[What follows is taken from an article by Dr Jim Swire in today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph:]
It was not until I saw Flora’s body that I was able to say goodbye properly. It had taken several days. Initially, we were told that families were not allowed to see the bodies. I had to pull strings which were available to me as a doctor. At least then I knew she was safe.
How much harder it must be for the families of the 298 killed on MH17. They can only watch in horror at footage of bodies and remains, first lying exposed in the fields, then placed in bags and lined up on the road before being removed to refrigerated trains. Claims that the bodies have been used as “bargaining chips” must add to their suffering. (...)
Disasters such as this lead to international political crises, to investigation and inquiries. But we must not forget that each death is a human tragedy. Everything else—the bureaucracy and the political furore—is minor in comparison to the immediate and wrenching grief of the bereaved. (...)
Denying relatives the opportunity to see those they have lost so suddenly can be psychologically destructive, as I know from Lockerbie. Often, the families just need the desperately sad reassurance that their relatives really are dead.
Even when the bodies have been repatriated, relatives must prepare themselves for further distress. Pan Am arranged for the cremation of Flora’s remains but there was a confusion over the paperwork. To this day, I have no idea whether the ashes I buried on Skye, a place she loved, were hers.
After Lockerbie, there was no support group, no protocol and many mistakes were made. We were kept in the dark by the authorities and treated insensitively by politicians and the media. It took many years of persistence to feel we had achieved any level of justice.
I would advise the families of MH17 victims to form a group, perhaps taking advice from the charity Disaster Action, which was established in 1991 by relatives in the aftermath of Lockerbie and other tragedies. They need to appoint a legal counsel and a spokesman. They must insist on being kept informed at every stage of the investigation.
Some relatives will want justice, others to forget, but some may demand revenge. I will never forget being approached at the Lockerbie trial by another relative who suggested that the answer was “to nuke Tripoli”. This hunger for retribution will stalk some lives in the months and years to come, but it will only damage them.
Incredibly to some, the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi became my friend before he died. I had come to believe firmly that he was innocent of any involvement. It helped my grieving process.
But first, for the traumatised families of the victims of MH17, the bodies must be recovered and returned home. Then the truth must come out. After that, their healing can begin.