‘I lost my daughter in the Lockerbie bombing – fighting for the truth is how I cope with the grief’
‘The body goes into shock,’ Jane remembers. ‘There’s almost disbelief. But underneath the disbelief is that awful feeling that this has happened.’ That feeling would only persist as the days went on, as the bodies intact enough to be collected were laid out in Lockerbie’s ice rink, where Jim asked to see Flora one last time. Flora’s face had been badly damaged but a look at her big toe, and its instantly recognisable pigmented spot, left no room for error.
Jim, an old Etonian who went to Cambridge, is still spry in his late 80s – part-raconteur, part activist, wearing a sharp grey suit and trainers. Today, Jim, who became a GP but ultimately left the profession after his daughter’s death, and Jane, 84, take turns bustling between the kitchen and back garden of their home in the Cotswolds town of Chipping Camden with offers of cheese sandwiches and cups of tea. It is a cosy idyll that conceals the sea of names and dates and evidence-tag numbers still etched on their minds.
Some 35 years on, the Swires’ agony remains barely beneath the surface, the memories of their eldest child both a precious gift and cruel reminder of what they have lost. ‘To lose a close family member gives you a life sentence immediately,’ Jim says. ‘Your whole life is altered. And you have to start asking yourself how, how can you go on living, or how can Jane go on living, with a loss so terrible as this?’
Their experiences are documented in Lockerbie, a new four-part documentary that airs on Sky next week. It is a panoptic watch, following the lives of the residents in the town that was, until that day, just a fish ’n’ chip pitstop, 75 miles from Glasgow, before it was completely upturned. The documentary follows the families of UK and US victims, and officials from across the town’s police force, the FBI and the CIA, too. But it also lays bare how devastation led to remarkable acts of humanity, as residents mounted a volunteer effort to wash the clothes and teddies scattered thousands of miles from where they should have ended up, and sent them back to passengers’ loved ones; some of which resulted in relationships with grief-stricken families an ocean away that remain strong. Their lives are, now, forever intertwined.
But underlying the heartfelt stories is a darker thread – for decades on, opinions about who was to blame for the disaster are more divided than ever.
Jim remains dismayed by what he sees as a 35-year-long miscarriage of justice. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, he became the spokesperson for the UK Families Flight 103 group and in the intervening decades, he has met numerous experts and officials, and had independent reviews of evidence undertaken. All of which has convinced him that justice has not been served – and that the wrong man was imprisoned, just as another ‘wrong man’ is now about to be tried.
His theory – that Libya wasn’t responsible for the bombing – runs counter to al-Megrahi’s conviction and Mas’ud’s arrest, and has been dismissed by many. But there are others in his corner, too. ‘Enough honest, reliable and knowledgeable people have discovered the awful truth behind this to know that the truth will now be able to look after itself,’ Jim says. ‘If I die tomorrow, I know the truth will eventually come out.’