FEBRUARY 6, 2001

Flora would be proud of us
After collapsing in court as the Lockerbie verdict was returned, Dr Jim Swire, the bereaved father who led the campaign to bring the Libyans to court, is too exhausted to continue the fight. But the anguish he and his wife feel will not be appeased. They speak to Olga Craig.
NINE months ago, on an overcast May morning, Dr Jim Swire and his wife, Jane, loaded their car and set off for Harwich to catch the 7am ferry to the Hook of Holland. It was a momentous morning: day one of the trial of the two Libyans charged with the murder of their daughter Flora.

Fighters: Jim and Jane Swire have done their utmost to ensure those responsible for the Lockerbie disaster are brought to justice

Before locking the door of their Worcestershire home, Swire did two things: to his lapel he pinned a badge saying, "Pan Am 103 - the truth must be known"; then he climbed the stairs to the couple's bedroom and stood before the portrait of Flora, captured clutching a posy of wild flowers against the backdrop of the Isle of Skye, where she is buried. To his daughter, he said: "This is it, Flora, the final piecing together. Now, finally, there must be some resolution, some truth and some justice."

 This morning, as one of those men, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, begins a life sentence, Swire, now 64, will finally return home. The instant the front door closes behind him he will, again, race up the stairs and stand before Flora. "The tears will come then, I know they will," he says, bony fingers raking his thick, white hair. "I will tell her I am glad, so glad, he was found guilty. That I thought he would get off. Then I have a very personal message."

 Swire, who fought valiantly for the Libyans' trial and to ensure that the 270 victims of the bombing on December 21, 1988 are not forgotten, is handing over the baton of the campaign he has led on behalf of the British victims. He still wants a public inquiry; he wants Megrahi's accomplices brought to justice and he wants Libya's Colonel Gaddafi to admit publicly his country's responsibility: but he knows he is too exhausted to lead another campaign.

 "I will tell Flora 'I am going to have to ease off now; I must devote more time to your Mum. I know it is what you want, that you are already proud of me. But your brother and sister are marrying this year and perhaps that is fate's hint that I should look after what is left of my family.' "

 Jim Swire spreads his hands and shrugs his shoulders at he drains his fifth cup of coffee in London's Park Lane Hilton. "I have to take more of a back seat," he concedes. Then, straightening his shoulders, that characteristic look of ferocious intensity returns and his eyes narrow: "I'm not giving up though . . . I need to keep the hares running." Across the hotel breakfast table Jane, his wife, stretches out to take his hand. "I never expected that," she says, her apple cheeks broadening into a faint smile. She is glad he has said it publicly because, privately, Jane Swire is a worried woman.

 Last Wednesday, when the guilty verdict was returned, her husband collapsed. Jane, 61, who had attended much of the Scottish trial at Camp Zeist in Utrecht, was not there. "All that hugging, that public emotion, as though in celebration, I could not have faced it," she reveals. "No number of guilty men can compensate for the families' losses." Instead, she heard of his collapse from the media.

 "I don't remember a thing about it," Jim Swire laughs, determined to make light of the fainting fit that led to an electrocardiograph test to detect if he had suffered a heart attack. There was no evidence of an arrest, only that Swire was extremely stressed. "I remember hearing the word 'guilty' and thinking two things: the first was astonishment and relief - I was sure it would be the Scottish verdict of 'not proven' - and the other was a sort of sickening dread, knowing there would be an appeal. I remember thinking 'another year of indecision', then everything went blank."

 Swire's son William, who was celebrating his 29th birthday that day, helped carry his father to the medics' tent. It was a tense four minutes before Swire recovered consciousness. "Yes, it taught me a lesson, I drive too hard," he says, seeing Jane's anxious face. "I know I have to slow down."

 There is no doubt that the Swires are a close couple: united in a common, tragic bond. It has not always been so. The toll of the past 12 years and of Flora's death which, they both admit, initially they dealt with in very different ways, is etched on their faces. It has taken time for their differing modes of grief to meld.

 "I look in the mirror and mourn the passing of what I call my virginity," Swire says. "By that I mean my innocence, my perhaps naive trust. I have been robbed of the ability to trust. When someone approaches me now my first thought is 'what is in this for them?' I am more cynical. Flora's life was snuffed out in such a brutal manner that I now know the worst evil of the world."

 For Swire the burning passion has always been to discover the truth of her death: to campaign. He put so much time and energy into it that, seven years ago, he lost his job as a partner in a medical practice. In the early days after Flora's death, Jane could not understand his drive. Her pain was profound. There were times in those early days, she admits, when her husband was giving yet another round of media interviews, that she thought: "Does he care as much as I do?"

 "I know, of course, that he did," she says. "It was just that I closed in on myself with grief. It was as though he had isolated himself from me." Swire nods. "We understand each other's approach now; we have met in the middle," he smiles.

 For Jane, in those early days, there was, too, the worry of how their two remaining children, William and Catherine, dealt with their grief. "It was difficult. I think I've just tried to do my best for them and to survive and be strong, while Jim coped his way. I don't think I could have stopped him and I don't think I ought to have. He would have had a breakdown - or worse - without an outlet.

 "He had intense feelings that had to be channelled into something. To try to bring something good out of a terrible act, that no one could put right, you have to look for ways to feel that you did your best. It's a way of honouring Flora, I know that. But Jim simply does not have that strength any more."

 She knows she will have to police his supposed retirement. Adopting a stern manner, she tells him: "I know exactly what Flora would tell you today. She would say: 'Dad, you have this precious life that was denied to me. Live it to the full. For me. Hand the baton over. Don't go wrecking your life through obsession."

 Swire nods again. He does not deny the physical change in his appearance, borne of the past 12 years. "When I look in the mirror I think I have aged more than that," he admits. "To be honest, I am rather surprised I am still here. That is how taxing, how all-consuming the strain, the grief, has been."

 He is too gallant to mention the toll such agonising years have taken on Jane. "Her humanity, her goodness, they have never changed," he says. "She doesn't feel bitterness towards Megrahi." Jane nods in agreement. "I have no pity for him," she says quickly, her eyes darkening. "I just have no comprehension of a fanaticism that could be so intense as to allow murder."

In silence the couple bow their heads as they talk softly of their most agonising moments since Flora's death. "Everything that has happened has, ultimately, brought us closer," Jane says, "but, oh, what a terrible price we have paid." For her the thought of the final 15 seconds of Flora's life, as her body dropped to earth, are never far away. Countless times she has sat in the quiet of her kitchen, timing those seconds with the ticking of the clock. "I couldn't stop her suffering. I wasn't there and that hurts," she says. "I wanted to be there, to put my arms around her and shield her from that terrible experience.

 "If I had known there was a bomb on that plane I would have held on to those aeroplane wheels with my bare hands. And the fact that some people did know is what makes me very, very angry."

 Her husband repeats her words. "Angry, very, very angry," he murmurs. "Angry that warnings of a bomb on a Pan Am plane, given a fortnight before flight 103, were never heeded; anger at the incompetence that allowed such an instrument of death on board; anger that the systems to protect Flora were not in place. I carry such anger . . ."

 For Swire, who badgered pathologists to be allowed to see his daughter's body, there is no sense of agony over his daughter's final moments. "I know her injuries were such that she died instantly," he says. "When I saw her body I traced the mole on her toe, as though to convince myself it was her. Still, every day, I force myself to think of that moment. Otherwise I would never accept she is dead."

 Jim Swire carries with him, in his manner, a curious mix of defeated acceptance - that nothing, of course, will return his vivacious daughter to him - and boundless enthusiasm - that all those responsible will ultimately be brought to justice. "It is a struggle to balance both," he admits. "For Flora, for them all, the battle continues," he says. "That moment in the court, that word 'guilty'; that, at least, was something. Not comfort, just . . . something. Another step."

 Jane, grateful that one man, at least, has been brought to account, again looks fearful. "It is for others to lead now," she reminds him softly. In the next few days the couple will fly (it holds no fear for either; rather it makes them feel closer to Flora) to southern Spain for a lengthy holiday. Before that there is one final task Swire will perform today, on returning home. After Flora's death he planted a wood in her honour. From above, the trees he has lovingly tended form the letter F. This afternoon he will plant several more, taken from the woods around Camp Zeist.

 "They symbolise our struggle for a trial," he says. "Our struggle for justice for Flora. There will never be another Flora. We must do what we can for her memory."