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

7th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's former government did "all it could" to help Libya in its appeals 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 Scottish 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 report's conclusions.

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

Megrahi, 58, 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 told parliament Monday that 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," Cameron said.

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

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said the report laid bare the hypocrisy of the Labour party, which he said had attacked his Scottish National Party over its decision to release Megrahi despite having helped Libya itself.

"It seems to me the greatest example of organised political hypocrisy that I've ever seen," he told BBC television.

Gordon Brown, Labour prime minister when Megrahi was released, said the report made clear he had recognised that releasing Megrahi was not "a British government decision but, by law, a Scottish ministerial decision."

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 decided that "UK interests would be damaged if Mr Megrahi were to die in a UK jail," said the report.

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 that the Scottish authorities were responsible for the decision.

"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.

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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