Don's diary

May 12, 2000


Most of our fellow passengers on the Glasgow to Amsterdam flight are heading for Camp Zeist and the trial of the Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing.

For the six of us from the University of Glasgow Law School, the journey started in 1998 when the decision to hold the trial under Scots law brought a flood of international media inquiries. Since then our Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit (LTB) website has taken over a million hits and our handbook has gone to a second edition.

We know many of the media people on board and do our first interview before we leave Amsterdam airport. An hour down the motorway and we are climbing into the shuttle bus for the camp area, past the heavily fortified prison and into the media centre, where we set up our desk between Reuters and a Middle Eastern TV station. Invitations to our eve-of-trial briefing seminar are snapped up.


It is a misty morning in the media van park. Amid a forest of satellite dishes, we introduce ourselves to journalists from around the world. Many already know us from the website run by myself and my colleague Martin Kerr. Along with colleagues Andrew Fulton, Jim Murdoch and Fraser Davidson, we seem to be doing an interview every few minutes. Our press officer, Mike Brown, marshalls a queue of requests.

Back at the hotel, 51 media organisations attend the briefing. They have endless questions: why are there three sets of charges, what is "not proven", what constitutes proof? Some Americans are shocked to discover it will not be like the O. J. Simpson trial. Andrew is grilled by NBC, Jim gives interviews in French and German, and the correspondent from National Public Radio asks me every question I expected.


It is the first day of the trial. Martin and I are at the front of the queue for the public benches and are soon in the court. At last the trial is starting, and it is an emotionally charged atmosphere. I am looking straight at one of the accused, Al Megrahi, only 12 feet away on the other side of the security glass. He is looking more gaunt than before. Sitting among the American relatives, we watch the display screens showing radar images of PanAm 103 blowing up. It is a traumatic moment.

Back in the media centre, my colleagues are providing instant explanations of the special defence of incrimination that has just been lodged. Journalists following the closed-circuit television feed want identification of who is who in the court. A Scandinavian reporter asks if the accused are wearing Scottish prison uniforms - in fact it is their national dress.


Today's witnesses are being led through the familiar but harrowing story of the night of the disaster. A French TV crew say farewell - "We wouldn't have understood what was going on without you."

Most of the media will be gone by the weekend, as will we. Phone and email will keep us in touch as the trial unfolds over the next year. We are already planning to return at further key points in the case. The LTB website is at

John Grant, director, Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit, University of Glasgow.

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