Friday, 2 September 2016

I have a burning desire to clear my name

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined The Megrahi dossier: why he was set free that was published in The Herald on this date in 2009:]

The Greenock visit
One question mark that remains relates to Mr MacAskill's decision to visit Megrahi in Greenock Prison. An eight-page document by a senior civil servant in the justice department advises the minister: "Mr Megrahi, as a subject of the transfer request, should be given opportunity to make his own representation on the proposal."

That advice concludes with the recommendation: "The groups and individuals identified should be offered short meetings with you to present their representations."

That Mr MacAskill inferred from this that he should go to meet the prisoner at Greenock is still being challenged by opponents, but the advice appears sufficiently robust to entitle him to say he was acting on advice.

There are then two documents relating to the meeting at HMP Greenock on August 6 - the official minute from the government side and Mr Megrahi's own handwritten note of his presentation to the meeting. (...)

The minute records, in dry official language, the prisoner's insistence that he had been unjustly convicted and his sympathy for the "terrible loss" of the victims' families. The minute adds, as Megrahi told The Herald in Tripoli last week: "He feels there is little prospect that his appeal will be concluded before his death, and that his dreams of returning home cleared no longer exist."

While the minute records Mr MacAskill advising Megrahi that prison transfer could only take place if there were no court proceedings ongoing, there is no specific mention that compassionate release would not require this. However, aides pointed out last night that the meeting was specifically about prisoner transfer, not compassionate release.

The handwritten note from Megrahi states: "I'm a very ill person. The disease that I have is incurable. All the personnel are agreed that I have little chance of living into next year. The last report which I received some weeks ago from consultant reaches the view that I have a short time left. I have a burning desire to clear my name. I think now that I will not witness that ultimate conclusion."

And in words that echoed Mr MacAskill's later reference to a "higher authority", he stated: "As I turn now to face my God, to stand before him, I have nothing to fear." (...)

Holyrood-Westminster relations
The big question for UK ministers arising from documents released yesterday is simply this: Did UK ministers tell the Libyans that Gordon Brown did not want Megrahi to die in a Scottish jail?

According to the minute of a meeting in Glasgow with Libyans on March 12 this year, Abdulati Alobidi [RB: the normal English transliteration of this name is al-Obeidi], minister for Europe, spoke of a visit to Tripoli the previous month by Foreign Minister Bill Rammell at which it was pointed out that if Megrahi died in custody it would have "catastrophic effects" on Libyan-UK relations.

Mr Alobidi was minuted as saying: "Mr Rammell had stated that neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Secretary would want Mr Megrahi to pass away in prison but the decision on transfer lies in the hands of the Scottish Ministers."

That remains a clearer statement of the Prime Minister's opinion than Mr Brown has since been prepared to offer in public.

[RB: The accuracy of Mr al-Obeidi's statement was confirmed by David Miliband in a radio interview. According to a report on The Times website:

"The Foreign Secretary admitted that it was true that Bill Rammell, a Foreign Office minister, had told his Libyan counterpart back in February that the Prime Minister did not want Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi to pass away in Greenock prison."]

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