Monday, 7 February 2011

UK ministers 'wanted Lockerbie bomber released'

[This is the headline over a report published today on the BBC News website. It reads in part:]

The previous UK government did "all it could" to help facilitate the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, a report on the case says.

Sir Gus O'Donnell, the country's most senior civil servant, said there was an "underlying desire" to see Megrahi released before he died.

But his report concluded that it was made clear to Libya that the final decision was up to Scottish ministers.

And there was no evidence of Labour pressure on the Holyrood government.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who set up the investigation, said the release had been "profoundly wrong" but added there was no need for a fresh inquiry.

Labour's Gordon Brown, who was in Downing Street when Megrahi was freed in August 2009, said the decision had been made by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and "no-one else". (...)

The report by Sir Gus, the Cabinet Secretary, said the UK government had had an "underlying desire to see Mr Megrahi released before he died".

It added that, in 2008, the government developed a policy that it "should do all it could, whilst respecting devolved competences, to facilitate an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish government for Mr Megrahi's transfer under the PTA (prisoner transfer agreement) or release on compassionate grounds".

"This action amounted to: Proceeding with ratification of the PTA; explaining to Libya in factual terms the process for application for transfer under a PTA or for compassionate release, and informing the Scottish government that there was no legal barrier to transfer under the PTA," the report said.

But Sir Gus said he had "not seen any evidence" that the UK government had pressured or lobbied the Scottish government - run by the Scottish National Party - for the transfer or release of Megrahi.

He said the information showed UK ministers had changed their position on Megrahi due to commercial considerations, including lobbying by oil firm BP, in Libya.

In a statement to the UK Parliament, David Cameron dismissed claims, investigated by a recent US Congressional inquiry, that Megrahi's release may have been due to pressure by BP on UK ministers.

The prime minister told MPs he did not believe the documents justified calls for a new inquiry, adding: "The key point to me that emerges from reading the paperwork is this: Insufficient consideration was given to the most basic question of all.

"Was it really right for the British government to 'facilitate' an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish government in the case of an individual who was convicted of murdering 270 people, including 43 British citizens and 190 Americans, and 19 other nationalities?

"That is, for me, the biggest lesson of this entire affair."

Mr Cameron added: "For my part, I repeat, I believe it was profoundly wrong. The fact that 18 months later the Lockerbie bomber is today living, at liberty, in Tripoli, only serves to underline that." (...)

[The Scottish Government has today also published a final set of documents relating to the release. The press release describing the documents and containing a link to the website on which they can be read in full can be accessed here.

There is more conspiracy theorising about the circumstances of Megrahi's release in this article in today's edition of the rabidly anti-SNP Daily Record.

How I wish that even a quarter of the journalistic time spent on, and space devoted to, the rights and wrongs of the Megrahi release were spent on and devoted to the rights and wrongs of the Megrahi conviction! A forlorn hope, I know.

I regret to report that my Middelpos internet connection is just as slow and unstable as I remembered. But there are compensations, like sunshine and warmth.]


  1. Robert you could have left the sunshine and warmth bit out. Not nice!

  2. On this piece today the galling part is that once again the real issues get buried. Its all about the release, the release, the release. anyone hear Rifkind in the House today? Vomit-inducing. On about the scandal of the release of the Lockerbie bomber and Labour helping to get him out. Nothing about the evidence to suggest a miscarriage of justice.

    And in the usual places we have people like Joan McAlpine bleating about the SNP have been "vindicated". She has never been willing to talk about the appeal either. Like a lot of other pro-SNP sites.

  3. In an interview tonight with Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, Alex Salmond - speaking from Aberdeen - accused the Westminster Government of "organised hypocrisy" in facilitating the terminally-ill Megrahi's repatriation by advising the Libyans how it could be achieved, yet heavily criticising the SNP Government once it had granted him compassionate release.

    Snow failed to ask the First Minister why he continued to rely on the safety of Megrahi's conviction, when the SCCRC had raised so many doubts about it. This dichotomy, and his unwillingness to countenance a public inquiry into Lockerbie, could be described as Alex Salmond's own "organised hypocrisy".

  4. Yes indeed Patrick. The SNP more than any other Party had what I have termed "clean hands" on Lockerbie. They arrived in power in May 2007, the SCCRC published its report in June 2007 and the road to the second appeal began..........only to be repeatedly delayed until finally, having been told if he didn't drop it he would never go home, Megrahi dropped it while terminally ill.

    To add insult to injury, our "Justice" Minister Mr MacAskill conveniently built in clauses to make the publication of the SCCRC report virtually impossible. Worse still he introduced emergency legislation which undermines everything the SCCRC is meant to stand for. For its findings in any case it examines can basically be kicked into touch. I wonder why he didn't just dissolve the SCCRC itself. He has rendered it utterly powerless.

    And just for good measure both he and Salmond have announced at regular intervals that the original conviction was sound.

    As you say it is a great pity Salmond fails to see his own hypocrisy from start to finish over this matter. I personally will never understand why the SNP did this.

  5. Well, this time I have to agree with Patrick. Not that I'm surprised that Snow (and right now Paxman) isn't mentioning the elephant in the room, but it's still a scandal.

  6. But Rolfe, how long have they ignored, the entire media? It'll be four years in June. Isn't it astonishing? What would possess all of them to ignore something so massive? How could it have happened? It really is unbelievable.

  7. Oh good its Isabel Fraser on NN Scotland. Baker won't get an easy ride

  8. She's roasting him. This is quite fun.

  9. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I'm loving this! She is magnificent.

  10. But Rolfe, how long have they ignored, the entire media? It'll be four years in June. Isn't it astonishing? What would possess all of them to ignore something so massive? How could it have happened? It really is unbelievable.

    I agree. Ian Bell says there's no media conspiracy though. I tend to trust him - it was his articles got me into looking at Lockerbie in the first place.

    I'm just baffled.

  11. He is probably the only decent one left. I wonder how he sits in among modern journalists without taking a machine gun to the lot of them.

  12. After a lenghty FoI paperchase by Private Eye, it was recently revealed that Sir Gus O'Donnell was in receipt of a favour from BP,vidilicet a trip to the opera. Why on earth would BP do that?

  13. "But his report concluded that it was made clear to Libya that the final decision was up to Scottish ministers.

    And there was no evidence of Labour pressure on the Holyrood government."

    Labour left the Scottish ministers with no choice. They quite clearly state (link to follow) that without Labour exempting Megrahi from the PTA, they had no legal choice but to release him.

  14. Lovely article by Simon Hoggart in The Guardian today. It concludes:

    "Angus Robertson, a member of the SNP which actually released Megrahi, said the UK government had been saying one thing and doing another. 'Is this not rank hypocrisy?' As usual, when politicians are caught out, they accuse the other lot of hypocrisy. Often works."