[This is the sub-heading over the lead story on the front page of today's Scottish edition of The Times. It does not appear on the newspaper's website. The article reads in part:]
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi will be given a public trial and executed in private by firing squad if caught and convicted of crimes against humanity, Libya's new Justice Minister told The Times yesterday.(...)
Mr [Mohammed] al-Alagi, a former head of Libya's Human Rights Association, complained that British and American politicians were putting unfair pressure on Libya's fledgling government to send the Lockerbie bomber back to Scotland, but promised to do all he could to reveal who was really responsible for Britain's worst terrorist outrage.
[Mr al-Alagi has already stated that Megrahi is innocent.
The first leader in The Times (behind the paywall) contains the following:]
We may never know whether pressure from the Libyan government, who made it repeatedly clear that it wanted al-Megrahi returned, played any part in the decision to grant compassionate release. But the timing of that decision could hardly have been worse, because it allowed the suspicion to fester, while denying the opportunity of allowing Scottish justice to run its course.
An appeal, which would have come before the Scottish courts some time early in 2010, would have examined all the outstanding evidence — of those who claimed that he was innocent on the one hand, and those who had secured his conviction on the other. When, in August 2009, al-Megrahi’s legal team announced unexpectedly that it was dropping his appeal, the idea inevitably grew that this was a condition of his release. The ill-advised visit paid to him in his prison cell by Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Miniser, fuelled that view. Ministers have denied, angrily and repeatedly, that there was any deal. But the doubts linger.
They will be bolstered by a comment made yesterday by Jim Swire, whose daughter died in the tragedy, but who has often repeated his long-held belief that al-Megrahi is innocent. He said, among other things: “This is a man who withdrew his appeal so that he could be allowed to die close to his family, and he deserves to be left in peace for his last days.”
A slip of the tongue? Or a hint that there was indeed a quid pro quo — that dropping the appeal was a condition of his release. Now that Gaddafi himself is on the run, and the transitional government has promised to re-examine the evidence, we may eventually learn more about the circumstances of al-Megrahi’s return, and whether the Libyan leader himself was involved in helping to secure it. In the meantime, we are left with a legacy of doubt, suspicion, rumour and innuendo. The fact that the Lockerbie bomber is now finally dying will do little to dispose of it.