This Guardian article of 7 April 1999 by Patrick Barkham was based on a 1995 Guardian investigation by Paul Foot and John Ashton and began:
A is for Africa, South
"Several pieces of evidence (see H and W) suggest that the authorities knew in advance that the Boeing 747 which blew up over Lockerbie in southern Scotland on December 21, 1988 was in danger. The German newspaper Die Zeit claimed that the South African foreign minister, Pik Botha, intended to fly on Pan Am Flight 103 but had been warned off. Mr Botha flew on an earlier flight, Pan Am 101, which, unlike flight 103, had special security checks at Heathrow. No one has been able to definitively confirm or refute the Die Zeit story."
"Lockerbie: Pik 'n' Miss"
This was the title of an article by Paul Foot in Private Eye magazine of 2 April 1999 which highlighted "the most enduring mystery about Lockerbie".
"Looming over the prospect of the trial of two Libyan suspects for the Lockerbie bombing are two dreadful questions which haunt the intelligence communities on both sides of the Atlantic.
"1. Why has Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa, shown such a lasting and dedicated interest in Lockerbie? True, he was for some of the time head of the Organisation of African Unity. True, he feels he owes the Libyans a debt for their long opposition to apartheid. But on their own these explanations can't explain the enormous amount of time and travelling Mandela has devoted to talks with the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
"2. Why has Gaddafi conceded, and released [for trial] the suspects in what seems like a climbdown? True, he was irritated by UN sanctions; but these hardly explain his uncharacteristic bowing the knee to the hated Americans.
"Could the answer to both questions have anything to do with the most enduring mystery about Lockerbie: the warnings received before the bombing of a likely attack on a US airliner in revenge for the shooting down by the US Navy of an Iranian airliner in the Gulf, with the loss of many lives, a few months before Lockerbie?
"The most persistent of all the 'warning' stories comes from South Africa. On 21 December 1988, the day of the bombing, the South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha was in London with a large entourage. The rumour was that they had planned to go to the US on Pan Am Flight 103. But at the last moment had switched to a later flight. Had they been warned off?
"Could it be that President Mandela has more information about this last-minute switch and that he has passed on the information to Colonel Gaddafi?"
"Lockerbie: The Flight from Justice"
This 32-page special report from Private Eye was published by Paul Foot in 2001 shortly after the verdict was announced at the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands when Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted. In a commentary on Foot's report, Private Eye itself asked:
So was Libya even involved in the Lockerbie bombing?
The answer is that nobody knows. Libya certainly had a grim record in state-sponsored terrorism, but there was scant evidence to link it directly to Lockerbie at the Zeist trial. The links to Libya came from the suggestion that a fragment of a timing device which survived the blast was an MST-13 timer produced by a Swiss company, Mebo, which had supplied some to Libya. But it had also supplied them to East Germany; and in any event Libya could have sold them on. Libya could well have had links with the PFLP and PPF cells; but again there was no evidence of such a link.
Foot described how initially they were pursued - for a solid 18 months - right up to the point of announcing that arrests were imminent. Then suddenly the political mood in the Middle East changed dramatically. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the US/UN forces needed Arab support beyond their usual friends in Egypt. The Syrians were themselves worried about Hussein’s expansion in the area, and in November 1990 deals were signed to both neutralize Iran and to bring Syrian forces into the combined operation known as Desert Storm to reclaim Kuwait.
As Paul Foot described it, Lockerbie was to be played down and President Bush Snr declared: "Syria took a bum rap on this."
No wonder no one now wants a public inquiry and the question remains: who was really behind the biggest ever terrorist atrocity on British soil?
In an article published in The Guardian a few months before he died, Paul Foot wrote:
"As he basks in the success of his controversial visit to Libya, prime minister Tony Blair has to grapple at once with an awkward letter. It was delivered on Monday by UK Families Flight 103 representing most of the British families bereaved by the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. The letter starts by reminding Blair that the families supported his visit to Libya in the expectation that the talks with Colonel Gaddafi would lead to more information about the bombing. Moreover, the letter says, their support for the visit was widely used by ministers to justify the visit to Libya. Yet the visit has not led to any more information about the bombing.
"And recent letters to the secretary of the group, Pamela Dix - whose brother died at Lockerbie - from Baroness Symons, minister of state at the Foreign Office, and from the Crown Office in Edinburgh, have argued that any further questions to the Libyans about Lockerbie would not be helpful. In short, ministers took the credit of the families' support without asking a single question about Lockerbie to justify that support. In a sense of deep outrage, the families are asking the prime minister for a meeting to discuss Lockerbie as a matter of urgency.
The article concludes:
"In Britain, meanwhile, Thatcher, John Major and Blair obstinately turned down the bereaved families' requests for a full public inquiry into the worst mass murder in British history.
"It follows from this explanation that Megrahi is innocent of the Lockerbie bombing and his conviction is the last in the long line of British judges' miscarriages of criminal justice. This explanation is also a terrible indictment of the cynicism, hypocrisy and deceit of the British and US governments and their intelligence services. Which is probably why it has been so consistently and haughtily ignored."