Mistake to free Lockerbie bomber: British ambassador

15th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The British government believes that the decision by Scotland to free the Lockerbie bomber was a mistake, London's envoy to the United States said Thursday.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi is the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a US Pan Am jumbo jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, which left 270 people dead.

"The new British government is clear that Megrahi's release was a mistake," ambassador Nigel Sheinwald said, stressing that under the country's laws, power over justice issues have been devolved to Scotland.

"The British government deeply regrets the continuing anguish that his release on compassionate grounds has caused the families of Megrahi's victims in the UK as well as in the US."

Megrahi was released from jail in Scottish prison in August 2009 on compassionate grounds because he was said to be suffering from terminal cancer and had only three months to live. Reports have now emerged that he could live at least another 10 years.

The ambassador said Prime Minister David Cameron, who took over at Downing Street in May, reiterated his opposition to the release, which was made by the Scottish authorities.

"The prime minister at the time said that he believed the decision to release Megrahi was wrong, and that he understood the concerns that had been raised about it," a Downing Street statement released by the ambassador said.

"Whilst we disagreed with the decision to release Megrahi, we have to respect the independence of the process. The inquiry by the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament concluded in February that the Scottish Executive took this decision in good faith, on the basis of the medical evidence available to them at the time, and due process was followed."

Moreover, the statement said that Megrahi cannot be returned to prison.

"We have to accept that the release licence does not provide a mechanism for a person who has been released on compassionate grounds to be returned to prison if they have survived for longer than the period diagnosed by the relevant medical authorities," the statement said.

On Tuesday, four US senators also called for an inquiry into allegations that British energy giant BP lobbied the British government to free Megrahi in order to protect a lucrative oil deal with Libya.

But the British statement said there was no deal to release the prisoner.

"Claims in the press that Megrahi was released because of an oil deal involving BP, and that the medical evidence used by the Scottish Executive supporting his release was paid for by the Libyan government, are not true," the statement said.

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters during his daily press briefing that the United States has always viewed the release as a mistake.

"We accepted at face value what Scottish authorities told us, that this was a humanitarian decision that they made based on the medical information that was available to them," Crowley said.

"We said categorically that this was a mistake and that is still our view today."

© 2010 AFP

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