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Emotional service to remember victims of Lockerbie

ONLY at close quarters can you begin to understand the people whose lives were devastated, blighted more to the point, by the horrors of Lockerbie.

EMOTIONAL: The service of remembrance was attended by people of all ages whose lives were touched by the Lockerbie bombing.
EMOTIONAL: The service of remembrance was attended by people of all ages whose lives were touched by the Lockerbie bombing.

Waiting outside Westminster Abbey, on Saturday night, in spitting rain, for the service of remembrance to mark the 25th anniversary, two women exemplified what the disaster has done to families across the world.

Rochelle Bell, from New York, lost her mother-in-law, Jean Mary Bell, only 44, in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988. Rochelle had come to the service with her daughter, Jessica.

"We were so young when it happened," she said. "It hit us really hard. Lockerbie turned our lives upside down and it never really lets up, not even now - 25 years later."

Jessica, in her early twenties, who was not even born when the atrocity happened, cried throughout the service. That is how bad this is; an intolerable pain and loss that will, like it or not, be passed down the generations.

Once inside, we sat huddled together in the splendour of one of the world's great churches, united by one single act of extreme evil.

On my right sat a woman, a TV producer, Caroline Gould. She turned to ask me who I had known on Pan Am Flight 103. When I said I hadn't known anyone, she looked relieved. With a nod to the officials in the knave, she said: "They didn't want to let me in, but I should have been on that plane. I cancelled because of a family illness. I was supposed to fly to New York with my friend, Hannah.

"She had flu and, in the event, cancelled as well. I feel as if I don't have the right to be here, so I live each minute of each day to the full as a result. Both of us suffered from the guilt of the survivor." There we sat for two hours, strangers in a crowd, offering each other what small comfort we could.

During the reading of the victims' names, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. In some cases, whole families had been obliterated. Unusual surnames, uttered three or four times over, sent shivers down the spine. Beside me, Rochelle and Jessica wept silently, clutching each other's hands, so brave, so dignified in their loss and ongoing trauma.

Speaking for UK Families Flight 103, Dr Jim Swire asked us to pray for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the only person ever convicted of the bombing, who died of prostate cancer in 2012. He said: "That man died my friend."

Dr Swire also spoke of his recent trip to Sweden during which he went to confront Mohammed Abu Talb, a man many believe to be the real Lockerbie bomber, describing how the known terrorist had hidden upstairs in his house and sent his wife to answer the door. It would be farcical if it were not so tragic.

Swire's voice cracked with emotion when he also asked us to pray for the families who, yet again, would sit down at the Christmas table "with one or more chairs, forever empty".

He accused his own government of failing the dead and the families left behind.

"They know what the truth is," he said. "I am going to say it here in this beautiful Abbey. They have lied to us."

Then, we sang O Little Town of Bethlehem and prepared to leave. To the haunting sound of Amazing Grace played by a solitary piper, the families, the friends and people like me filed out into a cold, damp London night, haunted by the horror that fell from the sky over Lockerbie all those years ago.

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