British government played role in Lockerbie bomber release: Dossier

Monday, February 7, 2011

LONDON - Britain’s previous Labour government did “all it could” to facilitate the early release from jail of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people died, official documents released Monday showed.

The papers, published by the Conservative-led government of Prime Minister David Cameron, appear to contradict repeated official statements by the Labour government of ex-prime minister Gordon Brown that the decision to free al-Megrahi, in 2009, was one entirely taken by the Scottish regional government.

Summing up the documentation, Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, said Monday: “Policy was, therefore, progressively developed that HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) should do all it could, while respecting devolved competencies, to facilitate an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish government for Mr Megrahi’s transfer under the PTA (Prisoner Transfer Agreement) or for release on compassionate grounds.”

Cameron asked for a review of the case last year after promising US President Barack Obama that the documents would be made public, as far as this was possible.

Cameron also discussed the Lockerbie affair with Hillary Rodham Clinton, the US Secretary of State, at the international security conference in Munich at the weekend, the government said.

While Brown was prime minister when al-Megrahi was freed, in August 2009, it was in fact his predecessor, Tony Blair, who signed the PTA with Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi in 2007.

Al-Megrahi, who was freed from a Scottish jail on the grounds that he had only “three months to live” - due to prostate cancer - is still alive in Libya.

He has always denied being responsible for the bombing of a PanAm airliner over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, in December, 1988, in which 270 people died in the air and on the ground.

The vast majority of the victims - 189 - were US citizens. Al-Megrahi’s release led to serious tensions with the US. When Cameron’s conservative-liberal coalition came to power in Britain in May, 2010, it said that al-Megrahi’s release was a “mistake”.

Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan secret agent, was sentenced to life by a special Scottish court, which convened in the Netherlands, in 2001. He served eight years of his sentence.

There had in the past been intense speculation that the role of Britain’s national government in the affair was much bigger than ever admitted, and that the deal was closely tied up with British commercial interests, especially an oil exploration contract with BP.

Only last week, confidential US cables passed to Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper by WikiLeaks showed that the Labour government at the time gave legal advice to Libya on how to secure al-Megrahi’s release on health grounds.

Filed under: Terrorism

will not be displayed