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Lockerbie: Town of unwanted fame

Lockerbie: Damage caused by Pan Am 103
The plane ploughed into Lockberbie, killing 11 people on the ground.

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LOCKERBIE, Scotland -- The residents of Lockerbie have continually been forced to relive the night their village was given global status with a branding of fire, death and destruction.

Twelve years after the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing in which 170 people were killed, the night death rained down on Lockerbie remains a vivid memory for Marjory McQueen.

McQueen, one of the town's two councillors, has since become a voice for the small community near the Scottish-English border which she says "did not choose to be famous."

She and the 3,500 other townsfolk were attempting to go about their business as normal -- but aware that once again Lockerbie was a name echoing around the world.

"It is a very strange thing, but there is not the depth of feeling you would expect in the town about the result of this trial," she said.

The villagers heard what many thought was a thunderstorm -- but it got louder and nearer, until the Boeing 747 smashed into the ground at 7.03 in the evening, killing 11 residents as well as the 259 people on board.

The cockpit section came down about five miles out of town, near a country church and graveyard. The fuselage hit the Rosebank neighbourhood 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 mortuary. Searchers and investigators descended on the town to mount a massive search covering hundreds of square miles.

Only one relative of those killed in Lockerbie itself still lives in the village. All the others have moved away to escape the nightmares.

Lockerbie memorial
Lockerbie's memorial to the victims

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.

Now there is a remembrance garden: "You are almost moved to tears," said CNN's Senior International Correspondent Walter Rodgers.

Relatives of those killed in the crash were touched by the kindness of townspeople.

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.

McQueen said: "Lockerbie has never involved itself in the politics and the legal machinations that have gone on over the years.

"We have been a community that has come to grips with what has happened. It is not callous. Our thoughts ... are with the relatives."

It was an event that brought the town a fame it did not choose, but which allowed it to show a dignity and compassion which has become its hallmark. "You cannot get over it," she said.

One of the Libyans accused of murdering 270 people in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing was found guilty of murder in 2001. The second defendant was found not guilty after a trial in the Netherlands under Scottish law.

Lawyers for Libya and for families of the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing have decided on the framework for $2.7 billion in compensation, a step which could lead to the end of sanctions on Libya.


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