Sunday, 13 August 2017

UK and US Lockerbie relatives’ views diverge on Megrahi release

[What follows is the text of a report published in The Guardian on this date in 2009:]

Preparations are under way to free the Libyan man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing from prison next week, after doctors said his terminal prostate cancer was in its final stages.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, sentenced to a minimum life term of 25 years in 2001 for killing 270 people in the bombing, is expected to be released on compassionate grounds in time to return home for the start of the festival of Ramadan next week.

It was reported last night that the Scottish justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, told the Libyan government to make preparations for Megrahi's imminent release and arrange his flight home.

MacAskill, who has the final say over whether Megrahi should be transferred or released, visited the Libyan last week in Greenock prison, near Glasgow.

The Scottish parole board has also been asked for its views on granting compassionate early release to the former Libyan agent.

Scottish government officials insisted last night that no decision had been made to release Megrahi, either to send him home on compassionate grounds or to grant a separate Libyan request for him to continue his sentence in Libya.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "We can confirm that no decision has been made on applications under the prisoner transfer agreement or compassionate early release by Mr Al Megrahi.

"Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill is still considering all the representations in both cases and hopes to make a decision this month."

Megrahi's release is being resisted by US relatives of some of the 270 people killed in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on 21 December 1988.

American Susan Cohen, whose only child, 20-year-old Theodora, was one of 35 students from Syracuse University in New York on the flight, said any suggestion that Megrahi should be freed on compassionate grounds was "vile".

Speaking from her home in New Jersey, she said: "Any letting out of Megrahi would be a disgrace. It makes me sick, and if there is a compassionate release then I think that is vile.

"It just shows that the power of oil money counts for more than justice. There have been so many attempts to let him off. It has to do with money and power and giving [Libyan ruler Colonel Muammar] Gaddafi what he wants. My feelings, as a victim, apparently count for nothing."

She added: "This is just horrible. Compassion for him? How about compassion for my beautiful daughter? She deserves compassion not a mass murderer."

However, many British families believe Megrahi is innocent. The Libyan is part-way through an appeal against his 2001 conviction, at a trial held in the Netherlands heard under Scottish law. MacAskill cannot grant him a transfer while his appeal against his conviction goes through the courts. However if Megrahi were granted release on compassionate grounds he would not have to drop his appeal for this to be granted.

Pamela Dix, from UK Families Flight 103, said there had been a "lack of justice" for those killed in the tragedy.

Ms Dix, whose brother Peter was killed in the atrocity, told BBC2's Newsnight she was "baffled" by much of the evidence in the trial that led to Megrahi's conviction.

Asked whether his release would be a coup for Gaddafi on the 40th anniversary of his rise to power, she said: "That may well be the case. I'm not really in a position to judge the political situation in Libya."

Dix, said last night it was still far from clear whether Megrahi was innocent or guilty since the trial had left so many unanswered questions.

"Almost 21 years after the Lockerbie bombing, I would expect to know who did it, why they did it and how they did it. Instead, we're left in situation of really knowing very little about what happened."

Dr Jim Swire, who lost his 23-year-old daughter Flora, said it would be to Scotland's credit if the Libyan was released. "I am someone who does not believe he is guilty," he said. "The sooner he is back with his family the better.

"On reasonable human grounds it is the right thing to do and if it's true that he is to be returned on compassionate grounds then that would be more to Scotland's credit than returning him under the prisoner transfer agreement.

"It would mean that he can go to his family who he adores and live the last of his days on this planet with them."

Martin Cadman, who lost his son Bill, aged 32, in the disaster, concurred.

"I hope it is true as it's something we've been wanting for a long time," he said.

"I think he is innocent and even if he were not innocent I still think it's certainly the right thing to do on compassionate grounds."

No comments:

Post a Comment