Friday, 23 February 2018

“If it isn’t growing and it isn’t a rock, pick it up”

[What follows is excerpted from the obituary of Sir John Orr in today's edition of The Herald:]

Sir John Orr, who has died aged 72, was Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, at that time the country’s biggest force, from 1996 until 2001; previously, as joint head of Strathclyde’s CID in the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent, he had been the lead officer in the investigation of the Lockerbie bombing. (...)

... he will inevitably be remembered chiefly for his part in co-ordinating what was the single biggest murder investigation in the history of Scottish policing.

The Lockerbie air disaster, on December 21 1988, was not only a huge murder inquiry, but one of the most serious acts of terrorism in the West. Pan Am Flight 103, which had originated in Frankfurt, had then left London bound for New York and ultimately Detroit, when it was torn apart by a bomb over the Borders town. All 243 passengers and 16 crew were killed, as were 11 people on the ground; several houses in the town’s Sherwood Crescent were destroyed.

Orr, who had been the joint head of Strathclyde CID, was brought in to lead the early stages of the investigation. “There is an awful lot of hard work that will have to be done in the course of the next weeks and months,” he told The New York Times.

That was a characteristic piece of understatement. The magnitude of the civil and criminal investigations was almost unprecedented: some 4 million items of wreckage were spread over 2,000 square kilometres; more than 10,000 of them were retrieved and tagged as evidence.

Around a thousand police officers and soldiers were employed in the search, with the instruction: “If it isn’t growing and it isn’t a rock, pick it up.” Some 15,000 witness statements were taken by Dumfries and Galloway Police (Scotland’s smallest force) and the FBI, which assisted in the investigation.

Orr directed the opening stages of the operation, which eventually led to enquiries throughout Europe, focusing particularly on Malta, and to the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in January 2001. In 1990, Orr was appointed deputy chief of Dumfries and Galloway Police.

[RB: An obituary also appears in today's edition of The Times. It contains the following sentences:]

He never commented publicly on the various conspiracy theories, some wilder than others, claiming that the evidence had been rigged to implicate Libya, or that the CIA had controlled the investigation. He remained consistent in his view that this was a Scottish police inquiry and that his responsibility lay with respecting the law rather than heading off rumour and speculation. (...) Although Lockerbie, with its awful scenes of death and destruction, must have left a deep impression, he rarely spoke of it outside the investigation, preferring to see it as a professional assignment which he had fulfilled to the best of his ability. He took pride from the way the operation had been run, regarding the conspiracy theories as “fiction”.


  1. A fine article but, sadly, showing a lack of knowledge of the basic facts. Pan Am Flight 103, did not originate in Frankfurt and then left London bound for New York and ultimately Detroit. The feeder flight from Frankfurt to London was an Airbus. Passengers and baggage due for New York were transferred at Heath Row into the fated 747 Jumbo along with the new passengers from the UK - including my 19 year old daughter, Helga.

  2. I have some very strong suspicions regarding Mr Orr's role in the misinterpretation of the baggage evidence. Now, I believe you can't defame the dead. I believe, however, that I should probably wait for a decent interval before I begin that process.