A mother who only learned last year that her son was killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing meets some of her son friends. Courtesy BBC News
KENNETH Bissett died when a passenger jet was bombed and fell from the sky but his mother did not find out for 25 years. Now that she knows, she’s determined to discover who killed him.
For a quarter of a decade, Carol King Eckersley went on with life unaware that Mr Bissett, then 21, was aboard Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 when it disintegrated over the sleepy Scottish town of Lockerbie.
She did not grieve. She did not visit the site where his body landed alongside 258 other bodies from the packed 747. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her son — she did. It was just that she hadn’t seen him since giving him up for adoption at birth.
In 2013, she decided to look him up. She typed his name into Google and within minutes knew she would never meet him.
Online she found a page remembering the 35 Syracuse University students who died during a trip home to New York City after a term in London. Kenneth Bissett’s name was there alongside two dates — 19.12.1967 and 21.12.1988.
“When I found the page I didn’t initially realise what it was for,” Ms Eckersley told news.com.au.
“I thought: ‘Wow, what wonderful thing is he being remembered for?’ Then I realised it was his obituary.”
The 67-year-old describes that moment as her “double tragedy”, the moment she found and lost her son at once.
“My husband had passed away and I went to a grief counsellor. She told me that it helps sometimes to complete something from your past, to apologise, whatever. My big incomplete thing was getting to know my son.
“It was horrible,” she said of learning he died during the worst terror attack on British soil.
“I can’t even describe it. It was sort of like a chunk of my insides had been ripped out even though I’d waited all that time to search for him.”
Last year Ms Eckersley visited Lockerbie. While she was there she spoke with police who first responded to huge parts of the jumbo jet landing in residents’ front yards. She found the spot where Mr Bissett landed and, when laying flowers, looked up.
“Looking at where they thought Ken had fallen there was a jet passing overhead. I looked at my sister and said: ‘It’s so damn far to fall’. It put it more into perspective for me. That moment was awful.”
In the 27 years since the Lockerbie bombing, only one man has ever been held responsible. Libyan government official Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was jailed for life after taking the blame but released on compassionate grounds in 2009. He died three years later. The case went cold until last week when US and Scottish officials named two new suspects — Abu Agila Mas’ud and Abdullah al-Senussi.
One is accused of masterminding a Berlin disco bombing in 1996 and the other is the former spy chief to deceased Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
A letter was sent to the attorney general’s office in Tripoli last week requesting permission for the FBI to interview the new suspects. A trial is expected to follow.
Ms Eckersley says the news is a relief for the families of the victims though no outcome will end their grief.
“They’ve been dealing with this for 27 years, I’ve only been dealing with it for two years.”
She says it is nice to know the investigation is ongoing and the victims “haven’t been forgotten” but the grief will go on.
“I don’t think closure will apply to this.This will always be a wound for all of us. It will give me a little bit of a feeling of justice being served (but) I know a lot of people that were suspected of being involved have died.”
Her focus now is less about justice and more about getting to know her son. She does so through pictures and through meeting his old friends.
“He was kind of a figment of my imagination in many ways (before I searched for him). I could make him whatever I wanted him to be. I always grieved about giving him away but in order to grieve his death I needed to know him first. He was quite an amazing young man.”
What would she say to him if she had the chance?
“I always loved you even without knowing you. The umbilical cord really never breaks.”
DID VICTIM’S BROTHER SOLVE LOCKERBIE COLD CASE?
Ken Dornstein has dedicated his life to solving the Lockerbie bombing. His brother David was aboard the flight when it went down. He says he’s got “skin in the game” that makes him the perpetrators’ worst enemy.
Dornstein, a filmmaker, recently released a three-part documentary series titled My Brother’s Bomber. He and others believe the information he discovered went a long way towards the FBI identifying new suspects.
Dornstein was 19 when Flight 103 crashed to the ground. His brother was 25 at the time. Instead of expecting police to track down those responsible, he started knocking on doors.
“I saw an opportunity after many years of unresolved questions to slip over the border into Libya and actually, with a list of names, go talk to people instead of just getting a story that existed on paper that you could never verify,” he told Public Radio International.
“There was nothing about it that was easy, and there’s nothing about it that I could’ve expected other reporters or even governments to do if they didn’t have real skin in the game as I did.”
He said he could never drop the case because of his personal connection to it.
“I wanted to use the tools of journalism, and I wanted to film the process. I wanted to be transparent. I wanted to come face to face with someone. I wanted them to be seen on camera because I wanted the story — the simple truth of who did what — to be recorded in a way that people couldn’t deny and that would put to rest whatever remaining questions there were.”
It appears his hard work has paid off, even if the official government line doesn’t credit him or his hard work.