Lockerbie jail term too lenient, says law chief

Scotland's most senior law officer yesterday launched an appeal against the minimum 27-year jail sentence imposed on the Libyan agent convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, saying it was "unduly lenient".

The Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, wants to challenge the court's view that 30 years is the maximum punishment which can be imposed before a prisoner has the right to seek parole.

He will argue that Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi deserves to serve a longer sentence than the one he was given, which amounted to little more than a month for each of his 270 victims.

Last month Megrahi, who was convicted in 2001 of blowing up Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish border town in 1988, was told that he should serve at least 27 years for the atrocity. The former Libyan intelligence agent, who is serving his life sentence at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow, would be at least 74 before regaining his freedom.

In passing the 27-year sentence, Lord Sutherland told Megrahi that it "would be difficult to consider a worse case of murder" and indicated that the term might have been the maximum 30 years but for his age and that he was imprisoned in a foreign country.

But the sentence, which was backdated to April 1999 when he was extradited from Libya for the trial at Camp Zeist in Holland, infuriated the families of those killed in the bombing. A number of relatives met the Lord Advocate shortly after the hearing and urged him to appeal against the sentence.

Among those pushing for an appeal was Jack Flynn, 65, and his wife Kathleen, 62, from the United States, whose son John Patrick was killed in the bombing. "We told him loud and clear that we would hope he would appeal that sentence," said Mr Flynn.

British relatives have raised doubts about the conviction of Megrahi and whether others should have been brought to trial. Jane Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora died in the bombing, said she felt Megrahi's current sentence "was enough". She said: "I think there is a lot of doubt over whether Megrahi should have been the one that was targeted. He is going to be in jail until he is an old man as it stands."

Megrahi has maintained his innocence and lodged an appeal with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. His defence team's case is believed to be focusing on claims that evidence was planted.

Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP for Linlithgow, said yesterday he did not support the Lord Advocate's decision to appeal. "I am very unhappy that it looks as though pressure from the American relatives of the victims has caused the Lord Advocate to do this. I fervently believe that Mr Megrahi is innocent," he said.