UK 'did all it could' to help Libya over bomber: review

7th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's last government did "all it could" to help Libya in appealing to Scotland for the release of the Lockerbie bomber, a review of his release said Monday.

The review, by Britain's top civil servant Gus O'Donnell, said the Labour government feared that "UK interests would be damaged" if Libyan national Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi died in a British jail.

"Policy was therefore progressively developed that HMG (Her Majesty's Government) should do all it could... to facilitate an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish Government," said the conclusions of the report.

O'Donnell added, however, he had seen no evidence that London had pressured Edinburgh to release Megrahi.

The 58-year-old is the only person ever convicted over the 1988 attack in which 270 people, most of them Americans, were killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.

The Scottish authorities, who have power over their own judicial affairs, released Megrahi on compassionate grounds in August 2009 after doctors said he was suffering from terminal cancer and had three months to live.

His release and subsequent hero's return to Tripoli drew a furious response from many, and outrage in the United States has been stoked by the fact that he remains alive almost a year and a half after his release.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the decision to release Megrahi was "profoundly wrong" but added he did not believe the report justified calls for a new inquiry.

He said the review put an end to conspiracy theories and suggestions that Megrahi's release was the result of pressure from oil giant BP, looking to expand operations in Libya.

"This report shows it's not true," he told parliament.

"It was a decision taken by the Scottish government. The wrong decision, but their decision nevertheless."

He said the last government had given "insufficient consideration" to "the most basic question of all": whether it was right to facilitate a Libyan appeal in the case of the biggest mass murder in British history.

"That for me is the biggest lesson of this entire affair. For my part I repeat, I believe it was profoundly wrong."

Monday's report said that London felt under huge pressure over the issue after Libya made it clear it would consider Megrahi's death in Scottish custody "as a death sentence".

Once Megrahi was diagnosed with cancer in September 2008, the British government, led by prime minister Gordon Brown, decided that "UK interests would be damaged if Mr Megrahi were to die in a UK jail," said the report.

The policy was driven by a desire to build on the improvement of ties with Libya in previous years and to avoid harm to British citizens and commercial interests, said O'Donnell.

Efforts were made to help the Libyans in their appeal to Scotland by pushing ahead with a prisoner transfer agreement between London and Tripoli and explaining how to apply for a transfer under the deal or on compassionate grounds, said the report.

The report added, however, it had seen no evidence that London had pressured Scotland to release the convicted bomber and insisted repeatedly the decision was for Scottish authorities alone to take.

"It is clear from the paperwork that at all times the former government was clear that any decision on Mr Megrahi's release or transfer... was one for the Scottish government alone to take," said the report.

That assessment contradicts claims made in a damning December report commissioned by US senators, which claimed the British government strongarmed Scotland into freeing Megrahi.

Cameron asked O'Donnell, whose official title is Cabinet Secretary, in July last year to carry out the review after promising US President Barack Obama that documents on the issue would be made public where possible.

© 2011 AFP

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