with a chemical load had crashed. Others thought it might have been a low-flying military plane, practicing a drill that went wrong. Yet he and other the Lockerbie residents soon realized this was no ordinary explosion. (...)
In the 29 years since the disaster, Lockerbie residents like Dorrance and neighbors rebuilt and repaired the damage from the plane crash that catapulted their town into the international spotlight. The bomb wasn’t meant to explode over Lockerbie, said John Gair, a long-time Lockerbie resident and chairman of the Dryfesdale Lodge Visitors’ Centre Trust, differentiating it from the sites of other deadly attacks, like 9/11 and the recent Las Vegas concert shooting.
Other than the five memorials around town, there are few reminders of the tragedy. No plaques or signs mark many of the wreckage locations, like the grassy fields at Tundergarth Church, where the plane’s nose cone landed.
The destruction varied. In Sherwood Crescent, where all the Lockerbie residents were killed, wreckage blasted a 26-foot deep crater in the ground. It destroyed some bungalows and set fire to others, yet some buildings suffered as little as one cracked window. The parents of one man whom Dorrance went to high school with still live in the same, unchanged bungalow today, Dorrance said.
Only different brickwork, an updated main road and a memorial for the Sherwood Crescent victims hint at more.
Residents say people from the United States and Scotland grieve differently: those from the U.S. do so publicly and the Scottish more privately.
“We don’t talk about things like that. The town … I have to warn people that come here, it’s not a disaster theme park. It’s not as if everyone is in on the plot, and we all know it, inside out,” Dorrance said.
For the month following the crash, Dorrance worked night shifts in Lockerbie. He left in January 1989 to go back to his regular duties in another town. He separated himself from his memories of the plane crash and only began to revisit them when his daughter, Claire, was chosen to study at Syracuse University as a Lockerbie Scholar. His son, Andrew, is a current Lockerbie Scholar.
“The sheer scale of it was new to everybody. The guys who were nearly retired had never seen anything like it, never mind someone who was just fresh to it, and in a way there was a bit of an advantage of being an 18-year-old because you’re young, free and single,” Dorrance said. “If I was to go into the same situation now, as a married father with two kids who had been the same age as many of the students, I think I would find it harder to deal with emotionally.”
Much of the physical landscape untouched by damage remains virtually unchanged. The High Street is still mostly the same as it was in the 1980s, Dorrance said. Lockerbie’s agricultural industry is still prolific. Buildings like the town hall and ice rink, which were temporarily used as mortuaries, were quietly converted back into their original purposes. (...)
David Wilson, treasurer of the Dryfesdale Lodge Visitors’ Center Trust and resident of Lockerbie since 1966, said people aren’t necessarily passing down their memories of the crash.
“There is something in the Scottish culture, that you dust yourself down and you know the sun is going to rise whether you want it to or not, so you might as well get on with it,” Wilson said. “I think there was a general sort of stiffening of the spine.” (...)
Some of Lockerbie’s finest hours were after the plane crash, Dorrance said. For weeks, people rallied together in the early mornings, providing soup and coffee for workers and washing the luggage and clothes of victims to return to families for free.
Today, the plane crash is no longer current affairs, but part of the town’s history. Often, Lockerbie residents share jokes or laugh when discussing Pan Am Flight 103, but it’s not out of disrespect, Dorrance insists, which can be hard for outsiders to understand. For a town forced to live with the aftermath forever, it’s a way to move on.
“It’s life unfortunately. It’s something you have to get on with. It’s not disrespectful to those who died — they wouldn’t want that either,” Dorrance said. “But it just leads to these really surreal, weird kind of situations. And you do, you look back at it and laugh, because it’s either that or you cry.”
[RB: My own recollections of the disaster and its aftermath, which match surprisingly closely Colin Dorrance’s, can be found in the foreword that I wrote to Jill Haldane’s An’ Then the World Came Tae Oor Doorstep: Lockerbie Lives and Stories.]