Lockerbie Residents Disappointed, Saddened by Mixed Verdict

In the small Scottish town where the wreckage of Pan Am 103 plummeted to earth 12 years ago, the mixed verdict Wednesday in the trial of the two Libyans accused of blowing up the plane drew disappointment and sadness.

"The whole trial was a farce," said waitress Amanda Vandale, who relayed the news to customers as she poured coffee at Cafe 91. "I don't think anyone will ever know the truth ... I just can't understand how they can do one and not the other. It makes no sense to me."

A panel of Scottish High Court judges, sitting in Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, convicted Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi of murder in the bombing, but acquitted a second man, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah.

As word of the verdict spread in Lockerbie — where 11 people on the ground were killed along with 259 people on board the flight — many said they felt sympathy for the families of those who died, who might have hoped for a more definitive conclusion to their ordeal.

"They've got the right to know the truth, but I don't think they ever will," said former cafe owner Mark Hammond.

At the trial, some of the most gripping testimony came from the eyewitnesses of Lockerbie, who told the Scottish justices of dodging chunks of burning metal plummeting down from the night sky on Dec. 21, 1988.

Jasmine Bell, a 53-year-old social worker who was visiting her brother in a neighborhood where large parts of wreckage fell, recounted how the quiet street became an inferno. "Everything was burning," she testified.

The New York-bound flight was running late and should have already been over the Atlantic by the time the bomb went off, 38 minutes after it took off from London's Heathrow airport. Instead, it smashed to earth in and around Lockerbie.

The Boeing 747's cockpit section came down about five miles out of town, near a country church and graveyard. The fuselage hit the Rosebank neighborhood on the northern edge of town. The wing section — laden with burning fuel — fell on a district called Sherwood.

In the wake of the catastrophe, Lockerbie's town hall and its ice rink were pressed into service as a temporary morgue. Searchers and investigators descended on the town to mount a massive search covering hundreds of square miles.

In the years since the disaster, Lockerbie has tried to move on. The 10th anniversary of the crash, in 1998, was commemorated with only a simple memorial service.

"As far as Lockerbie is concerned, the overall view is that they wish to put a line under it," said George Shankland, 55, who was walking with his 2-year-old grandson on the town's main street. "Life has to go on."

In the wake of the disaster, relatives of those killed in the crash were touched by the kindness of the townspeople of Lockerbie. Volunteers worked for months to sort and launder clothing recovered from the wreckage and return it to relatives. Local people would also guide the bereaved to the spot where their loved one's body fell.

Vandale, the waitress, said she wondered now whether either of the accused Libyans were truly responsible for the bombing.

"I just think they were used as scapegoats. Maybe they were involved. I don't know," she said. "It doesn't really give any answer, does it?"