August 12, 2010 / 4:27 PM / in 7 years

Fringe stages father's quest for Lockerbie justice

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - The Lockerbie disaster has come to the Edinburgh Fringe stage as a compelling 70-minute monologue which pours fuel onto a blazing dispute about the man convicted of the airliner bombing over Scotland 22 years ago.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was imprisoned in Scotland after his conviction for bombing Pan Am flight 103, which blew apart on a flight from London to New York in December 1988, killing 270 people, most of them American.

“Lockerbie: Unfinished Business” tells the tale of Doctor Jim Swire, whose 24-year-old daughter Flora died on the plane and who is convinced that Megrahi’s conviction was a travesty of justice. The play follows his fight for “truth and justice.”

The play has come to the stage in the midst of continuing American fury over the Scottish justice secretary’s decision to release Megrahi on compassionate medical grounds last year.

The decision caused outrage among the families of victims in the United States and has set the U.S. Senate on a collision course with Scotland’s devolved parliament in Edinburgh.

The production -- written and acted by David Benson in the persona of Swire -- has left packed audiences uncertain of whether a round of applause is an appropriate gesture of appreciation as the curtains close on the hushed final scene.

Benson said the script was drawn from interviews with Swire, documentary sources and the devastated father’s own account of his life since December 21, 1988, in an as-yet unpublished book.

Initially, suspicion for the Lockerbie bombing fell on a Palestinian group possibly acting for Tehran after U.S. forces in the Gulf shot down an Iranian airliner, killing all 290 people aboard six months earlier.

Two Libyans were eventually accused of the Lockerbie bombing. One was acquitted but Megrahi was found guilty in 2001 and given a 27-year sentence in a Scottish prison near Glasgow.

Unfinished Business traces Swire’s growing fears that the original conviction was wrong and his quest to get to the bottom of what happened. A Scottish review commission said in 2007 there were grounds to believe there may have been a miscarriage of justice and a High Court appeal process opened in 2008.

Swire hoped the appeal would uncover the facts, but Megrahi was diagnosed with terminal cancer and withdrew his appeal as he was released on compassionate grounds to return to Tripoli just a year ago.

Swire and his wife Jane saw a preview of the play in Oxford before it came to Edinburgh. Benson said he was thankful he had not known they were in the audience.

“I didn’t fancy going to it really,” Swire told Reuters by telephone from his home. “I thought I would find it very difficult to cope with it. But it was unsentimental I thought, accurate I thought...and I didn’t find it difficult to cope with at all.”

He is now seeking a “properly empowered inquiry” to probe all aspects of the case.

“So it’s very useful to have this play on show at the moment.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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