Thursday 13 August 2009

Questions remain in Lockerbie case

[What follows is the text of an article on The Guardian website by Oliver Miles, who was the United Kingdom's ambassador in Libya at the time of the severing of diplomatic relations in 1984.]

The leak or tip-off to a journalist that Abd al-Basit al-Megrahi, convicted of responsibility for the Lockerbie atrocity, is to be freed on compassionate grounds may Рunless Scottish ministers lose their nerve Рbring this complex story to its d̩nouement. But there are still many questions to be answered.

The story is complex because it involves several interlocking issues. First, the guilt or innocence of Libya and of Megrahi personally. Next, the Libyan government's acceptance of responsibility for the atrocity on the basis of the decision of a Scottish court, payment of compensation at a colossal rate and attempts to negotiate his release. Third the British government's responsibility for the curious arrangements (a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands) which led to his conviction and for the new Prisoner Transfer Agreement under which he might be returned to Libya. And fourth the Scottish executive's responsibility for prisoners in Scotland and in particular for decisions about release on compassionate grounds.

Intensive negotiations between all these parties have been going on in recent months, largely behind the scenes, and there have been more than rumours to suggest that the Libyan pressure included threats of interference with prospective business interests including those of BP, whose exploration programme in Libya is currently their largest in the world.

The new report comes as a surprise in that it was previously considered that Megrahi's medical condition was not so acute as to justify compassionate release. That may have changed, and if it has I for one would unconditionally support his release. It will be very welcome to the Libyans, but perhaps less so to the British and Scottish authorities. Why? Because if Megrahi were to be released under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement, a precondition is that he should abandon his appeal which has just started, and which even if not successful may well produce considerable embarrassment both in London and in Edinburgh. A Scottish law professor has already gone on the record claiming that it was a disgrace that he was convicted on the evidence presented. But if he is released on compassionate grounds his appeal can continue.

Could the Anglo-Libyan discussions have led to some kind of deal? Libya gets what it wants, and in return offers what? Will Megrahi withdraw his appeal as soon as he returns home? Will the Libyans refrain from embarrassing celebrations at the 40th anniversary of the revolution in September? Will they refrain from asking for their compensation back, a cool $2.7bn?


  1. I was serving in the Royal Air Force at the time of this atrocity. It is now known as the UK's 9,11.

    I was sent to the scene as part of the rescue operation. To this day I still suffer with PTSD from this time. My family also suffers.

    I know that if relatives of victims, rescue workers or anybody else who suffers from this event was diagnosed with a terminal illness, we would not get release from this sentence on compassionate grounds. AND WE HAVEN'T COMMITTED ANY CRIME !!!

    This man was convicted by a British court. Anybody else who works in the legal system knows that it is heavily wieghted in favour of the offender. The British courts are the most difficult in the world in which to secure a convitction.

    If the evidence is flawed then he can go through the appeals process like anybody else. The legal system will protect him as it does with most offenders.

    If he is released on compassionate grounds the people who actually suffered and continue to suffer for his actions will be suffer even more. Typical of the legal people to punish victims not offenders. We remaim the laughing stock of the legal world.

    We all know that to mount a terror attack of this magnitude takes a lot of money and a large team. We only court one. More proof of the difficulties of securing a prsoecution in a British court.


  2. Tomo,

    Being convicted in a British court is meaningless when it comes to trials involving state crime. I know personally of instances where judges have brought in judgments to protect the state.

    Your belief in British justice is naive.

  3. I have added the following comment to Oliver Miles' Guardian article:

    "Oliver Miles is probably right that Mr Megrahi's impending compassionate release is timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the September revolution which brought Colonel Gaddafi to power in Libya.

    "Another important date is 23 September 2009, when Gaddafi is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly, whose new president is Libya's former foreign minister, Ali Treki.

    "In his UNGA speech, Gaddafi is expected to call for a United Nations Inquiry into the death of UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing - see"