British PM says BP did not sway Lockerbie decision

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British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday he did not believe the Scottish government's decision to release the Lockerbie bomber had been influenced by any lobbying by BP.

Keen to prevent the row overshadowing his maiden US visit, Cameron took a U-turn and agreed to meet US senators angered by reports BP had been pushing for the bomber's release to safeguard a lucrative oil deal with Libya.

"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."

The British leader, who was in opposition when the decision was made, refused to hold a fresh inquiry into the matter but did order a review of the documentation, following a request from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"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, after White House talks with President Barack Obama.

Obama said he, like all Americans, had been "surprised, disappointed and angry" at the release of Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi 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.

Megrahi, 58, 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.

Freed in August after serving only eight years of a 27-year term, cancer-stricken Megrahi is still alive despite a doctor's assessment before his release that he had as little as three months to live.

Cameron said no new investigation was necessary as the Scottish Executive had already held an inquiry, but announced he would release new documents once he had consulted with predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

"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."

Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey wrote a letter to Cameron Monday asking to meet with him to discuss the Lockerbie case.

After initially refusing a meeting, Cameron changed his mind and invited the four to a discussion later Tuesday at the Washington residence of British Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald.

In a letter to the senators, Clinton reiterated the US government's disgust at the decision to release Megrahi and said she had asked British counterpart William Hague to respond directly to Congress on their concerns.

"That al-Megrahi is living out his remaining days outside of Scottish custody is an affront to the victims' families, the memories of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing, and to all of those who worked tirelessly to ensure justice was served," Clinton said.

"We are encouraging the Scottish and British authorities to review again the underlying facts and circumstances leading to the release of al-Megrahi and to consider any new information that has come to light since his release."

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 he stood by the move Tuesday.

Kenny MacAskill, justice secretary in Scotland's devolved government, also said he would consider any request by the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee to give evidence at a hearing on the affair later this month. bur-ag/jkb

© 2010 AFP

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