[This is the headline over a report published today in the Southend Standard, based on material issued by The Press Association. It reads as follows:]
More than half of Scots think there should be a public inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing, according to a new poll.
The survey, which was carried out by Angus Reid Public Opinion for the Scottish Sunday Express newspaper, also revealed that 32% of the 500 respondents believe Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was guilty of bombing Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, while 35% said they did not and 33% were unsure.
The majority of those polled said they agreed with Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision to free Megrahi in 2009 on compassionate grounds, when doctors advised that he had around three months to live after he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. A quarter strongly agreed with the decision - even though he is still alive two years on - and 26% moderately agreed.
The newspaper's poll found that 52% of Scots agreed there should be an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people, while 34% disagreed and 14% were not sure.
Megrahi, who was the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing, was tracked down to his villa in the Libyan capital of Tripoli at the weekend, where he is apparently comatose and near death.
Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the atrocity, has always maintained that Megrahi is innocent. He told the Sunday Express: "This is hugely encouraging. We have the right to know who really murdered our loved one.
"It is terrific that the message is getting out there. The public inquiry is not for the relatives of those that died, it is for the people of Scotland. They deserve and badly need to be told what has been going on."
[This story does not appear to feature on the website of the Scottish Sunday Express. However, I have seen the full tabulated responses to all three questions. On the independent inquiry question, those supporting an inquiry greatly outnumber those opposed in all age groups, all social classes and both genders. On the 'Was he guilty?' question, the highest proportion of 'No' responses came from those aged 55+ and the ABC1 social group.
The story has now been posted on the Scottish Sunday Express website and can be read here. The following are excerpts:]
However, it is the widespread backing for a Public Inquiry – the first time that public opinion has ever been tested on this issue – that is likely to have the most political impact.
The Holyrood Justice Committee is due to consider a petition calling for a probe, backed by figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former MP Tam Dalyell and Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
Dr [Jim] Swire, one of the architects of the petition, said: “This is hugely interesting, valuable and encouraging. It is terrific that the message is getting out there.
“The Public Inquiry is not for the relatives of those that died, it is for the people of Scotland. They deserve and badly need to be told what has been going on.
“Namely, that their justice system has been made use of by another country – mostly America, although Westminster was conniving away on Washington’s behalf – for politically desired ends, turning the spotlight away from Iran and Syria ahead of the Gulf War.”
Professor Robert Black, who designed the unique Lockerbie trial under Scots Law at Camp Zeist in Holland and has protested Megrahi’s innocence ever since, said he was “delighted” by the support for an inquiry.
“This is the first such poll that I am aware of,” he said. “It certainly helps our campaign as there must come a point where the disquiet about the conviction becomes so great that they can’t go on stonewalling.”
The Justice For Megrahi campaign secretary Robert Forrester said the poll could help sway the Justice Committee – which is chaired by MSP Christine Grahame, a long-standing supporter of Megrahi’s innocence.
He said: “We are up against the Scottish Government and the Lord Advocate and it takes such a long time to go even a short distance, so it is very refreshing to see the Scottish public is on our side.”
[Today's edition of the Mail on Sunday contains a long article headlined Secret files: Labour lied over Gaddafi... who warned of a holy war if Megrahi died in Scotland, based on documents found in the British ambassador's residence in Tripoli. These underline something that the WikiLeaks cables had already demonstrated: that the Libyan regime exerted strong pressure on the UK Government to facilitate the repatriation of Abdelbaset Megrahi. There is, as yet, no evidence from Tripoli showing such pressure being applied to the Scottish Government.
Meanwhile, in today's edition of The Observer, columnist Kevin McKenna writes:]
Their [the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament] support for Kenny MacAskill's sinister proposals for a single national police force is just plain immoral for a party that is supposed to be left wing and healthily suspicious of what is effectively a standing army with truncheons. The same could be said for their obtuse and reactionary opposition to the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.
[The opening paragraph of a report (behind the paywall) in today's edition of The Sunday Times headlined Gaddafi threatened ‘holy war’ unless Lockerbie bomber was released reads as follows:]
The British government released Abdelbaset al Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber not on compassionate grounds as they claimed but because Colonel Gaddafi threatened to unleash a ‘holy war’ if he died in prison.
[This is, of course, a perversion of the truth that it is quite disgraceful to find in a supposedly reputable newspaper. Megrahi was released by a minister of the Scottish Government. It has, however, long been well known that the UK Government was keen for Megrahi to be repatriated and that, had they been the ones to have the power to do so, he would have been returned to Tripoli long before he in fact was.
A report just published on The Guardian website, headlined Darling denies Lockerbie bomber was freed due to pressure from Gaddafi, contains the following:]
[Former Labour cabinet minister Alistair] Darling denied a deal was done to secure Megrahi's release. "There is no doubt that from our point of view we wanted to bring Gaddafi in from the cold because at the time we thought that was possible, and there is no doubt that Gaddafi wanted al-Megrahi out," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.
"However, all this hangs on the willingness of the British Labour government doing a deal with the Scottish nationalist government, and anyone who knows anything about Scottish politics knows there is such a visceral dislike between the two the idea there was some kind of collaboration between the two just seems to be nonsense."