On the night Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky, December 21 1988, killing 259 people on the plane and 11 in Lockerbie, I was the late-shift reporter at The Herald. I started at 7pm and the editorial floor was a jolly place, full of festive cheer as staff celebrated the editor’s Christmas party. But the mood grew edgy and sombre as reports came in of a light aircraft apparently crashing into a petrol station in Lockerbie.

Of course, the reality was so much darker. The party ended abruptly and editorial staff set to work. I went to Lockerbie with Stuart Paterson, the late-shift photographer, in his car. My remit was to file as often and promptly as possible. 

When we arrived, the scene of devastation was beyond comprehension, even in the dark. I recall thinking that the town looked as if it had borne the brunt of a major riot as I picked my way across streets littered with debris.

Parts of what turned out to be wreckage of the plane lay everywhere. Fires burned. Many documents and papers, some charred, blew around my feet. In Sherwood Crescent, where the fuselage came down, jet fuel had ignited, starting fires that destroyed houses and claimed lives. The impact had created a large crater. Members of the rescue services and locals who came out to help went about their work with a numbed determination. 

I interviewed as many people as I could and filed copy until 2am. We managed to sleep on the floor at Somerton House Hotel. The morning that greeted us was perversely bright and crisp. The full horror of an event whose international repercussions are felt to this day awaited us.

Read Barclay McBain's full piece here: Lockerbie: The horrors that shattered but united a town in mourning

It is 35 years since the Maid of the Seas was blown up at 31,000ft en route from London Heathrow to New York yet a third Libyan, Abu Agila Masud, 72, waits to stand trial in the United States, accused of making the bomb that brought down the plane. He is also said to have acted in concert with Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, fellow Libyans.

In 2001 both appeared before a Scottish court sitting in neutral Netherlands, accused of putting a suitcase containing the bomb into luggage on a flight from Malta to Frankfurt that was loaded onto Pan Am 103’s feeder flight from Frankfurt to Heathrow. The case against both was that it was then transferred onto Flight 103 at Heathrow. 

Megrahi had arrived in Malta from Libya the day before the bombing, using a false passport. Evidence was led that he had wrapped the bomb, concealed in a radio cassette player, in locally made children’s clothes he had bought in Malta, remnants of which were found among the wreckage, including the suitcase. Fhimah was the former station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines on the island.

Megrahi was convicted of mass murder by four Scottish judges at Camp Zeist and was taken to Scotland to serve a life sentence. Fhimah was cleared.

Bruce McKain, The Herald’s Law Correspondent who filed compelling copy from the court, believed there was sufficient evidence to convict Megrahi but not enough to find Fhimah guilty.

Megrahi, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2008, abandoned a second appeal against his conviction the following year and was released on compassionate grounds as he was said to have three months to live. He died in 2012.


Some relatives of British victims believe Megrahi was innocent and that the culprits were Iran and Syrian-backed Palestinian militants who had been caught making bombs in radio cassettes in Frankfurt. Iran had vowed revenge for the USS Vincennes mistakenly shooting down an Iranian airliner over the Gulf earlier in 1988. 

American and Scottish investigators suspect the 1986 US air force attack on Tripoli and Benghazi on the orders of President Ronald Reagan - in retaliation for the bombing of a Berlin disco that had killed two Americans - was the motive behind the downing of Flight 103.

Masud has been in American hands for a year. He has pled not guilty to two charges of destroying an aircraft, resulting in death, and one of destroying a vehicle, causing death. It is not clear when the trial will go ahead. Assuming it does, will the whole truth finally be told? No-one is holding their breath.