Thursday, December 18, 2008

Twenty years, still trying to move on.

Last updated 11:24, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Even now – two decades on – there is no closure on the Lockerbie bombing. Debate persists about the guilt of the former Libyan intelligence agent convicted of blowing up Pan Am flight 103.Mrs McQueen, now 62, was at home watching television when parts of the aircraft began falling. As wife of the town’s then GP, Kenneth McQueen, she helped carry lifesaving resuscitation gear to the surgery – equipment sadly not needed.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, now 56 and serving a life sentence for mass murder, is due to have a second appeal against his conviction heard next year.
Yet despite the international manhunt and trial that centred on events in Lockerbie, few there have closely followed developments.

Residents have for a long time felt little connection with the legal and political debates that have raged around the world, most recently over cancer-stricken Megrahi’s failed bid for bail pending his appeal.

They want to – and have – moved on from the grief and devastation that rained down on them four days before Christmas 1988.

Most are understandably reluctant to talk about what happened on that dreadful night and some would rather the 20th anniversary was not publicly marked.

Of course, they will never forget the 270 people from 21 countries killed the night terror struck in rural Dumfriesshire.

In a garden of remembrance at Dryfesdale Cemetery, on the outskirts of the town, stand memorials naming all who died – a sombre reminder of the human cost of terrorism.
A stained glass window in the Town Hall features the flags of 21 nations – a symbol of the global grief focussed on this small town.

And in Sherwood Crescent, sits a small sandstone memorial – a dignified tribute to the 11 Lockerbie residents killed there.

But the town’s motto is “forward” and its people have lived up to that while retaining their compassion towards those who continue to visit to pay their respects.

Former Lockerbie councillor Marjory McQueen believes the community’s feelings towards the debate surrounding the disaster are not what many would expect.

She, like many others, did not follow the trial that convicted Megrahi, but cleared his co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima in 2001.

“When they announced the verdict the media thought the town would stop, but that was not the case,” Mrs McQueen said. “The political and legal machinations that have gone on since Lockerbie have gone over the heads of people here. The interest is not what the Press would expect. “This is because of the 11 people who died from here – who we have never forgotten – I know of only one lady who was a relative and she does not wish to become part of the media circus. There are maybe distant cousins of a couple of others around, but that’s it.”

In the months that followed she worked in the Procurator Fiscal’s office, where her duties included opening files on those who died.

Despite the devastation that struck during the disaster and the grief caused in its immediate aftermath, Mrs McQueen says Lockerbie moved on quickly.

She said: “Within a year, rebuild had occurred and people were back getting on with their lives.
“For some, there were psychological problems that probably lasted for a fair bit, but, in the main, the town was back and functioning in a year.”

Sunday’s 20th anniversary will be marked in Lockerbie – but in a low-key way, as townsfolk have requested. People, understandably, want to keep their thoughts personal.

The US ambassador will be among those who will lay wreaths at Dryfesdale Cemetery, while an ecumenical church service will be held at Dryfesdale Church and a vigil at Tundergarth Church, near where the plane’s nosecone landed.

On the community’s feelings about the anniversary, Mrs McQueen said: “I think people would rather not discuss or think about it.

“The vast majority would rather just let it go as another day. It was the same with the 10th anniversary.

“I know how they feel, but this was a major international incident. Twenty-one nationalities – 259 people – on board the plane and 11 Lockerbie people died.”

Victims’ relatives are undoubtedly grateful for what the people of Lockerbie did in the aftermath of the crash – comforting them and gathering and cleaning their loved ones’ belongings before they were returned.

Mrs McQueen added: “I am glad Lockerbie has the reputation it does for warmth towards those who come from other countries and this country to remember those who died.”

The community spokeswoman is now chairman of Dryfesdale Lodge Visitor centre, which remembers the tragedy and other aspects of Lockerbie’s rich history. It attracts up to 5,000 visitors a year.

Its exhibits include a quilt specially designed to commemorate the 20th anniversary, depicting a tree with 259 leaves representing those killed on Pan Am flight 103. Eleven pebbles represent the 11 Lockerbie people who died while the tree’s strong roots represent the community.

Money to convert Dryfesdale Lodge, a former cemetery worker’s cottage, into a visitor centre, came from the Lockerbie Trust, which was established in the aftermath of the disaster to manage money that was donated to the town and to ensure it benefited the community.



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