By Jim Swire
Even on the brink of death, al-Megrahi tried to help me discover who really killed my daughter. I first saw Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi on the morning of May 1, 2000. He was below us in the well of the specially convened court at Kamp Zeist, Holland. Close to us at one side of the public gallery sat his wife Aisha and his family.
Through the bulletproof glass Baset seemed timid in the dock, never venturing to speak out for himself. Later we learnt that his defence team had told him to let them do the talking.
We were totally unprepared for the comment from another observer in the gallery: “How could you sit so near to the filth?” he said. This profound presumption of guilt was unencumbered by the inconvenience of having to prove it. Hatred has festered for some, and contributed to the blinding of many ever since.
Separation from his family was the cruellest consequence of Baset’s conviction. He loved them dearly, as they did him. Aisha was almost always present whenever I met her husband once he was out of prison and on licence inTripoli, though unlike him, she had no English. Her demeanour revealed her love for him and her trust towards me, an outsider, who had seen through the miscarriage of justice. Only near the very end did she leave us alone together, holding hands, for speech was difficult.
When I first met Baset in Greenock Prison, he was calm but determined to clear his name. He must have known that we had campaigned for years to have him tried under Scots law. Yet there was not a word of complaint, though his cancer, already giving him pain on sitting, was then in evidence. A devout Muslim, he had a Christmas card from the prison shop ready for me. On it he had written “Dr Swire and family, please pray for me and my family”. I treasure it still.
At least before he died we learnt what he already knew: that the story that a Libyan bomb using a long-running timer had started its journey fromMaltawas a myth. The famed fragment “PT35b” could never have been part of one of the timers allegedly used. There is now no valid evidence left from the court that eitherMalta, its flag carrier airline or Baset’s own country were involved. Baset has a valid alibi and he died knowing that in the end the truth will emerge.
On release from prison, his valedictory letter made clear that he attached no blame to the Scottish people for what had happened to him. This, from a man wrongly segregated from his family for years, and in the grip of a terrible disease, tells us much about the nature of Baset al-Megrahi. No one can be sure how much the stress of his terrible predicament affected his immune system and contributed to the spread of his fatal disease.
Later, when I met him inTripoli, he was concerned that I as a victim’s father should get access, on his death, to all the information that had been amassed to fight his abandoned appeal. He knew that I still grieved for my daughter and sought the truth as to who had really murdered her. On the brink of his own death, he found the spirit to empathise with me. That was a measure of this man.
It is a tragedy that we have failed to overturn the verdict while he was alive. But we must clear his name posthumously for the sake of truth and for the future peace of his family. If we do nothing then a great evil will have triumphed.
There are people inBritainandAmericawho, blinding themselves to the profound failure of the evidence against Baset, have tried deliberately to suppress the truth, and even to deny that Baset was mortally sick. Some of them have clearly done so knowing what they were doing. One can only pray for them.
Others, understandably consumed by hatred against a man they genuinely believed had murdered their relatives, advocated the withholding of treatment, even of painkillers so that he might die as quickly as possible and in the utmost agony. Such personal reactions are profoundly destructive to those who hold them. Unwittingly they have allowed themselves to become victims of the very terrorism which they rightly loathe; as such they will need help when the truth does come out. Therein, will lie a number of individual further tragedies.
Dr Jim Swire’s daughter, Flora, died on board Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.