THE PAST is etched into the landscape of Skye. It is held deep in the ingrained scars that course down the majestic Cuillins, exposing memories of distant, bloody battles. In a house near Dunvegan, there is evidence of other, more recent wounds. When she was eight years old, Flora McDonald Margaret Swire watched her father design and build this house, in which the family would spend many happy holidays. Some 16 years later, at 7.03pm on December 21, 1988 - the eve of her 24th birthday - Flora was murdered on Pan Am flight 103, which exploded 30,000 feet above Lockerbie killing all 259 passengers and crew, and 11 Lockerbie residents.

It also blew apart the lives of her parents, Dr Jim and Jane Swire, forcing them on separate journeys as they sought to deal, in their individual ways, with their grief.

LastThursday'srulingthattheman convicted of the Lockerbie bombing can appeal for a second time means Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi may soon return home to his wife and children. "He belongs back at home with his family," says Jim, who - along with Jane - has long been convinced of Megrahi's innocence.

But it must also provide a stark reminder that the Swires' own family will never be complete. And the question must be forming in their minds - where do we go from here?

Whenwemeet,twodaysbeforethe Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission's ruling, Jane pours tea in the Swires'Skye house. Despite the warmth of their welcome, uncertainty hangs heavy in the air.

They recite the facts. Flora, bright and beautiful, was born on December 22, 1964, near their Gloucestershire family home. She was named after her paternal ancestor Flora MacDonald, who famously helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from Skye following the battle of Culloden.

Flora Swire was training to be a neurosurgeon when she met young American doctor Hart Lidov. She began commuting regularly across the Atlantic to see him and, just before Christmas, decided on a whim to fly to New York so they could spend the holiday together.

As her sister Cathy dropped her at the airport, she was on top of the world, having just won a place to complete her training at Cambridge, her father's old university. A gifted doctor, top of her class, and popular to boot, she would have been one of life's go-getters.

"She was such a wonderful daughter," says Jane, her voice made hoarse with still palpable grief. "She would have been great in the world." Jane Swire mourns not only thelossofhereldestdaughter'seasy company but the lost opportunities - the wedding that never was, the children never born, the glittering career that never got off the starting blocks.

Because just 38 minutes after her plane took off, a suitcase exploded in the hold. Flora's body fell with the others on the town below. Now her ashes are buried in the pretty churchyard of the ruined St John's Chapel in Caroy, round the bay from here.

When the news first broke on television, the Swires tried to quell rising panic with a conviction that it couldn't be her plane - the timing didn't match the details she had given.Butastheyrealisedithadbeen delayed, the terrible truth hit.

"When that bomb went off it turned all our lives upside down," says Jim simply, and trails off as Jane takes over: "It changes your attitude to everything. You never quite learn to live with it. Well, you do your best, but it changes you. It's one of the worst nightmares any parent can have, to lose their precious child."

Blindly,thecouplestumbledthrough those early days of realisation. Jane was driven by a desperate determination to hold their remaining family - including 16-year-oldsonWilliamand19-year-old daughter Cathy - together. But with questionsimplodinginhismind,Jimwas rapidly forming a conviction: that the only way to make sense of his daughter's death was to find out exactly what had happened, and who was responsible.

Withinweeks,Jim Swire'scraggy charismaticface, mane of white hair, and quiet, dignified airhadbecome familiartonews viewers and newspaper readers, as he took up the role of spokesman for the victims' families' campaign. He shored up information as if it were a shield that could protect him from the horror of what had happened, and flew around the world to meet experts, attend conferences and shed light on the shady world of international terrorism. Each answer led to another question. He hadn't meant to go so far. "I would never have dreamed that I would set out on an 18-year campaign," he admits now. "But I found - still find - the whole business of not unravelling who killed her, or why she wasn't protected, an insult to her memory. It means she didn't matter. She was just cannon fodder and happened to be in the way when something ghastly happened. And I can't take that line."

He was, he notes drily, ideally equipped forthejourney.Aftergraduatingfrom Cambridge, where he met his wife, he joined the army and learned about plastic explosives and detonating bombs. A brief spell with the BBC before he became a doctor provided insight into the workings of the media organisations that would later prove so useful to his campaign.

Whenthesuspectswerenamedhe pushed unwaveringly for a trial, flying three times to Tripoli to meet Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, convinced he could get him on side. "You might not think there was any common ground between a GP from the Midlands and an army colonel turned dictator based in an Arab country. But there was," he smiles faintly. "He had lost his adopted daughter Hannah when she was just 15 months old, when the US bombed Tripoli in 1986. I took a book of pictures of Flora, making sure there was one of her at just that age."

He enjoys telling the stories about James Bond-stylemeetingsinGaddafi'sheadquarters: describing a journey in a blacked-outMercedes;recallingthewaythe portcullis in the wall opened as if by magic, the steel teeth of the security gate, Gaddafi's all-femaleteamofbodyguards,who released their gun catches in unison when he approached the Libyan leader to pin a badge proclaiming "Pan Am 103 - the truth must be known" on his flowing green robes.

Back in Gloucestershire, Jane sat on the family front and worried. "We had a code, didn't we?" She prompts her husband to recall the phrase he planned to use to signal that he felt threatened. "I've forgotten the exact wording but I had it taped by the phone so that I could contact the foreign office if anything went wrong," says Jane.

In 2001, Jim got what he wanted - a trial, to be held under Scottish law in the Dutch town of Zeist. Before leaving for Holland, the couple watched on television as Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, his co-accused, arrived (Fhimah was cleared).

"When I saw these two people being led from the plane, the feeling was so emotional," says Jane, "the twist in my gut, as I watchedthemenIthoughtwere responsible for my daughter's death. We believed this was the trial that would lead to some sort of resolution. It would spell justice. But it would never bring Flora back. And the who, when, why and what were questions that had always been so much more important to Jim than they were to me. I was just busy trying to come to terms with the loss of my Flora."

Her husband leans forward, his voice low. "Now Jane, but you also accept that it was my way of coping."

She nods. "Well, yes, but it couldn't ever have been mine. I had to step away, to care for the rest of my family." She swallows, then adds: "But in essence, what Jim has done is something to approve of. Many people weren't keen for this to happen. Someone needed to fight."

Jim Swire's fight was certainly not universally popular. There was hate mail - "really nasty stuff", he confides - and criticism frommanyoftheAmericanvictims' relatives, who saw things in more black-and-white terms.

Jane puts words to Jim's feeling: "Because life's not really like that, is it? You can't put thingsneatlyintonicelittleboxes.Its complexities have a habit of spilling out."

For Jim those complexities became all too clear as he sat, day after day, in the courtroom, realising with slow, sinking disappointment that he could not contain the nagging doubts that these men had nothing to do with the atrocity that killed his daughter. As he listened to the evidence he grew less and less convinced of its authenticity. "When I went to that trial I thought I was going to watch the trial and conviction of the two guys who had murdered my daughter. But what I heard there led me to peel away from the belief that this was going to reveal the truth."

When the verdict was finally read out, Jim Swire collapsed. "I just couldn't conceivethatthey couldhavefound him guilty," he says, extending his bony fingers in a gesture of bewilderment. "I fainted with shock. I went to Eton: I was taught to question things, not to accept them at face value.

"But my education also drummed into me to be respectful of authority. Those judges in their regalia - with all the pomp andcircumstance,andthehelicopters bringingtheminandout-werevery impressive, so I respected them. The fact thatIbelievedtheyhadstrengthand integrity only made it worse when they pronounced him guilty. Because the evidence I had been listening to surely couldn't lead to that verdict."

Back in England, Jane was also struggling. "I really wanted that conviction to be right," she admits. But try as she might for Flora's sake, she couldn't believe in it. Now, with another appeal and new evidence on the horizon, the couple feel the truth may be closer once again. But they have paid a terrible price to get this far. Jim's medical partners sacked him because he was spending too much time away from his GP duties. "I'm sorry to say that they did not havepatiencewithme."Heshrugs."I guess my mind wasn't as much on the job as it had been before Lockerbie. But my patientswereveryupset.Ihadtodo locums and I was taken on as an assistant by my old practice, which took a certain amount of, suppression of feelings shall we say, on my part."

"But you are very good at that," says Jane, "the stiff upper lip."

He lost part of his pension and money was tight. Acouple of years ago they downsized from their roomy country home with 17 acres of land and bought a more modest house in the Cotswolds town of Chipping Camden, though they have kept the wood they planted in Flora's memory.

"If I had known how hard it would be," says Jim now, "I don't know if I would have gone down this route. But you can't just give up." He pauses. "Not unless Megrahi goes home." And if he does?

Jane reminds her husband gently: "If he goes home we have said that's it."

His mouth twists: "I would say we still have to sort out what happened at the court and how that went wrong. I would feel the need to rake the ashes a little."

There is silence before they rehearse a variationofanexchangecarriedouta thousand times before.

Jane: "We may go to our deathbeds not knowing."

Jim: "We might. I don't think we'll ever know the full story but I'm satisfied that I know, with a broad brush, what happened. I think I know who did it."

Jane: "But you don't know. We can't ever really know." .

Many parents divorce following the loss of a child. The Swires, largely thanks to Jane's patient understanding, have maintained a close bond. Jim acknowledges the need to be less consumed by his campaign. "I'm sure that Flora wouldn't want me to cause Jane dire anxiety by my obsessive behaviour over it," he says.

Their daughter's absence is ever-present. "We always feel the gap," says Jim. "When we are together at birthdays, weddings or Christmas, there's always somebody missing." Losing their sister has, says Jim, been "diabolical" for Flora's siblings, both of whom are now married, with two children apiece. New life has brought great joy, but it doesn't replace the loss of Flora's.

Jane,aformerreligiouseducation teacher, has held on to her faith. "I maintain hope that there's some sort of sense in our existence," she says. "And I do so long to see Flora again."

Jim nods: "I find it harder to believe at 71 thatthisis all there is. And of all the philosophies to explain an afterlife, I think Christianity wins hands down."

It's about forgiveness and compassion, says Jane, a combination of strength and vulnerability. It speaks of sacrifice that she feels is an apt motive for their lives.

"I try to believe that love is stronger than death or hatred or anything else," says Jim. "And I try to have the courage to put that belief into practice."

Today,theyhavetalkedaboutputting things behind them if Megrahi is freed. They might drive a camper van around Australia. Travel through New Zealand. Explore different horizons.

Later, however, when I catch up with Jim Swire on Thursday evening, he is high on the adrenaline provided by a day of interviews and the excitement of reaching yet another milestone. Will he really be able to step back if Megrahi goes home?

"I've promised that I will disengage and I think I really have to, Jane knows that," he says. "But I don't think that can totally be the end of it. She understands that too. While there is still a judicial process going on in Scotland I have a loyalty to the people that I've been working with for all these years to get to the truth. If I'm to emerge from this I need to believe I have done the right thing by Flora."