JIM Swire tells a story about a visit he made to the man convicted of the bombing of Pan-Am 103, the atrocity that killed 270 people including his daughter Flora. In the late stages of cancer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi sat on his bed propped on pillows. By this point Swire considered him innocent of the murder of his daughter. The very last words Megrahi spoke to him were: “I am going to a place where I hope soon to see Flora. I will tell her that her father is my friend.”

At the time, tears in his eyes, Swire’s response was to simply nod. That idea of Flora in heaven was difficult for him, he says, then and now, as he is an agnostic.

At 85 years old, he wrestles with ideas such as “quantum theory and the question of whether awareness is distributed throughout the universe and not simply connected to people with brains”.

Yet that question of what happened to Flora after her death has been one that played on his mind many times in the 32 years since it happened.

“I can’t be sure,” he says, as he speaks from his home in the Cotswolds, “that Flora continued to exist in the shape of something that I would be aware was Flora. But I certainly don’t find it easy to believe that all that Flora was suddenly stopped at that moment when she was killed on board that plane. I find that incredibly difficult to believe.”

He ruminates: “I think that maybe the set of values for which Flora stood continued to exist but no longer can they be tied to anything physical like an actual functioning physical brain…. Our lives [his and his wife Jane’s] are deeply influenced by Flora still to this day.

“We’re so proud of all that she stood for and I’m sure if she hadn’t been murdered she would have been pretty famous now – and also presented us with two or three more grandchildren as well.”

She would now be 56 years old.

Swire’s conversation is full of pride and love for Flora. The grief he felt at her loss is one that has clearly shaped the past three decades of his life and sent him on a quest for truth.

“All I’ve wanted is the truth about who actually murdered my daughter and why she was not protected.”

The Flora he describes had recently graduated in medicine and was on her way to visit her boyfriend in the United States when she was struck down. A new book, co-written with Peter Biddulph, The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father’s Search for Justice, takes us from the moment when the country doctor first heard that a Pan-Am airliner had gone down over Scotland, through all the horrifying twists and turns that followed, and his increasing disillusionment with the establishment. Both authors will be in conversation with Kate Adie this month at the Aye Write festival.

There is so much that is heartbreaking in the book. At one point, for instance, he describes how he fought to get access to her remains in the Lockerbie ice rink where the bodies were kept following the plane’s explosion.

Her face had been distorted by the impact. It was through her toe that he recognised her. He recalls that Flora had become concerned about a brown mark on her toe, worried that it might be a melanoma, and the two had examined it. It’s a haunting image, that beloved toe and its mark.

“The trouble with a bereavement of this intensity,” he says, “is you don’t get through it. You’ve got to live with it for the rest of your life.”

READ MORE: Lockerbie exclusive: we publish the report that could have cleared Megrahi

Swire says his short-term memory is not so good, but on the details of the evidence around Lockerbie, on the events that devastated his life, he is as sharp as a tack. He believes he knows the story behind the bombing of Pan-Am 103 and that the wrong man was convicted, the wrong country blamed.

Fingers, he said, should have been pointed at Iran, who organised it through the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), not Libya. There was even a strong motive: revenge for the shooting-down of the Airbus carrying 290 pilgrims by the USS Vincennes. Swire no longer believes that the full truth will come out in his lifetime. The sadness and anger he feels is not just at the loss of his daughter – it is also the rage of disillusionment. He rails against the opacity of the British establishment, institutions in which he had faith.

“I was the son of an Army officer,” he says, “who had been trained to look after parts of the empire during his professional career in the Royal Engineers. I thought that the establishment was working for the protection, at the very least, of its citizens. My belief was that the establishment of the UK was honourable and sought right over wrong.”

He recalls: “It wasn’t really till the end of the Camp Zeist trial of Megrahi [in which he was found guilty] that I was forced to give up that fabulous belief. I realised that was not a court of justice but a court of politics that was being held to enable the Americans to achieve their aim of diverting blame to Libya, away from Iran. One of the things that really annoys me now is that Britain was acting as a lapdog for America.”

HeraldScotland: 384991 01: FILE PHOTO: Spokesman for the bereaved families of Pan Am flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie Dr. Jim Swire appears in front of a portrait of his daughter Flora, a victim of the bombing, April 25, 2000 in Scotland. Abel Basset Ali al-Megrahi,

Jim Swire in front of a painting of his daughter, Flora

The book is partly the story of that journey – from a man who thought that his government was there to protect him, to one who considered it had betrayed him and all the people who had been on that flight.

In the months following Flora’s death, Swire submerged himself in a sea of information – including technical details of the bomb and its mechanism.

“I’ve always been interested in electronics. I learned a lot about nasty plastic explosives.” he says.

From early on, he became convinced that the bomb had been one whose timer had a pressure-related switch which would trigger shortly after take-off.

“Soon after Lockerbie I got hold of an illustrated brochure from West Germany which told the British Department of Transport that the German police had recovered some specialised bombs in an operation called Autumn Leaves,” he recalls.

“It told how these bombs had a switch that could detect a drop in air pressure when an aeroplane took off and that around seven minutes from the time the wheels left the tarmac it would switch the timer on in the bomb and that the timers ran for approximately 30 minutes.”

He did the maths. “That makes a total of 37 minutes from leaving the ground before the thing went off. It was exactly that timing, 38 minutes into the flight, at which Pan-Am 103 blew up.”

The explanation that the bomb involved was one with a long running digital timer, supplied by MEBO and including circuit board produced by the Zurich company Thuring, which was at the heart of the Megrahi conviction, is one he believes too elaborate. “I think of William of Ockham. He said the simplest explanation consistent with the known facts is the most likely to be true.”

He argues that the bomb was made by terrorists linked to the PFLP-GC and that the clothing from Malta was deliberately put alongside the bomb in order to mislead. “I think,” he says, “that it all worked out according to the plans that were laid by Iran through the use of their surrogate terrorist group, the PFLP-GC.”

HeraldScotland: File photo dated 23/12/88 of Police officers surveying the wreckage of the PAN AM Boeing 747 jumbo jet at the site of the Lockerbie plane crash. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday August 20, 2009. The decision whether to release convicted

Key evidence supporting his theory, published in his book, some of which comes from the John Ashton book Megrahi: You are My Jury, includes a metallurgical examination done by experts commissioned by the Megrahi defence team, which showed that the circuit board fragment used as evidence did not come from a particular set of bombs supplied by MEBO to Libya, as previously had been argued, because it contained the wrong metal coating.

They also question the reliability of the identification of Megrahi by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, given records that show his attempts to get, and eventually receive, substantial money from the United States.

Earlier this year, Megrahi’s son lost a posthumous appeal at the Scottish Court of Appeal on behalf of his father, but this is not seen as the end of the line. Aamer Anwar, the family’s lawyer, said they would seek leave to appeal directly to the UK Supreme Court, the final court of appeal for the case.

Swire and Biddulph write in The Lockerbie Bombing: “The United Kingdom remains a member of the European Convention on Human Rights. A more obvious candidate for examination cannot be imagined.”

It’s clear that Swire’s anger very quickly evolved from rage at the loss of a beloved daughter to a deep sense of betrayal.

“My anger almost from the beginning was generated by my fury that Flora was not protected. Then that anger was reinforced enormously by Margaret Thatcher’s blank refusal to have any inquiry. I’ve had to temper the anger aspect of it, but there has also been the sadness of it all, the only thing that really matters, of course, being we haven’t got Flora.

“But the other subsidiary sadness is that we can’t in this country really do better than act as a lapdog for America which had an unholy desire to blame Libya.”

One of the extraordinary aspects of his story is that not long after the United States indicted Megrahi and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, Swire went on a mission to ask the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi to hand them over.

It had been suggested to him, by the Arab journalist Nabil Nagameldin, that he might be able to find a point of connection with Gaddafi by highlighting the fact that they had both lost daughters – the Libyan leader had claimed to have lost his adopted baby daughter during the 1986 American bombing.

Swire’s description of that visit to Tripoli is heart-in-mouth stuff. After numerous preliminary meetings with other Libyan figures who appear to be checking him out, including one who entertains him with copious whisky– most of which Swire slyly tips into an empty Fanta can – and points an automatic pistol at his companion and interpreter, he finally gets an audience. In a tent in Gaddafi’s compound he meets the dictator, surrounded by female bodyguards with submachine guns.

In that meeting, Swire not only suggests that “a trial in a Scottish court” is the only way for the suspects, he also, knowing that Gaddafi is interested in islands, gifts him some books on the Hebrides and passes him a folder containing photographs of Flora. Then he does something remarkable. He reaches inside his bag and pulls out a badge which he pins on Gaddafi’s robe. It reads: “Pan-Am 103 – the truth must be known”.

That visit seems an extraordinary act of bravery mingled possibly with folly. Here, it seems, Swire is a man behaving like he has lost what was most important and had nothing further to lose – yet he had a wife and two children back home waiting for him.

Swire offers his perspective. “Was I scared? It was more anger than fear. First of all, I was the son of a regular Army colonel in the Royal Engineers and he was a stalwart, upright man who very much valued right and wrong. He had taught me to be somebody who would not take no for an answer. Also, as a doctor I was accustomed to sorting problems out. So I was trying to sort out how this mass murder had occurred and who caused it.”

Did he ever wonder what Flora would think of what he was doing?

“Yes,” he replies, “frequently I’ve thought that – and it’s one of the limiting factors on what I’ve done. I’ve always had to ask myself, ‘What would Flora have thought of what I’m doing?’ I really didn’t know. But I think, in view of what we’ve found out, she would have wanted us to know the truth.”

I ask Jane, his wife, about how that time had been for her.

“I saw Jim’s campaign to meet with Gaddafi as his way of coping with something that was very hard, which I found almost impossibly hard to cope with. Anything that helps to keep your feet at least in this world with things to do, is helpful.”

Her own way was very different. She says: “I endured it all. Endurance I think is the most accurate way of saying it. I did worry about our two remaining children. They were young and having to face something inconceivably awful. Somehow that takes you through the very early times.”

Jane says she thinks about Flora even more now as she gets older.

“Time isn’t the great healer that people glibly say, but it does help. You get a better way of putting things into perspective. But it’s still an awful thing that happened to her which has shaped our lives. Because the family dynamics are set if you have an oldest child – you can’t suddenly change the family dynamics to having just two. You’ve still got three and the two younger ones were the two younger ones. None of that changes.”

HeraldScotland: Jim Swire with his wife Jane on the shores of Skye 27/6/07, Steve Cox, copyright Newsquest

Jane and Jim Swire on Skye

Swire has described the agony his wife felt at not being there to hold her daughter’s hand in her final moments as “like the pain of being burned alive”. The former country doctor is keen to be a force for peace. “If there’s one message that I would like to see come out of all this horrible 32 years, it’s: ‘Don’t look for revenge’.”

He recalls a letter from the mother of one of the other victims which expressed a desire that Megrahi should die in the worst agony.

“If ever there was a reason for not seeking revenge, it’s there. That poor woman was consumed by the desire to seek revenge from the man she believed had killed her child.”

Does he not feel any desire for revenge on the people he believes did actually kill her? “No,” he says firmly. “I believe that if you give in to the destructive effect of lust for revenge, essentially you’re handing another victory to the terrorist.”

He met Megrahi on several occasions. The first was Christmas 1992, when he visited him at Greenock prison.

“Megrahi had got hold of a Christmas card from the prison shop – and he’s a devout Muslim – and on the back he had written what I think is a vitally important message: ‘Dr Swire and family, please pray for me and my family’.”

That Christmas card is one of his most treasured possessions. “It shows what can be achieved if you try to avoid the pitfalls of hatred.”

READ MORE: Lockerbie bombing: Judges reject Lockerbie Megrahi family’s bid to appeal to UK’s highest court

Though an agnostic, Swire reveals that, as a young man, long before the birth of Flora, before he even started to study medicine, he had a place as a theological student at Ridley Hall in Cambridge.

“I had to cancel when I decided that I couldn’t honestly become a priest.” As part of the system, run by the Central Advisory of Training for the Ministry, he recalls being seen by a minister in an Episcopal church in Ballachulish. “I remember trying to explain to him that I felt even then that I was probably more likely to end up as agnostic. But I know of nothing better than the teachings of Jesus Christ, recorded in the New Testament, and among the teachings were to love your neighbour.”

As far as Swire is concerned, Megrahi is his neighbour. “And Megrahi’s family are my neighbours and even the ayatollahs in Iran, who were responsible, are my neighbours.”

In The Lockerbie Bombing, there is a list of the dead of Pan-Am 103 and the town of Lockerbie: 270 names. What’s striking is how many of them were so young, in their twenties or thirties – lives cut tragically short. It remains, Swire points out, the biggest atrocity to have taken place in the UK since the Second World War, and as yet there has been no public inquiry. This remains a great frustration for him.

But Swire’s anger and sorrow wasn’t only channelled into battling for truth. In one of the particularly moving sections of his book he describes how, following Flora’s death, he started planting, in a tiny valley near his home, 1500 trees. His mind, as he thrusts his spade repeatedly into the ground, is “flowing with an ocean of rage”.

After planting these, he ordered more trees, including 250 oak, which he then planted in the shape of an F, one which might be seen, he planned, by American satellites. It worked. “Years ago,” he says, “somebody sent me a picture, a shot taken from a satellite, and it was a picture of that particular bit of Worcestershire and looking down from space you can see the capital letter F.”

The wood is still there. “All those thousands of trees...it’s lovely. Who wants a chunk of old fossilised marble of some sort as a memorial? Trees grow and change and live and that’s terrific. I love that wood. My dear other daughter Cathy has a huge house heated by a gigantic log burning boiler so I supply her with logs and we have a wood burner here as well, which I also keep supplied.”

Flora’s Wood has even been named such by the Forestry Commission and can be found on the Ordnance Survey map of Bromsgrove. “It was very important to me that it was marked. That she was remembered. That was a happy moment.”

The Lockerbie Bombing by Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph is published by Birlinn

Aye Write: The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father's Search for Justice: Jim Swire in conversation with Kate Adie will be on May 21, 6pm