Lockerbie release milestone nears

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The Independent Online

Relatives of Lockerbie bombing victims have spoken out ahead of the second anniversary of the early prison release of the only man convicted of the atrocity.

Tomorrow will be two years to the day since Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi was freed from jail in Scotland by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill on compassionate grounds.

Megrahi served nearly eight years of a 27-year sentence after being convicted of killing 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 four days before Christmas in 1988.

He returned to Libya after being released on August 20 2009. Megrahi had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, and the Scottish Government accepted advice that he had about three months to live.

Despite anger from critics of the decision, others hit out at the "annual Lockerbie bomber blood fest".

Some relatives of victims, and other campaigners, believe Megrahi is innocent, or that all legal avenues have not yet been followed through in the case.

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."

Ms Dix, who lives in Woking, Surrey, said too much confusion surrounds the legal process.

She added: "The court found him guilty, but he refused to speak and dropped his appeal. The release left us in limbo."

Of the 270 victims, 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.

"Hopefully the Gaddafi regime will fall and we'll find out more.

"It has certainly put the Scottish Government in a bad light."

Mr Monetti, who said he "absolutely disagreed" with the decision to free Megrahi, said the idea that he can be properly monitored in Libya is a "joke".

Robert Forrester, of the Justice for Megrahi campaign, writing in the Scottish Review, said: "Here we go again. As the date of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi's compassionate release approaches, we enter what has become the annual Lockerbie bomber blood fest."

The campaign group wants an independent inquiry to look again at the conviction.

The only publicly-available document on Megrahi's health is from Dr Andrew Fraser, the Scottish Prison Service director of health and care.

While describing the three-month prognosis as "reasonable", the report stated that no-one "would be willing to say" if Megrahi would live longer.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman John Lamont said yesterday: "Many in Scotland must feel that the Scottish people have been let down by two governments - Alex Salmond's at Holyrood and Gordon Brown's at Westminster.

"The last UK Labour government bent over backwards to get Megrahi set free.

"The suspicion lingers that this was not a decision based on facts, but that facts were found to fit a decision already taken and leaked to the Libyans."

A spokesman for Mr MacAskill accused the Tories of hypocrisy and said: "Scotland's justice system has been dealing with the Lockerbie atrocity for nearly 23 years, and in every regard the due process of Scots law has been followed - in terms of the investigation, prosecution, imprisonment, rejection of the prisoner transfer application and granting of compassionate release.

"The Justice Secretary released Megrahi on compassionate grounds and compassionate grounds alone, based on the rules and regulations of Scots law and the recommendations of the Parole Board for Scotland, the prison governor, and the report of the Scottish Prison Service director of health and care Dr Andrew Fraser - all of which have been published.

"The decision was made following the due process of Scots law, and the fact remains that Megrahi has a terminal illness and is dying of prostate cancer."

Source: PA