[The above is the headline over the main article on the release of Abdelbaset Megrahi in The Herald. The following are excerpts.]
[O]n even the most controversial aspect of the process, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's visit to Greenock Prison, there appeared to be no real hostages to fortune, while minutes and reports of the prison governor, the Parole Board, the police and medical examiners, as well as correspondence with the Westminster Government and the Libyans, appeared to leave Mr MacAskill unscathed by the process.
And while the Scottish Government appears to have emerged as having at least followed due process, the real question marks remain over the US Government for its refusal to sanction release of material yesterday and the UK Government for continuing to say little. (...)
The Greenock visit
One question mark that remains relates to Mr MacAskill's decision to visit Megrahi in Greenock Prison. An eight-page document by a senior civil servant in the justice department advises the minister: "Mr Megrahi, as a subject of the transfer request, should be given opportunity to make his own representation on the proposal."
That advice concludes with the recommendation: "The groups and individuals identified should be offered short meetings with you to present their representations."
That Mr MacAskill inferred from this that he should go to meet the prisoner at Greenock is still being challenged by opponents, but the advice appears sufficiently robust to entitle him to say he was acting on advice.
There are then two documents relating to the meeting at HMP Greenock on August 6 - the official minute from the government side and Mr Megrahi's own handwritten note of his presentation to the meeting. (...)
The minute records, in dry official language, the prisoner's insistence that he had been unjustly convicted and his sympathy for the "terrible loss" of the victims' families. The minute adds, as Megrahi told The Herald in Tripoli last week: "He feels there is little prospect that his appeal will be concluded before his death, and that his dreams of returning home cleared no longer exist."
While the minute records Mr MacAskill advising Megrahi that prison transfer could only take place if there were no court proceedings ongoing, there is no specific mention that compassionate release would not require this. However, aides pointed out last night that the meeting was specifically about prisoner transfer, not compassionate release.
The handwritten note from Megrahi states: "I'm a very ill person. The disease that I have is incurable. All the personnel are agreed that I have little chance of living into next year. The last report which I received some weeks ago from consultant reaches the view that I have a short time left. I have a burning desire to clear my name. I think now that I will not witness that ultimate conclusion."
And in words that echoed Mr MacAskill's later reference to a "higher authority", he stated: "As I turn now to face my God, to stand before him, I have nothing to fear."
The prison reports
The release of Megrahi almost a fortnight ago was accompanied by part of a section of official prison paperwork, involving the report by Dr Andrew Fraser, the Scottish Prison Service director of health and care.
But yesterday most of the rest of that document was released and it fully backs Mr MacAskill's version of events.
Most emphatically, the document requires Prison Governor Malcolm McLennan to answer a straight question: "Do you consider that the prisoner should be released early? YES.
"Please state your reasons: The prognosis for Mr Megrahi is extremely bleak. Clinical advice would confirm that his death is likely to occur within a very short period. At present he is visibly displaying signs of ageing and pain during normal daily routine.
"He regularly refers to himself as a dying man and his mood can be described at times as extremely low. Release of Mr Megrahi will offer him and his family the opportunity to spend his remaining time in his country. This will mean he will have access to his close family at a time when his health is deteriorating." (...)
The police advice
There was much controversy over the course of last week over what advice had been received from Strathclyde Police about the possibility of releasing Megrahi to live in the family house in Newton Mearns, as had been pushed for by Conservatives.
Among yesterday's documents was a minute of a discussion between justice department civil servants and Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson on Friday, August 14, six days before the decision was announced and the day on which the final pieces of expert advice were received.
Assuming Megrahi would be deemed to be a "protected person," that note states: "Bluntly: the implication would be of extreme significance to the police force," and adding: "Simply to remain in house, with no movement or family staying (basic level) would require a total of 48 officers to sustain close protection. Cost of maintaining this level of protection would be around £100,000 per week.
"The police numbers and cost would be ramped up for trips to hospital requiring convoys, and would be higher still if his extended family stayed at the house where, the minute adds: "Children in particular could pose a kidnap threat." (...)
The big question for UK ministers arising from documents released yesterday is simply this: Did UK ministers tell the Libyans that Gordon Brown did not want Megrahi to die in a Scottish jail?
According to the minute of a meeting in Glasgow with Libyans on March 12 this year, Abdulati Alobidi [RB: the normal English transliteration of this name is al-Obeidi], minister for Europe, spoke of a visit to Tripoli the previous month by Foreign Minister Bill Rammell at which it was pointed out that if Megrahi died in custody it would have "catastrophic effects" on Libyan-UK relations.
Mr Alobidi was minuted as saying: "Mr Rammell had stated that neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Secretary would want Mr Megrahi to pass away in prison but the decision on transfer lies in the hands of the Scottish Ministers."
That remains a clearer statement of the Prime Minister's opinion than Mr Brown has since been prepared to offer in public.
[The accuracy of Mr al-Obeidi's statement has now been confirmed by David Miliband in a radio interview. According to a report on The Times website:
"The Foreign Secretary admitted that it was true that Bill Rammell, a Foreign Office minister, had told his Libyan counterpart back in February that the Prime Minister did not want Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi to pass away in Greenock prison."]
One area where no further detailed information has been released is in terms of medical evidence.
The main report remains that of Dr Andrew Fraser, director of health and care at the Scottish Prison Service, who summarised the views of four Scottish consultants directly involved in the case, plus the prison doctor.
His report, released on the day Mr MacAskill announced the Megrahi decision, attracted ferocious criticism from Labour's Dr Richard Simpson, who insisted that a second opinion should have been sought from another cancer consultant on whether Megrahi definitely had less than three months to live.
Dr Fraser's original report had attached to it, in a sealed envelope, the relevant medical reports on which he had based his opinion and there was pressure from critics for these to be released.
But the government refused to bow to that pressure, insisting that these detailed medical reports remain private.
There are, however, scattered across other documents released yesterday, other references to Megrahi's condition, including one, dated March 12, which made clear that by then the prisoner was already "receiving treatment and visits from a palliative care specialist", adding: "A consultant oncologist monitors Mr Megrahi's condition and he is also receiving support from a nurse who is trained in counselling."
Palliative care and a nurse trained in counselling are strong indications that by then he was being treated as terminally ill.
[An editorial in the same newspaper contains the following paragraphs:]
Justice Secretary Jack Straw emerges from all this little better. Having sought to exclude Megrahi from the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, he then performed a U-turn on the basis of "the overwhelming interests" of the United Kingdom. The strict answer to the question "deal or no deal?" may be "no deal" but there now can be little doubt that the Labour government allowed the man convicted of Britain's worst mass murder to become a pawn in the much desired rapprochement with the Gaddafi regime. The U-turn coincided uncomfortably with a major oil exploration deal for BP.
It was always unlikely that there was any sort of deal between the Scottish and Westminster Governments on this case, and the correspondence supports the claims that proper procedures were followed. And while First Minister Alex Salmond's letters betray a distasteful and inappropriate point-scoring approach, it is hard to fault his Justice Secretary. Mr MacAskill's visit to Megrahi's cell was, frankly, a faux pas but his painstaking consultations with all the relevant authorities, as well as victims' relatives, do him credit. And, given that all the official advice pointed one way, release on compassionate grounds still seems the right and logical decision, despite the repulsive hero's welcome Megrahi received in Tripoli.
Pursuing the political minutiae of this case any further would be futile. However, Lockerbie is not history, as Colonel Gaddafi's son claimed last week. For those who lost loved ones, it remains a gaping wound and an unexplained mystery. Stabilising relations with Libya and allowing a dying man to return to his family must not come at the cost of finding out what happened on the night of December 21, 1988, over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
[The principal article on the subject in The Times is well worth reading. As far as I can discover it is the only media article that mentions the letter of 24 August 1998 which gives the lie to the UK Foreign Office assertion that no "definitive commitment" had been given that anyone convicted would serve his whole sentence in Britain.]