A Personal View by Norman Shanks19 Jun 2012
Few readers can have failed to have heard of the death of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in May this year. Megrahi will no doubt be remembered in history as the ‘Lockerbie Bomber’ or, at least, the only person ever likely to be convicted of the crime. Likewise you may have seen the recent documentary based on the John Ashton book ‘Megrahi: You Are My Jury – the Lockerbie evidence’, published earlier this year, in which he enables Megrahi’s ‘deathbed’ voice to be heard.
Certainly the Ashton book does raise some reasonable arguments about the ‘guilt’ or otherwise of Megrahi, done in part through statements from Megrahi and by diligent journalistic investigation by Ashton uncovering anomalies, inconsistencies and previously unheard or ignored facts which were not disclosed during the Camp Zeist trial leading up to Megrahi’s conviction. The arguments set out in the book have some substance and seem to have created a division between many of the PA 103 victims’ campaigners; some key outspoken personalities appear to support the claims in the book while others continue to believe in his undisputed guilt. Is Megrahi guilty or, just a whipping boy so that justice can be seen to have been done? According to the media the Scottish Police consider the case still open, although few expect that this will result in any change to the outcome.
Was Megrahi guilty or not, frankly I don’t know, I watched the documentary and read Ashton’s book and there does seem to be a reasonable cause for further investigation into the soundness of the conviction. What I do know is that whoever was responsible for the PA 103 atrocity, in a rather ironic way, has made air travel safer for passengers by forcing the regulators and industry to learn from the gaps that were so easily exploited and implement viable, effective and appropriate measures for closing those gaps.
For nearly a decade the UK stood alone in its commitment to putting in place viable measures to counter future similar attacks. These steps were initiated years prior to the Camp Zeist trial and took into account both obvious and less obvious ‘gaps’, the most dominant of these being screening of all passenger bags carried in the aircraft hold. A gap which, irrespective of how the device was placed on the aircraft, was certainly long overdue and one that took almost a decade for our European neighbours to adopt, during which time the previous security administration for the US (FAA) did its utmost to discredit the measure as not being effective enough. What part of an eightfold increase in bomb detection capability was not effective enough, eludes me to this day. It was not until the tragic events of 9/11 that the US suddenly decided that screening checked bags was a necessary security measure, even though it was not a tool used by the 9/11 suicidal hijackers.
Other less publicised measures implemented following the December 1988 PA 103 incident included the creation of dedicated security zones to identify key risk areas, latterly adopted throughout Europe and other selected airports around the world as Critical Parts of the Security Restricted Areas, implementation of a computerised electronic ID access control system which enables virtually instant identification of the use of lost or stolen staff ID’s as well as attempted entry to unauthorised areas. Such systems are now commonplace, but when these were being designed in 1989 for an implementation date of April 1990, this was regarded as cutting-edge technology. Although a fast track project none of the essential capabilities were ignored and the system was designed as future-proof as possible. The success of this project, spearheaded by BAA, is that the core of these systems is still in daily use and has even been expanded to incorporate additional facilities/terminals.
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