Friday 19 February 2016

Thatcher banned Lockerbie inquiry

Today's release of Thatcher cabinet papers from 1988/89 contains a sinister footnote to the Lockerbie story.

Pan Am 103 was blown from the skies over the Scottish town of Lockerbie just after 7 pm on the evening of the 21st December 1988. Within hours US FBI teams arrived in Lockerbie to "assist" the Dumfries and Galloway police force.

 Phone lines between the White House, the US embassy in London, and the offices of MI6 were running hot. The US ambassador to the UK had been kept informed. The secret US Navy base at Macrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre had been alerted and at dawn a surveillance helicopter would be scrambled.

At 9.30 on the morning of the 22nd December Thatcher and
Margaret Thatcher
her cabinet met to decide what to do.  Information about the tragedy had flooded into Downing Street from 8 pm the previous evening. Thatcher and entourage would fly to Scotland later that morning to survey the devastation.

At the cabinet table was head of MI6 Sir Christopher Curwen. He reported that US intelligence had instructed that on no account was there to be any form of public inquiry. His advice was supported by British Secretary of State for Transport Paul Channon.
Paul Channon

The tragedy would prove to be the biggest attack on the British mainland since the Second World War, yet no public inquiry must be allowed. If such an inquiry were to happen, the following matters would be open to public scrutiny and questioning: 

1. On board Pan Am 103 was a six-man CIA team returning from Beirut. In the suitcase of the team leader Charles McKee were sensitive state papers. The team had been on a praiseworthy mission to attempt to negotiate the release of US hostages at that time held in the Middle East.

2. One of the Pan Am passengers was Khaled Jafaar, a drug courier for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
His job was to take consignments of heroin originating from the Bekaa Valley to the US, to assist with the capture of drug traffickers in Mexico and the USA. UK security authorities cooperated with the drug shipments, known as "controlled deliveries" and sometimes "high risk flights". Passengers and public were unaware of the process.

3. Transport Minister Paul Channon was aware of a telephoned warning - made just days before the bombing - about possible bombs on US aircraft flying to the US. Known as the "Helsinki" warning it was, in the view of Heathrow security chiefs, a hoax. And yet the Department of Transport telexed the warning to Interpol and all airlines. Why would they do that, if the warning was a hoax?

4. Channon was aware also of a second warning from the German authorities in the form of a multi page coloured brochure. This included a photo of a mock-up of a bomb discovered in late
"Consign it to the hold of the plane"
October made by a terrorist group funded by Iran and Syria. The group were known to have been monitoring US flights from Frankfurt airport, focussing on Pan Am. It was certain that five bombs had been made by the group. Four were retrieved. A fifth bomb was never found.

5. In both warnings the Department of Transport had instructed airline check-in and security staff that if a tape recorder or radio in a passenger's luggage seemed suspicious, it should be "consigned to the hold of the plane". That is, exactly where the terrorist would want it to be.

6. Paul Channon was aware that Heathrow security was known to be in chaos. On the day of the Lockerbie attack 70,000 airside passes were in circulation at Heathrow, distributed to many nationalities and construction workers. Shortly after his retirement the former head of Heathrow security admitted to journalists in March 2012 that any country could have planted a bomb. There was no screening of staff, no restrictions on people walking through with bags. A rogue bag could be easily inserted into the baggage chain. 


Important as they were, none of the above were recorded in Cabinet minutes or released under the thirty year rule. 
Instead, all that is recorded and available to the public is that Thatcher and her ministers agreed that it was "not clear whether any further public inquiry would serve a useful purpose". An independent investigation would "serve no useful purpose". In general "it was important to avoid a plethora of inquiries that caused distress to individuals while unearthing no new facts."

On the contrary, Jim Swire and many bereaved relatives will be happy to undergo further distress caused by an independent inquiry. But will the Americans ever allow it?

Margaret Thatcher sleeps soundly in her grave knowing that her 1993 memoirs "The Downing Street Years" have consigned 270 murdered Lockerbie souls to the dustbin of history.  In 914 pages of closely remembered events and text she does not mention the word "Lockerbie".

The renowned journalist John Pilger has an appropriate saying for Thatcher's chicanery. When an event is inconvenient a government - aided by its intelligence services - will ensure that it "never happened".