Lockerbie: 10 years on and families pray for the truth

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The Independent Online
AN EMOTIONAL warning to the British and American governments not to jeopardise a trial of the two Libyans suspected of the Lockerbie bombing was delivered yesterday, on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Pan Am 103 mass murder.

Bert Ammerman, a 52-year-old high school principal from New Jersey, stood outside a church in the Borders town where he spent nine days waiting to identify his dead brother, and expressed the frustration of the victims' families in their search for the truth. "I couldn't care less if these guys are found guilty or not. They are only what we Americans would call `guppies' - small pawns," Mr Ammerman said after attending the morning mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

"A trial will release the evidence and that's the most important thing. If you don't have a trial you are never going to find the truth. And if a trial doesn't happen, that's a scandalous issue on the heads of the British and American governments."

There has long been suspicion among victims' relatives that it has suited security services not to face the spotlight of a trial.

Mr Ammerman contrasted the readiness of the US to wage war in the Gulf with its tardiness over an atrocity in which 189 Americans died.

Some 50 relatives and friends of American victims are expected to be in Lockerbie today.

At 7.03pm, during a memorial service, there will be a minute's silence, marking the moment 10 years ago when a terrorist bomb exploded in the aircraft at 31,000 feet, killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground in an inferno as the fuel-laden wing section ploughed into their homes.

There will be four simultaneous services - in Lockerbie, attended by Prince Philip; in Westminster Abbey, attended by the Tony Blair; at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, attended by President Bill Clinton; and at Syracuse in New York State, which lost 35 university students.

Under a clear blue sky on the last Sunday before Christmas, Lockerbie did not look like a town overshadowed by tragedy. A cluster of about 20 reporters and photographers opposite Holy Trinity church attracted a few curious glances.

But Lockerbie is tired of the media and the grim notoriety the disaster has brought it.

After identifying his brother, Mr Ammerman hoped never to come back to Lockerbie. "I wanted always to remember the carnage, the smell of gasoline, the debris and the bodies."

But as a leading representative of the American victims' families, he has made a succession of visits in the campaign for answers to the tragedy.

Along the way, he has made friends and seen the town's physical scars heal over. Sherwood Crescent, where Lockerbie's victims were incinerated in their homes, has been rebuilt and looks no different to any other quiet, residential street.

His voice choking, Mr Ammerman told the congregation at Holy Trinity church of the Christmas Eve a decade ago when he sat in the same pew, "trying to figure out what in God's name was happening".

His brother Tommy, who worked for an Arab-owned shipping line, had been on Pan Am flight 103.

His body was found later on the lonely hillside at Tundergarth, four miles from the town where the aircraft's nose cone fell. Now Mr Ammerman feels able to bring his daughters Christine, 21, and Megan, 19, to Scotland to see the town's memorials to the dead.

Mr Ammerman later began an emotional pilgrimage around Lockerbie, starting at Dryfesdale cemetery's garden of remembrance. There he left a bouquet at the memorial inscribed with the names of the victims, and ran his fingers over his brother's name as he said a few words in private.

The card on the bouquet read: "Tommy, you did not die in vain".

Mr Ammerman said another card read: "In loving memory from a loving brother".

Afterwards he said: "In 10 years I have said a lot of things, but today in church and here it is for me personally the most personal and emotional day for 10 years."

He said that the memorial was a "simple but powerful" one for the 270 victims.

Revealing that he had spoken a few words to his dead brother, Mr Ammerman said: "I said, `You didn't die in vain, we have done the best we can. We're not finished yet but we are near a trial'."

Mr Ammerman hopes that his next trip will be to the Netherlands where, if the Libyan leader MuammarGaddafi hands them over, the two suspects will stand trial under Scottish law. Agreement to a trial in a third country had "boxed the colonel in", according to Mr Ammerman.

He is anxious that the British and American governments do nothing to give Libya a pretext not to hand over the suspects. Western insistence on the pair serving any sentence in a Scottish jail, if convicted, is one big area of concern. The bombardment of Baghdad could also damage prospects for a trial.

Mr Ammerman said he could not quarrel with the action taken by the US and Britain over Iraq, but he admitted "selfishly" he thought it was a setback and was likely to delay any hand-over and arrest of the suspects.