Damascene conversions in the pages of the press are few and far between, and the apparent admission by the Maily Telegraph that they were wrong about the Lockerbie bombing – that resulted in the deaths of all aboard Pan Am 747 Clipper Maid Of The Seas, plus fourteen on the ground in the small southern Scottish town, in December 1988 – is in itself welcome. But the manner of the admission is not.
“The Lockerbie bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by a Syrian-based terrorist group ... Pan Am flight 103 was downed in 1988 in retaliation for a US Navy strike on an Iranian commercial jet six months earlier, in which 290 people died ... the bombers belonged to the extremist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC)” tells Gordon Rayner today.
Now examine this account: “the Lockerbie bombing was carried out not by Libyans at all but by terrorists based in Syria and hired by Iran to avenge the shooting down in the summer of 1988 of an Iranian civil airliner by a US warship”. That was written TEN YEARS AGO by Paul Foot, whose definitive account of the bombing, “Lockerbie – the flight from justice” was published by Private Eye in 2001.
Everything that the Tel lays out today is in Foot’s report: Abu Jibril, the leader who was batshit enough to get his followers to carry out a premeditated operation that they knew would involve horrific loss of life, and Abu Talb, who owned a clothes shop in Malta – thus the later implication of nearby Libya – as the courier, who actually placed the device in the flight’s luggage, for instance.
Why the switch to blame Libya? Here’s the Tel: “The documentary suggests that the investigation suddenly changed tack, and switched its focus to Libya after a telephone call between President George H W Bush and Lady Thatcher - possibly because the US did not want to antagonise Syria, which joined forces with the US and Britain to fight Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War”.
And here is Paul Foot: “[in April 1989] a phone call from President Bush senior to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warned her not to proceed with [going after Abu Jibril]. A year later, British and US armed forces prepared for an attack on Saddam Hussein's occupying forces in Kuwait. Their coalition desperately needed troops from an Arab country. These were supplied by Syria, which promptly dropped out of the frame of Lockerbie suspects”. Spot the difference – or not.
Were I in the editor’s chair at Private Eye, I would be not impressed in the least with the Telegraph. It is received knowledge among those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet what Paul Foot researched, then wrote up and concluded. The Tel could at the very least have acknowledged his work. It has not.
Paper of record? The Telegraph is an absolute disgrace. No surprise there, then.