‘Flora was a real seeker after truth herself’: Jim Swire won't ease up in campaign to find out who murdered his daughter in Lockerbie bombing 25 years ago - Home News - UK - The Independent

‘Flora was a real seeker after truth herself’: Jim Swire won't ease up in campaign to find out who murdered his daughter in Lockerbie bombing 25 years ago

He knows the official version of is full of holes. James Hanning meets Jim Swire

A church- going Eton and Cambridge-educated doctor bearing the surname of one of Britain’s more time-honoured and philanthropic families is an unlikely leading member of the awkward squad. But then having your 23-year-old daughter exploded out of a plane at 30,000ft by a bomb would test the steadiest of people, which is what Jim Swire remains. The explosion of a Pan Am transatlantic airliner over the Dumfries and Galloway village of Lockerbie, which killed Flora Swire and 269 others, happened 25 years ago this week. “Lockerbie is just a small item now in people’s memories,” says Swire.

The idea of “moving on” after the death of a child is presumably a nonsense. It is particularly fatuous in the case of Jim and his wife Jane. They know the official version is full of holes, and that Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan who was imprisoned in 2001 and who died of prostate cancer last year, has become a scapegoat.

At their home in the Cotswolds, they talk of Flora, the much lauded graduate of Nottingham University who had, not long before the Lockerbie attack, been invited to work at the country’s leading neurology institute in Queen Square, London, and who had bought a last-minute ticket to spend Christmas with her American boyfriend. That evening, in late December 1988, Jane had called Jim in from his study. “You must come and watch the nine o’clock news because there’s been this plane that’s gone down.” From that moment were triggered the shock, the grief, the nightmares, the uncertainty of how sudden her death had been, the guilt of knowing Flora had died apart from her family.

And, in time, the campaigning. Jim emerged as the leading British campaigner. He attended the trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, satisfied that Megrahi was guilty. The Libyan was indeed convicted, but Swire, unlike countless officials, politicians and American relatives of victims, was uneasy and wouldn’t accept the official version. He was now convinced Megrahi was innocent. The evidence didn’t stack up, and as anyone who has read the outstanding researches of journalists Paul Foot and John Ashton will testify, it has grown thinner ever since the official version first got off the ground.

Aged 76 Jim Swire says he's 'stepping back' but he's giving no sign of it Aged 76 Jim Swire says he's 'stepping back' but he's giving no sign of it

For all his recent protestations about not being as mentally sharp as he once was and “stepping back”, he’s still at it, aged 76. He says he hopes the campaign has sufficient momentum that, with the support of a growing number of scandalised lawyers (“they’re queuing up”), the campaign no longer needs him. He and Jane are too evidently devoted to one another for her to stand in his way, but she doesn’t share his hunger for the truth.

“He’s been promising to give it up for a long time. I’ll believe it when I see it,” she smiles. “He’s like a dog on a hunt. He has to chase every hare until he gets a narrative that makes sense. I am uncertain that we’ll ever know the truth. At the very core of it, none of it will bring Flora back. I’ve had enough to cope with.” As we go outside, Jim puts an arm round her and tells me gratefully: “She’s been very kind. She could have made me stop.” “I doubt it,” she says without rancour.

Jim drives us the 50 minutes north to just outside Bromsgrove, near Birmingham, where the family – they have another daughter and a son – grew up. There is an enchanting six-acre wood of oak, ash, sweet chestnut and cherry, planted by Swire after Flora died. From the air, the trees form the letter “F”. “That’s where she sat when she was dreading opening her exam results,” he remembers. It is here, and at his allotment, that Jim potters about, cutting logs to heat his other daughter’s house, supposedly “switching off”.

After a lengthy police investigation and a thwarted court appeal, it would be easy to write off Swire, his life blighted by a shocking tragedy, as an obsessive. It has happened with the grieving parents of victims of other disasters, their judgement befuddled into unreason. Until you meet the man, that is. A more lucid, measured and quietly persuasive figure would be hard to imagine. 

Countless journalists will testify to his helpfulness and command of detail. But he lacks a high-profile advocate in Parliament and, as time passes, Lockerbie slips from the nation’s memory, a process only interrupted – until Megrahi’s death in May last year – by occasional bouts of lynch-mobbery complaining at the terminally ill Libyan’s temerity not to die after being released from prison on compassionate grounds.

There are two strands to his argument. One is simply that Megrahi, who was in Malta on the day in question, couldn’t have put a bomb in a case destined to travel to Frankfurt and then on to London. From there, it would take off and explode en route to New York. The latter did happen, but Megrahi had no part in it, says Swire. The quicksand of Lockerbie detail has consumed many, but for those who prefer a one-stop shop, the most telling aspect is the prosecution’s only piece of forensic evidence, the fragment of circuitboard found in the Borders countryside which Megrahi’s accusers say was part of the circuitboard that caused the explosion.

That fragment, they say, was “similar in all respects” to others in a batch of 20 sold by Mebo, a Swiss company, and used in Libyan-inspired explosions in the 1980s. Yet it has been shown that this was not so. The Lockerbie fragment was coated in pure tin, whereas those sold to Libya were coated with an alloy. No other parts of the circuitboard, or any explanation of its origin, have ever come to light. “We lack an explanation as to where that came from,” he says. “That fragment, remarkably like one of the corners of the timers that the Libyans bought, was a key item in the unfolding of the prosecution’s story.”

Once Libya is taken out of the equation (and there is no shortage of comparably doubt-raising material to do with compromised witnesses, far-fetched logistics and the lack of evidence from the now Gaddafi-free Libya), the West is left with no one to blame.

A widespread belief is that Iran, anxious to avenge the shooting down of one of its passenger planes five months earlier, was responsible – and that the Americans themselves believed this in the early days. Then, says Swire, partly to get its hostages out of Lebanon, the US decided “to blame somebody, anybody, rather than Iran”. Swire has pointed out to church envoy Terry Waite, who was held in Lebanon by Iran-backed kidnappers, “the extraordinary coincidence of the first hostages being set free within a few days of the accusations being made against the two Libyans”. Waite is now signed up to the Justice for Megrahi campaign, and will be among those at Saturday’s service marking the anniversary at Westminster Abbey.

Swire’s second strand concerns the failure of the prosecuting authorities to let on that the Heathrow baggage hall was broken into at just the time when a bomb would have had to be planted, if it did originate in London as he believes. It is also known that the authorities received warnings about bombs hidden in tape recorders (as the Lockerbie one was), yet this inconvenient truth doesn’t fit the narrative of “the Establishment”.

Swire wants a focused inquiry into the true criminals behind the Lockerbie bombing Swire wants a focused inquiry into the true criminals behind the Lockerbie bombing

So what does he want? He thinks a focused inquiry into what went on at Heathrow might be feasible (“we’re entitled to it under human rights legislation”), but doubts that the Government would allow anything wider, given the court case and David Cameron’s dismissal of a book on Lockerbie containing a key piece of evidence as “an insult to the relatives”. More likely to succeed, he believes, is a further court appeal, for which the relatives could apply. They’d get one, he believes, and win it, but that still wouldn’t tell him who killed his daughter.

“She’s the guiding light,” he says. “I’ve always asked myself ‘Would Flora be proud of what I’m doing?’ and I’ve always thought till now that she would, as long as I wasn’t damaging the family. She was a real seeker after truth herself.”

Flora was reaching for a religious faith at the time she died, and, late in a long day, Swire reflects on his motives. He says he’s too much of a scientist to swallow the Bible whole. “I don’t know if I’m a Christian or not, but the Bible contains a great deal of the philosophy that Jesus left behind, and I’ve always thought that’s the best philosophy of how to live that I’ve come across. I find myself unable to accept faith. I can’t believe in miracles, but I can accept the philosophy.”

Practically, he wants to reach out to those responsible, presumably with children and grandchildren, “and see if you can say to those people ‘what are your feelings about what you have done?’. “It doesn’t matter how they answer it, but one can try and find out why they did it. I would have loved to have been able to do that to someone I knew was involved. Partly I wanted to do the right thing by what Flora would have wanted. That may still come upon me ... but so far I’m happy that she would have been proud … and I would love to do something good out of the evil of all this.” Sitting amid the poignancy of Flora’s Wood, you’d be inhuman not to wish him well.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'I felt like that was the lowest I’d ever felt'
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
Life and Style
techCriminals are targeting an e-reader security flaw
Life and Style
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Life and Style
news This video may make you think twice about ever taking the Tube again
Life and Style
A spider is seen in its web on September 16, 2014 in Hohen Meissner, Germany.
tech The 'Spider in Da House' app has been developed by scientists to tackle arachnophobia
Life and Style
fashionIncredibly, it hasn't been branded 'Will.eye.am'
A plane flies close to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano
newsAnd yes, it's quite something
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch
artAnd it's even for a good cause
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week