British PM rebuffs call for Lockerbie inquiry

21st July 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday he did not believe the decision to release the Lockerbie bomber had been influenced by BP and rebuffed US calls for an inquiry into the matter.

As the row risked overshadowing his first White House summit with US President Barack Obama, Cameron said he too had been appalled when the Scottish government freed the cancer-stricken bomber on compassionate grounds.

"I've been absolutely clear about this right from the start. In our meeting, we had what we called a violent agreement, which is that releasing the Lockerbie bomber, a mass murderer of 270 people, the largest act of terrorism ever committed in the United Kingdom was completely wrong," he said.

"He showed his victims no compassion. They were not allowed to die in their beds at home surrounded by their families. So in my view, neither should that callous killer been given that luxury."

Cameron was in opposition when the decision was made to allow Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi to return to Tripoli after serving only eight years of his 27-year sentence.

Megrahi, 58, is still alive despite a doctor's assessment before his release that he had as little as three months to live.

American anger at the decision turned to fury when it was reported recently that BP had lobbied for the bomber's release to safeguard a lucrative oil deal with Libya.

Cameron, though, was dismissive of the BP connection and hoped the publication of more documentation might help convince those who suspect there were more sinister forces at work.

"I haven't seen anything to suggest that the Scottish government were in any way swayed by BP," Cameron said.

"They were swayed by their considerations about the need to release him on compassionate grounds, grounds that I think were completely wrong. I don't think it's right to show compassion to a mass murderer like that."

Shortly afterward, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond insisted BP had not lobbied the Scottish government "in any sense whatsoever" about a possible release.

Megrahi is the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a US Pan Am jumbo jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie that killed 270 people, the majority of them Americans.

Obama said he, like all Americans, had been "surprised, disappointed and angry" at the release and would welcome any additional information providing better insights into the decision.

"But I think that the key thing to understand here is that we've got a British prime minister who shares our anger over the decision, who also objects to how it played out," he added.

In a show of good faith to four US senators who had been calling for a fresh inquiry, and following a request from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Cameron said he would review the documentation.

"I've asked the cabinet secretary today to go back through all of the paperwork and see if more needs to be published about the background to this decision," he said.

"I'm not currently minded to hold an inquiry because I think publishing this information, combined with the inquiry that's already been, will give people the certainty that they need about the circumstances surrounding this decision."

Cameron met later with the four US senators at the Washington residence of British Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald. Afterwards, one of lawmakers said the prime minister had not ruled out a new inquiry.

"We urged the British government to pursue a complete and independent investigation, not simply a document review," Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said in a statement. "The Prime Minister listened to our request and said that a full investigation was not off the table."

Cameron also pledged during the meeting that the British government would cooperate with a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the matter set for next week, the senators said.

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley acknowledged that while the United States wanted Megrahi back in prison, the prospect was unlikely.

"If we had a preference, he'd be back in prison. I'm not sure how realistic a reversal of the Scottish authorities' decision of a year ago is at this point," Crowley told reporters.

The Scottish government minister who took the decision to free Megrahi said Tuesday that he stood by the move.

Kenny MacAskill, justice secretary in Scotland's devolved government, also said he would consider any request by the US Senate committee to give evidence at its hearing.

© 2010 AFP

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