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Al-Megrahi 'pressured into abandoning appeal'

Supporters of the only man convicted of carrying out the Lockerbie bombing accused the Scottish officials today of pressurising him into abandoning his appeal against his conviction and called on the Government to hold a full public inquiry into Britain’s worst terrorist attack.

Lawyers for Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi announced this morning that the former Libyan intelligence officer would no longer pursue his second appeal against his conviction.

Megrahi is currently serving a life sentence for his involvement in Britain’s worst terrorist attack but only has months to live because he is suffering from terminal prostate cancer.

His decision to abandon the appeal will likely bring him even closer to being returned to Libya, either on compassionate grounds because he is dying or under a controversial prisoner exchange treaty signed between Britain and Libya earlier this year which would only allow him to return to Tripoli if he abandoned his appeal.

Speaking to The Independent today, Pamela Dix - whose brother Peter was on board Pan Am flight 103 when it exploded above the skies of Lockerbie in December 1988 - said Megrahi’s decision to abandon the appeal would mean that those relatives of victims who believe the truth about the bombing has yet to be ascertained will be even further from discovering what really happened.

“It’s a massive disappointment,” said Mrs Dix, whose organisation UK Families Flight 103 represents a number of British families that believe the full facts of the bombing have yet to be fully explained. “I’m always a little hesitant to speak for other people but I certainly know that a number of families who lost loved ones and were very keen for the appeal process to reach its full conclusion.”

She added: “The actual appeal itself had a rather narrow focus but we wanted it because we would hopefully find out more about what actually happened and whether Megrahi was innocent or guilty. At the moment only one man has supposedly been found guilty for an act which would have involved a number of people.”

Megrahi has always staunchly maintained his innocence, a view that is shared by a number of British families of those who died in the attack he was convicted of carrying out – a view which is in stark contrast to most American families who are convinced of his guilt. Last year, however, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission gave Megrahi permission to appeal his conviction after a four year review of the evidence against him.

But a statement released by Megrahi’s lawyers today revealed that the 57-year-old had applied to the High Court in Edinburgh on the 12th of August to abandon that appeal after his health took a “significant turn for the worse”.

MSP Christine Grahame, who has met Megrahi in prison on numerous occasions, said she believed the Libyan had been pressured into dropping the appeal.

"I saw Megrahi not so long ago and apart from his number one priority of seeing his family he was absolutely determined to clear his family’s name and prove his innocence,” she said.

“If he had found a way to do both I know he would have chosen that route. That’s why I’m highly surprised by his decision to drop the appeal and why I believe he has been leaned on.”

Mrs Grahame claimed she had seen an email from an official in the Scottish Justice Department warning that senior Scottish officials were exerting undue pressure to have Megrahi drop his appeal.

She added: “We will now absolutely do everything we can to push for a full public inquiry. There are six hundred pages of evidence from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, much of which suggests Megrahi is innocent, which will no longer see the light of day and that is simply not right.”

Sources close to the Megrahi family say he is desperate to return to Triploi to spend the remainder of days with his wife and five children. The decision to abandon his appeal may stem from a hope that doing so could quicken his release. Although the BBC said earlier this week that Scotland’s Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill was about to release the Libyan on “compassionate grounds”, he is also potentially eligible for return to Tripoli under the prisoner exchange scheme as long as the appeal was abandoned or concluded.

In the statement Tony Kelly, Megrahi’s lawyer said: "As the appeal hearing has commenced... leave of the court is required before the appeal can be formally abandoned."

The Libyan’s decision to abandon his appeal has lead to fresh calls for a full independent inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing, a request which has been regularly rebuffed by the Government who have argued that an inquiry might prejudice Megrahi’s appeal.

“The next step we will have to take is to make sure a full inquiry is held if we are to ever find out the truth,” said Mrs Dix. “The ongoing criminal process surrounding Megrahi has always been used by the Government as an excuse not to hold an inquiry, but if that appeal is abandoned it is only right that a full inquiry should be held.”