An oral history of the Lockerbie Disaster

PIs: Dr Andy Clark, Dr Colin Atkinson

Funding source:  British Academy / Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant 

Project dates: December 2018-December 2022 (extended due to Covid-19)

This project was the first oral history research with first responders to the Lockerbie Disaster, 1988. The deliberate bombing of Pan American Airways 103 from London to New York over Lockerbie killed all 259 people in the aircraft and a further 11 on the ground. It remains the deadliest terrorist attack on British soil, and the worst case of mass murder in Scottish legal history.

Working with Dr Colin Atkinson (Senior Lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at the University of the West of Scotland) we recorded interviews with police officers and mountain rescue volunteers, to understand how they responded to a disaster of this magnitude and the process of debris and remains recovery.

As well as reconstructing the aftermath, respondents reflected on how the event impacted them, personally and professionally. Importantly, this project privileged the voices of those on the ground, whose voices are often marginalised in events with substantial geopolitical ramifications.

Over the course of the project, we conducted interviews with 11 first responders, generating approximately 28 hours of audio recording. These comprised of 4 interviews with mountain rescue volunteers, seven interviews with retired police officers, and one focus group with 4 retired police officers.

As well as the data collection, we visited Syracuse University, New York during their 2022 Week of Remembrance. 35 Syracuse students were killed on board Pan Am 103, returning home for Christmas after a semester abroad. This visit allowed us to access archive materials held in their Pan Am 103 Archive, and to forge connections with the Syracuse community. The visit included appearances on local and regional TV to discuss our research, and culminated in a public lecture where we presented our findings. This also allowed us the opportunity to meet with families of the victims, to discuss the work and perspectives on how we should approach studies of terrorist attacks.

Me (L) and Colin after delivering our public lecture at Syracuse University, New York

The outputs and dissemination were inevitably impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic which occurred during the lifetime of the project. There are two journal articles in progress, and details will be posted here once those are availabile.