Lockerbie bomber decision defended

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The Independent Online

The Scottish Government insists it has been "vindicated" two years to the day since the controversial decision to release the Lockerbie bomber from jail on compassionate grounds.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was said to be three months from death when he was freed from Greenock jail on August 20 2009.

The decision by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill sparked international condemnation from some relatives of victims and politicians, including US President Barack Obama - but also attracted high-profile support from figures such as Nelson Mandela.

Now, two years on, with Megrahi still alive in his home country, a spokesman for Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond defended the release.

Senior figures in the American, British and Scottish jurisdictions have all agreed that the decision was taken in good faith, the spokesman said.

"Two years of extensive scrutiny, under three jurisdictions, vindicates the position that the Justice Secretary released al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds and compassionate grounds alone, based on the rules and regulations of Scots law and the reports of the Parole Board for Scotland, the Prison Governor and the Scottish Prison Service director of health and care Dr Andrew Fraser - all of which have been published," he added.

Dr Fraser's report, the only publicly-available document on Megrahi's health, describes the three-month prognosis as "reasonable".

It also states that no-one "would be willing to say" if Megrahi would live longer.

The spokesman continued: "Regardless of people's views, they can have complete confidence that it was taken on the basis of Scots law, and without any consideration of the economic, political and diplomatic factors that the then UK Government based its position on.

"Whether people support or oppose the decision, it was made following the due process of Scots law, we stand by it, and al-Megrahi is dying of terminal prostate cancer."

Meanwhile, conflicting reports about the health of the Lockerbie bomber continue to emerge.

Some have suggested the cancer is spreading, while others say he is being kept alive with cancer drugs unavailable in the UK.

Reports in the past week suggested that the cancer has spread to Megrahi's neck and that his already failing health has taken a turn for the worse.

However, a leading cancer specialist said yesterday that it is likely the convicted killer is being kept alive by pills not available in the UK.

Consultant urologist professor Roger Kirby, founder and director of The Prostate Centre in London, said he believes that abiraterone is likely to be responsible for Megrahi's prolonged life.

He said: "He has long outlived the speculative three-month prognosis and it appears he may continue to do so for a while yet. I strongly suspect that this drug has been central to that."

Relatives of victims of the bombing are still looking for clarity and answers.

Pamela Dix, whose brother Peter was killed in the bombing, said: "It's extremely frustrating that we're here, still talking about this.

"The fact that it's now years later means that the decision was probably made on a spurious basis.

"I'm sure Kenny MacAskill made it in good faith, but why are we having this discussion now? It's just another thing that remains unsolved."

Of the 270 people who died when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up in December 1988, 189 were Americans. US families were among the most vocal critics of the decision, along with President Barack Obama.

Bob Monetti, from New Jersey in the US, who lost his son Rick in the attack, said: "The whole thing was a put-up job to start with. He was released because they (the Government) wanted business with the Libyans."

A spokesman for East Renfrewshire Council, the authority which checks in with Megrahi regularly, said monthly medical updates are still being received and contact was made "very recently".

The spokesman added: "All of our contact is up to date. There has been no breach in the release licence conditions."

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman John Lamont said: "Mr Megrahi murdered 270 people in the skies over Scotland. He showed no compassion to his victims.

"He has admitted his guilt by dropping his appeal. Indeed, the Justice Secretary has made it clear that he believes that Mr Megrahi is guilty.

"Yet he was been allowed to return to Libya to a hero's welcome. That was so fundamentally wrong. The SNP's case for release lies in tatters."

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: "It is a further insult to the victims that he (Mr Salmond) refuses still to publish all the medical evidence the release was based on.

"If the decision was made for humanitarian reasons, he should do the humane thing and apologise for the pain caused to the relatives."

Despite the political criticism, the release appeared to have no negative impact for the SNP in the Scottish Parliament elections in May.

The party, with Mr MacAskill, was returned to power at Holyrood in a landslide victory.