The evidence that the Lockerbie bomb – which detonated on Flight 103 from London to Washington, killing 270 people – was planted by the Libyans gets thinner and thinner. Soon after the explosion, on 21 December 1988, many assumed that it was a revenge attack for the blowing up of an Iranian commercial flight six months earlier, killing 290 people. Certainly, given the fraught nature of Iranian-US relations in the 1980s, that seemed to make sense. Yet before long there was a screech of brakes in the official investigation and the focus of attention fell on Libya, culminating in the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in the Netherlands in 2001.
Jim Swire, father of Flora, one of the victims, went to the trial expecting to see a bad man get his comeuppance, and came away convinced the Libyan was not guilty. Many others who approached with an open mind saw the gaping holes in the prosecution and went away believing that a hideous wrong was done to Mr Megrahi, who died of cancer in 2012 still proclaiming his innocence. The official version of the chemical make-up of the timer fragment has been entirely discredited, as have claims that the bomb could have been put on board in Malta.
With news that a former Iranian intelligence officer, Abolghassem Mesbahi, has claimed – indeed, confirmed – that the bombing was ordered by Ayatollah Khomeini “to copy exactly what happened to the Iranian airbus”, and that it was planted in London, the idea that anybody in authority still believes the Libyans were guilty becomes harder to swallow. The fact that their leader, Muammar Gaddafi, desperate to lift international sanctions, seemingly accepted responsibility, or that Mr Megrahi’s appeal was unsuccessful, should not let those responsible off the hook. It is hard to look back on the unseemly wrangling over Mr Megrahi’s compassionate return from Scotland to Tripoli in 2009 without thinking that some of those quietly lobbying for it knew that he was less guilty than they were willing to admit publicly, and that the least they could do was let him die at home. Maybe they will find a bit more courage now. “Megrahi is innocent” is no longer a conspiracy theory – it is official.