Monday, 26 July 2010

US may release Lockerbie files

[This is the headline over a report in The Herald by UK Political Editor Michael Settle. It reads in part:]

The US Government is deciding whether to release all of its Lockerbie files, after Alex Salmond called for full disclosure – including details of the contacts between the UK Government and BP.

With a Senate hearing just four days away, the focus is beginning to fall on the exchanges between Washington, Edinburgh and London in the run-up to the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

Louis Susman, the American ambassador to Britain, stressed the US Government is examining whether its correspondence over Megrahi could be released. “We will come up with a decision later on in relation to the hearing,” he said.

Salmond, meanwhile, noted the previous UK Government’s exchanges with BP were “more extensive than anyone had hitherto thought”. The First Minister was referring to a seven-page letter sent at the weekend to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary, confirming BP had met the former Labour Government five times in October and November 2007 over fears that disputes about a prisoner transfer agreement could damage its oil exploration contracts with Libya.

However, Hague emphasised this was a “perfectly normal and legitimate practice for a British company”, and said there was no evidence to corroborate the allegation BP was involved in Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

In the autumn of 2007, Jack Straw, the former UK Justice Secretary, had at least two telephone calls from Sir Mark Allen, a former MI6 agent and a BP consultant. It has been suggested the oil giant, which a few months earlier had signed the “deal in the desert” with Tripoli, worth almost £600 million, was concerned that any delay in the prisoner transfer agreement between Libya and the UK could damage its commercial interests. (...)

Salmond said: “Just as I would say it would be helpful for the US to publish all the correspondence, the present Prime Minister is right in saying he is going to publish all that correspondence as well. When all that is published, the position of the Scottish Government will be vindicated.

“We’ve acted throughout with total integrity.” (...)

Elsewhere, a leaked memo has shown that while the US Government did not want Megrahi released, it made clear that compassionate grounds were “far preferable” to his transfer to a Libyan jail.

This seems to fly in the face of the statement last week by Barack Obama that America had been “surprised, disappointed and angry” about the release.

Susman said: “We had a mutual understanding with the British Government that if he was tried and convicted he would serve his entire sentence in Scotland.

“The fact [MacAskill] made a decision on compassionate grounds to release him was something we were not in favour of.”


  1. I disagree with Mr Salmond that with the publication of these papers the position of the Scottish Government will be vindicated.

    It will still not explain why he feels entitled to declare the original verdict sound, nor does it explain his Justice Minister's similar declaration on the day of the release. It doesn't explain why the appeal was dropped or exactly what Megrahi was told ahead of dropping the appeal. It has been suggested elsewhere that Megrahi may have been confused. He had a lawyer didn't he?

  2. Kenny MacAskill has said several times that he "could not look behind the appeal". I think that means he couldn't in law take into consideration what the result of the appeal might have been. Thus, from his point of view, that means accepting the status quo, that is that the conviction stands.

    That's all very well, but from the point of view of the layman, this constant harping on about him being guilty without a doubt and so on, does appear to be "looking behind the appeal" and assuming it would have been unsuccessful.

    He should give it up.

  3. Oh yes, and I'm totally confused about Megrahi's lawyers. There are quite a few suggestions that they haven't always done as good a job for him as they might have done, in particular that the "special defence of incrimination" was dropped at Zeist, and that the first appeal was mishandled by declining to submit that a reasonable jury would not have reached that verdict based on that evidence.

    So I do wonder, sometimes.

  4. "However, Hague emphasised this was a “perfectly normal and legitimate practice for a British company”, and said there was no evidence to corroborate the allegation BP was involved in Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds."

    I don't know how Hague can say this was "normal" given the identity of the prisoner at the centre of these talks with the last Labour Government. It was, at best inappropriate and at worst, deeply shocking. But it DOES prove that Labour were indeed trying to do deals.

    I take your point Rolfe about the original verdict having to stand after the dropping of the appeal but McAskill had no need to add his own view, as he did during his speech, that the verdict was sound and that the Scottish Judiciary was the bees knees. As I've said before, the appeal was gone certainly but the original decision by the SCCRC to refer the case to the Court of Appeal was still on record along with their view that a miscarriage of justice could have occurred.

    I agree with you about Megrahi's lawyers. Beggars belief that there could have been any "confusion" over PTA and Compassionate Release and the status of the appeal in either scenario. Those of us with an interest in the case knew the difference, why would he have any confusion?

  5. Another thought however: isn't it cringe-worthy that there was Blair trying to get this PTA thing set up and he didn't even realise that even if it was put in place the terms of Megrahi's sentence meant he couldn't serve out his sentence anywhere but the UK? Not only that but Blair's own Justice guy couldn't be the one to set up the transfer because the authority to do that was in Scotland.

    The other thing is, and this is hypothetical I know, but let's imagine there had been a Labour administration at Holyrood. Are Gray's claims that he would never have released Megrahi genuine or would he have done what he was told by Westminster?

  6. Is the Pope a Catholic?

  7. 25 marks.

    Write on only one side of the paper.

  8. To expand a little on my last comment.

    Tony Blair went into the Deal in the Desert before the 2007 Scottish election, and obviously expected that McConnell would still be FM afterwards. He quite clearly had no intention of honouring any deal with the Americans about Megrahi's sentence, because he (or the UK government anyway) denied there was any such deal.

    He quite obviously expected that when the deal was done, he just had to tell McConnell what to do, and it would happen. So he didn't even bother mentioning any of the hypothetical complications.

    Then on 4th May 2007, the complications became a lot less hypothetical.