Lockerbie families angry at 'exploitative' new play

Victims' reaction to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's release is dramatised
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The Independent Online

A controversial new play exploring a "rift" between the families of victims of the 1988 Lockerbie aircraft bombing has been condemned as "exploitative and irresponsible".

The Families of Lockerbie, which opens this week in Nottingham, portrays how three characters left bereaved by the bombing respond to the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only person to be convicted of the attack.

He was freed from Greenock Prison on compassionate grounds last August, after it was announced that he had three months to live due to advanced prostate cancer. Megrahi is still alive, however, and reportedly working on a television documentary which he hopes will clear his name.

Michael Eaton, the play's author, claims its characters are "wholly fictional creations" who represent the dominant opinions of families on either side of the Atlantic.

In the 20 years since the tragedy, bereaved families have expressed differing views on the case. While some British relatives have claimed that Megrahi was wrongly convicted, many American families are convinced of his guilt and have voiced their disgust over his early release.

Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter, Flora, died in the disaster, said: "I don't want to be dramatised. I think it is exploitative, and a responsible producer of the play would have taken the trouble to speak to the families. I suppose he might have found things which ran contrary to his theories."

Dr Swire, a former GP who has led a campaign for justice, has written to Nottingham Playhouse voicing his concerns about the production.

Eaton said: "What I'm interested in is the very different responses from the US and Scottish families. Twenty years ago they were unified. At the end of every report about Lockerbie we read a quote from the families, and I watched those comments get further and further apart.

"There were three responses: the first was about revenge; he did it and was found guilty and so should never be released. The second is people who thought that the prosecution didn't really have a case. And the third is: 'We weren't allowed to have our loved ones die in the bosom of our family, but that is no reason to deny this man that'."

The playwright is hoping that the production will tour the UK, and even the US. A spokesman for the US families voiced their fears about how an American character – Laura, the widow of a US Marine killed in the bombing – may be portrayed.

"The families are not full of anger or desperate for revenge," said Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103. "We are certainly not united in our view of his guilt, but no US family has said anything negative about another family."

A video posted on the internet featuring interviews with the actors has also sparked anger among the victims' families, after they referred to the bombing as a "crash".

Mary Kay Stratis, whose husband Elia G Stratis died in the bombing, said: "I would strongly suggest that the actors inform themselves and consequently their speech, and their acting portrayals, by understanding that they are portraying the family members of the victims of a mass murder."

The play is not the first attempt to dramatise the legacy of Lockerbie. "I believe that Lockerbie is one of those terrible incidents that won't go away, which shows us something about how the world works," said Eaton. With many families calling for an inquiry into the bombing, some believe that these dramatisations may be useful in keeping Lockerbie in the public eye. "We are interested in making sure that the story is not forgotten," said Mr Duggan. "They never want this to happen to anyone else's family."