Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 75, January 1995
A new film, The Maltese Double Cross, directed by Allan Francovich and funded by business tycoon Tiny Rowland, has rekindled the controversy about the Lockerbie disaster. The documentary is an attempt to expose the lies surrounding the aircraft-bombing which killed 270 people over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, and which remains shrouded in secrecy.
The UN has accused two Libyans of planting the bomb, and imposed sanctions to force Libya to hand them over for trial in the USA. The new film has been dismissed as a Libyan-funded attempt to duck responsibility for the murders. But, as one bereaved mother explained after seeing the film, the questions it raises would be valid even if the funding came from the ghost of Adolf Hitler.
Due to be premiered by the London Film Festival at the National Film Theatre (NFT) in November, The Maltese Double Cross was pulled from the programme 18 days before its scheduled showing. Why?
According to a Guardian report of 12 November 1994, the festival organisers explained that 'certain statements similar to those made in the film are the subject of legal action'. That much is true. Allegations made about former US drug enforcement agent Michael Hurley, are the basis of a libel suit against the publishers of a book about Lockerbie, Trail of the Octopus, written by Donald Goddard and Lester Coleman. But the case has not been brought to court and Bloomsbury, the book's publishers, appear to be taking no notice of the libel threat. So why did the NFT feel obliged to take it so seriously? No comment. No NFT.
When Tam Dalyell MP announced that he would show the film in the House of Commons on Wednesday 16 November, an American firm of solicitors representing Michael Hurley wrote to him suggesting libel might be involved. Someone from the same firm also telephoned the Speakers office to ask if their representative could attend the screening. When Dalyell returned the call, nobody knew who had written the letter and nobody came to the screening. Who sent the letter? No answer.
Dalyell went ahead with the showing, as did the Scotsman, despite receiving a threat of libel action via a fax to their lawyers. At the time of publishing, no libel case has been brought.
The Angle Gallery in Birmingham then announced a showing of the film on Friday 18 November. No libel threats this time, but a curious message was relayed by Birmingham local radio, stating that the film had been withdrawn from public showing because it would be prejudicial to the trial of the Libyans. What trial? No answer. There is no contempt of court and there is no trial. Who passed false information to the radio station? No answer.
A subsequent burglary at the Angle Gallery and a forced entry to the home of gallery coordinator Ceri Dingle raised suspicions of intimidation by anonymous intruders. Dingle said, 'I'm not a believer in conspiracy theories but this is too heavy to be ignored. These pressures do seem to be frightening people off. It's intolerable. Birmingham and Warwick University Students' Unions have now banned the film for supposed legal reasons.'
Several attempts by the Campaign Against Militarism (CAM) to hire a venue in London for a showing were turned down - most surprisingly by the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) which is not noted for its caution. 'I remember a time when the ICA didn't baulk at presenting a performance piece in which an artist shoved live clams up her bum', says Kate Margam of CAM. 'But when I asked them if they would show The Maltese Double Cross they said their lawyers had advised them not to.' Would they allow CAM to hire a room and show the film privately? No.
Why has Allan Francovich's film aroused such a welter of legal fears when there is, in fact, no legal case against it?
According to Tam Dalyell, 'the American and British governments do not want the film shown. The American families do not want the film shown because they want their compensation money. More importantly, their lawyers want their money.
The central thesis of the film, also propounded in Trail of the Octopus, is that a Syrian-backed Iranian group planted the bomb on a CIA protected drug route. The film alleges that government personnel were warned and pulled off Pan Am Flight 103 at the last minute. It argues - as Living Marxism has done from the start - that the US and UK governments have tried to frame Libya for Lockerbie rather than mess up their relations with the more plausible culprits, Syria and Iran.
Taken together, the film's allegations contradict the claim that Pan Am was guilty of negligence. But Pan Am has been found guilty, and hefty compensation awards are on the point of being made. There are clearly interested parties who would not want any further debate about what really happened. Not least among them are the British and American governments.
Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed on Flight 103 and who is now spokesman for the British families group, has given the film his support because it tackles some of the questions that have still not been answered.
For a start, why do the British and American governments insist on accusing Libya of planting the bomb when there is no evidence to support this?
Jim Swire now believes that Libya has been framed with false evidence and that Margaret Thatcher and president Bush knew about it. He charges the British, American and German security services with being accessories to the murder of 270 people.
Allan Francovich, the film's director believes there has been a cover up because of implications that the plane was brought down as part of an American and British security operation. 'They have to come up with a scenario that can get them off the hook.'
Did the American, British and German security forces receive explicit warnings about Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December 1988?
Dr Jim Swire believes they did, and that evidence used to blame Libya has been fabricated. The framing of Libya hinges on accusations that the bomb came from Malta. But Swire explains:
'Air Malta sued Granada TV for showing a programme about how the bomb got on the plane. They won because there wasn't a shred of evidence to prove that the bomb came from Malta. There is a document on the film which says the FBI team that was sent to look into this also failed to find any evidence.'
At the original Fatal Accident Inquiry, Swire's frustration at being represented by lawyers, hired by the Department of Transport, who would not call the witnesses he wanted led him to take over his own case. Nobody told him that the government had prepared a number of Public Interest Immunity certificates to prevent certain documents being made public. 'There was a clampdown on any information relating to intelligence and also a clampdown on any information prior to the feeder flight taking off from Frankfurt, so there was no inquiry into how the bomb got on the plane, or where it came from. It was a whitewash.'
Who is behind the cover-up? 'The number one suspect must be intelligence', says Jim Swire.'When the families group was first formed, one of the people who worked hardest at getting the group off the ground turned out later to be trying to stop the film. She must be either an agent for intelligence or working for the other group who want to stop this - the relatives working for compensation. Their case depends on the idea that the device came from Malta. They are very worried by the material in the film.'
There are people supporting the film who feel that enough is enough and it is time to let Libya off the hook. 'I don't believe the Libyan state had anything to do with it', says Tam Dalyell. There have been calls for the UN to bring the affair to a conclusion by allowing the Libyans to be put on trial in Scotland, a 'neutral' country. This is seen as a solution not only by those who would like to see the Libyans' coffin finally nailed, but by those who want to see an end to the sanctions. 'I would be quite happy if they were brought to trial', says Dalyell, 'because I think the evidence against them would be laughed out of court'. This theory seems criminally naive.
Governments which have blatantly framed two Arabs for mass murder, maintained sanctions against a whole country on the basis of the fit-up, and possibly knowingly sent their own citizens to their deaths, are governments equally capable of fixing a trial. In this country we are familiar with the ease with which government interests manipulate the justice system. We are also familiar with the way that the Western powers bend the UN to their will, and have branded Libya a pariah. There is no such thing as a 'neutral' country. Libya has already been found guilty. As the leading British barrister Michael Mansfield told me, the Libyans 'would not recieve a fair trial anywhere in the world'.
Jim Swire wants the film shown and his questions answered. 'There is an interesting piece of poetic symmetry', he says: 'Tiny Rowland is the man who was described by Edward Heath as the "unacceptable face of capitalism". It may be that Tiny Rowland's film exposes the unacceptable face of Western democracy.'
There are so many interests at stake in the Lockerbie saga it is unlikely the full truth will ever be known. But the more it is questioned, the dirtier the whole affair appears.