Tens of thousands of personal items belonging to victims of the Lockerbie disaster were collected in an attempt to return them to their families, a British police officer told the trial in the Netherlands yesterday.
Rings, watches, wallets and clothes that fell on to the town after the explosion on Pan Am flight 103 were separated from aircraft wreckage to be examined and given to the bereaved families. Retired police officer Douglas Roxburgh said an industrial laundry was set up and women in Lockerbie volunteered to spend hours washing the clothes of the dead.
He was giving evidence on the fourth day of the trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, who are accused of murdering the 270 people who lost their lives in the atrocity. Mr Roxburgh told the Scottish court, at Camp Zeist in Holland, how loads of debris were brought to premises known as Dexstar in Lockerbie, examined and labelled. Wreckage was taken to a Ministry of Defence base in Longtown, Cumbria, where the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) was trying to reconstruct the Boeing 747 in hangars.
Mr Roxburgh, 63, told how he set up the storage centre at Dexstar two days after the disaster. He said that, gradually, personal effects were returned to families. "We started off by ensuring that items were not required in the legal process and we started releasing stuff back to the relatives - sometimes via consulates - but it was mainly personal possessions like rings, jewellery and wallets," he said.
Mr Roxburgh said a laundry was established at Dexstar to clean clothing before it was returned and added: "Obviously, contamination was a major factor and we tried to do our best in the way of returning stuff as quickly as possible and in a way that wouldn't cause further stress. We set up a laundry with industrial machines and when the ladies of Lockerbie heard about this, they came in to do it."
The court also heard that Mr Roxburgh had raised concerns about items being removed without being logged at Dexstar first. He thought the AAIB or experts from the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment at Fort Halstead, Kent, had removed a piece of aircraft wreckage during the early days after the explosion. He was concerned at the removal and told the court: "My philosophy at Dexstar was that everything should be recorded meticulously."
Police were concentrating on finding wreckage that may have been damaged by explosives. David Connell, a British Transport Police dog handler,said: "We were tasked to go out into the debris field and to try and retrieve items that would give us clues to the cause of the accident."
Mr Megrahi, 48, and Mr Fhimah, 44, deny murder, conspiracy to murder and a breach of the 1982 Aviation Security Act. The trial continues.Reuse content