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TV & Radio

Accusations cloud the truth behind Lockerbie wreck -

All disasters provoke in us a hunger for explanation and these days you're never at a loss for someone prepared to feed you, to appease your pangs with conspiracy theories - that intellectual junk food. In more faithful times blame was less complex. Writing about the Titanic, Thomas Hardy mused on the separate creation of ship and iceberg: "No mortal eye could see/ The intimate welding of their later history,/ Or sign that they were bent/ By paths coincident/ On being anon twin halves of one august event./ Till the Spinner of the Years/ Said 'Now!' And each one hears,/ And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres."

Alan Francovich's film about the Lockerbie disaster, The Maltese Double Cross (Channel 4), opened with a similarly baleful sense of ineluctable collision - a suitcase and a plane full of people, fated to meet. But where Hardy lays the blame on the Spinner of the Years (current whereabouts unknown) Francovich has more earthly agencies in mind. That terrible explosion was entirely eluctable, he suggests, so much so that several potential victims changed their travel plans after specific warnings from intelligence sources. Worse, he alleges, the bomb was actually placed on the plane with the assistance of DEA officials, protecting a drugs-for-intelligence operation in the Lebanon. The Libyan connection is simply a front, a cynical attempt to turn a political profit from the disaster and to conceal the murky dealings of American intelligence.

This is airport novel stuff, a convoluted story traced through a swamp of mendacity and impure motive. It might even be true - after all, Iran- Contra sounded like a Hollywood fantasy. But it doesn't greatly help your confidence that Francovich's film almost immediately adopted the conspiracist's unshakeable conviction that nothing is quite what it seems. "Americans" were on the scene very quickly, noted various witnesses, hinting darkly at foreknowledge. The CIA was there and the FBI, interfering with the work of Scottish policemen, combing those low hills for evidence. This seems "odd" to Tam Dalyell - but it doesn't seem very odd to me. It's explicable in a number of ways - management panic, jurisdictional squabbles, even the sick crowd instinct generated by such an event. Intelligence officers aren't immune from the impulse that makes people pull over to stare at traffic accidents and they have much better excuse at hand.

It was clear too that Francovich wasn't exactly a dispassionate seeker after truth. At times the script buckled beneath the weight of sarcastic insinuation. What about this, read over footage of night-time Tripoli? "Oliver North. Lieutenant-Colonel US Marine Corps. His commander-in-chief the Honourable Ronald Reagan and still sleeping the sleep of the just, as he had in cabinet meetings, had his three presidential obsessions - hostages, Contra and Gaddafi." Come again? Scorning the official explanation that a fragment of microchip proved Libyan guilt, Francovich showed you the pine forest where it was notionally found and "where it is as dark as it must have been before time began, with the first big bang". I guess the searchers needed torches. Later we travelled to Zurich - "Where money grows in banks. Where the hand that steals is not cut off, just grows other hands."

This sort of portentous nonsense is all very well, but it is not a good idea to stoke up such a generalised sense of double-dealing if your own film has been partly financed by Libyan money and if one of your principal witnesses was also employed by Pan-Am lawyers, hoping to stave off huge payments in damages. Francovich's film raises some real questions about the official account, about it's political convenience and expedient omissions. But it didn't replace it with any reliable truth of its own. You switched off, thinking you couldn't trust anything but the continuing grief of the bereaved.