British FM confirms Lockerbie 'mistake' in Clinton letter

17th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote to US Secretary Hillary Clinton on Saturday confirming his belief that it had been a "mistake" to release the Lockerbie bomber from jail last year.

Hague repeated remarks by Britain's ambassador to Washington this week that the newly elected government in London had opposed the release last August of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi from a Scottish jail.

"Firstly, I must emphasise my own concern and regret at the continuing anguish that the release has caused the families of Megrahi's victims in the United States, as well as here in the UK," he wrote.

"I would like to make clear that this administration believes that the release of Megrahi was a mistake."

The letter was sent the day after Clinton raised the issue with Hague during a phone call to prepare for next week's visit to the White House by new British Prime Minister David Cameron, who took office in May.

Megrahi, the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a US jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in which 270 people were killed, was freed because he was thought to have just months to live. He is still alive in Libya.

The decision sparked outrage in the United States, where most of the Lockerbie victims were from, and this anger has been reawakened amid claims that oil giant BP had urged his release to protect an oil deal with Libya.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee said it would hold a hearing into events leading up to Megrahi's release by the devolved government in Scotland.

However, Hague insisted: "There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegations of BP involvement in the Scottish Executive's decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009."

The Foreign Office said Hague had told Clinton in their phone call on Friday that the British government would "engage constructively" with Washington and the Senate committee probe into Megrahi's release.

Hague said he had copied his letter to committee chairman Senator John Kerry and had asked British ambassador to Washington Nigel Sheinwald to "stay in close touch" with the panel.

© 2010 AFP

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