[This is part of the headline over an article on the website of The Telegraph by columnist Alan Cochrane. The following are excerpts:]
What is perhaps not widely understood is that the process behind Megrahi’s release began not with Alex Salmond’s devolved SNP administration in Edinburgh, but with the Labour government in London – or, more specifically, with Tony Blair. It was the then prime minister who brokered a secret prisoner transfer agreement with Gaddafi, as part of a general thawing of relations between the West and this former rogue state. It was linked to suggestions that massive new British, American and European investment in Libya’s vast oil and gas fields would be forthcoming if only the Libyans would mend their ways. The small matter of the Lockerbie bomber was a fly in the ointment.
Blair didn’t inform the authorities in Edinburgh of his deal, even though they were responsible for Megrahi’s conviction and incarceration. Salmond and the independent Scottish law officers only found out about it when they were tipped off by senior prison service officials. Downing Street then compounded the original error by trying to pretend that the deal done with Gaddafi did not concern Megrahi, even though he was the only Libyan held in any British jail.
Eventually, after furious protests from the Scots, Jack Straw, the justice secretary, was forced to issue a statement conceding that any decision on the Lockerbie bomber’s future was indeed a matter for Scottish ministers. But the damage, in terms of relations between the two administrations, had been done. Although the formalities over a prisoner transfer for Megrahi continued, the Scottish authorities, still smarting over Blair’s behaviour, were now firmly against such a move – until it became known that Megrahi was suffering from terminal cancer, and a release on compassionate grounds became an option. Those close to MacAskill reported that he was looking favourably on such a move; given that his instincts on the matter were well known in Downing Street and the Foreign Office, they sat tight, said nothing and waited for the release to take place.
[For an earlier post on this blog regarding the history of the prisoner transfer deal and UK Foreign Office economy with the truth, click here.]