Monday, 21 May 2012

British friend of Megrahi: he deserved better

[This is the headline over an article by George Thomson published today on the LBC 97.3FM website.  It reads as follows:]

Abdelbaset al Megrahi was a good friend of mine.
The last time I saw him was at his house in Tripoli last December. I'm no doctor, but I could see he had only a short time to live.
He lay on his bed in very poor health and, while he was conscious, struggled to speak.
He gave me a ceremonial waistcoat as a gift, a gesture of kindness that was typical of the man.
But the waistcoat wasn't all. Megrahi left me with his dying wish that I help to continue the campaign that consumed him until his final breath - the fight to clear his name.
He asked me to make contact with Dr Jim Swire, the father of a girl who died in the Lockerbie bombing, who believes in Megrahi's innocence.
He wanted us to work together, with like-minded supporters, to try to overturn his conviction. He insisted, as do we, that the whole case against him was based on conjecture and planted evidence.
I gave this innocent man my assurance that I would everything I possibly could to pursue a posthumous pardon.
The Megrahi I saw last December was entirely different from the man I first met in 2003, a couple of years after he'd been convicted and sent to jail in Scotland.
I am a criminal investigator and had joined his defence team as we worked on his appeal.
At that time, Megrahi was barely interested. He was down and, generally, had no hope that he would ever prove his innocence.
That changed, however, as we began to gather the evidence that cast doubt on his conviction. He soon became an interested, demanding client.
He had 24-hour access to a phone in jail, which he'd use to contact the Libyan consulate in Glasgow, that would, in turn, patch him through to any number in the world.
He would call my number on a daily basis, hungry for information. I'm a keen fisherman and soon had to start taking a mobile out on the boat with me to take Megrahi's calls as he became consumed by the effort to clear his name.
The campaign energised him. It gave him a focus behind bars and improved his mood, generally.
Over time, he also began to engage with his surroundings, making the best of the life he had in jail.
One of the conditions of the treaty drawn up before his handover by the Libyans was that he would have access to Arabic TV channels whilst in jail.
That meant that he could watch British football on the television in his cell which, in turn, meant that he was Mr Popular anytime there was a Rangers or Celtic game on TV.
Fellow inmates were able to enjoy live football coverage courtesy of their Libyan neighbour. He was a Rangers supporter, incidentally.
Not that he wasn't tuned into the potential hazards of prison life. He was given a visiting room to himself whenever I, or my colleagues, went to see him.
One day there was the sound of a commotion outside the door. We didn't know what was happening and, quick as a flash, Megrahi jumped out of his seat and stood behind me, for protection.
The panic soon ended, however, when it turned out to be a scuffle between two wardens who had argued over who should close the door to the visiting area.
It was around 2005 that he began to complain of pains in his stomach and of acid. He put it down to a poor prison diet.
Looking back, that was probably the initial symptoms of the prostate cancer that eventually killed him.
The subsequent demise of an old friend saddens me greatly. His conviction and sentence angers me, as it does others who firmly believe in his innocence.
Abdelbaset al Megrahi was a good man who deserved better, much better.

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