Gaddafi 'threatened Britain over Lockerbie bomber'

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The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi threatened and bullied British politicians and bureaucrats to release the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, according to the latest WikiLeaks revelations.

The British government's fears that Libya would take "harsh and immediate" action against UK interests if Megrahi died in a Scottish prison were revealed last night in secret US embassy cables which show London's full support for his early release. Colonel Gaddafi made explicit and "thuggish" threats to halt all trade deals with Britain and harass embassy staff, the cables show.

At the same time "treats" were offered by Libya to the Scottish devolved administration if it agreed to let him go, though the cable says they were turned down.

A US diplomat at the American embassy in London, Richard LeBaron, wrote a cable on the situation to Washington in October 2008. He said: "The Libyans have told HMG [Her Majesty's Government] flat out that there will be 'enormous repercussions' for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship if Megrahi's early release is not handled properly."

The Megrahi cables may explain why he was released in August 2009, supposedly because he was on the brink of death from prostate cancer.

The decision angered the Americans and more than a year on Megrahi is still alive.

Details of the saga come in the latest batch of leaked US dispatches which also detail Colonel Gaddafi's eccentricities, including phobias about flying over water and staying above ground floor level.

UK ministers, both Labour and Tory, had attempted to distance London from the release, insisting it was purely a Scottish decision. The cables reveal how the Scottish Nationalist First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, was edged into taking the political heat for releasing Megrahi.

The message US diplomats received from the Justice Secretary Jack Straw was that although Megrahi might survive up to five years, Mr Salmond and his SNP, were nonetheless inclined to release him.

The American diplomats were worried "Salmond and the SNP will look for opportunities to exploit the Megrahi case for their own advantage". But when the Scottish Justice Minister finally announced a "compassionate release" the following August, the US ambassador said the Scots had got out of their depth.