Lockerbie prisoner awaits news on Libya return

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The Independent Online

A decision is expected in the near future on whether the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing will be sent back to his home country after he met the Scottish Justice Secretary in prison.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, who is suffering from advanced terminal prostate cancer, has applied for compassionate release while the Libyan government has requested that he is moved to their custody under a recent prisoner transfer agreement with the UK.

Both Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and Al Megrahi’s lawyer Tony Kelly refused to make any comments following the one hour meeting at Greenock prison. However, according to legal and diplomatic sources, there is domestic and international pressure for a ruling on the matter.

Mr MacAskill cannot grant Al Megrahi a transfer while his appeal against his conviction and life sentence for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988, which left 270 people dead, goes through the courts.

However, the Justice Secretary can still consider the application from Libya if he is returned there on compassionate grounds.

Mr MacAskill has said that political and economic factors will not influence his decision. He has spoken to the US Attorney General and the British and American families of the Lockerbie bomb victims.

Al Megrahi, who was convicted over the bombing under highly controversial circumstances, granted the right to a fresh appeal last October by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, after a three year review, amid growing concern that he may have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

However, the appeal has been delayed at least until the Autumn after one of the judges sitting on the case had to withdraw to undergo heart surgery and the prisoner’s rapidly deteriorating condition meant that he may not be able to survive for much longer.

MSP Christine Grahame who has already met al Megrahi in jail, maintains that there had been a miscarriage of justice, and he should be given compassionate release.

Ms Grahame, SNP member for South of Scotland, added: "The trouble with a prisoner transfer is it will never be resolved through the Scottish courts. The appeal must proceed, and justice be done and seen to be done. I think it's appropriate that when someone's considering what's to happen to someone who's terminally ill and in prison that all aspects are examined."

Some of the bereaved, including Dr Jim Swire whose daugthter Flora was among those who died, have backed moves to free Al Megrahi. Opposition MSP’s, however, were critical of an early release.

John Lamont MSP, Conservative community safety spokesman, said: "Mr Al Megrahi was convicted of a heinous crime.

"For the families of the victims and the people of Lockerbie it is essential that justice is not only delivered, but is seen to be delivered as well. Unless we have compelling medical evidence suggesting release on the grounds of compassion is considered, justice requires that the sentence imposed is the sentence served, subject of course to Mr Al Megrahi's ongoing appeal."

Labour's justice spokesman, Richard Baker, questioned Mr MacAskill's decision to meet Al Megrahi.

He said: "The decision of Kenny MacAskill to meet Megrahi sets a dangerous precedent. Does every convicted murderer get a chance to meet the Justice Minister if they fall ill?

"Megrahi's appeal is ongoing and Mr MacAskill should not be meeting this man The decision to repatriate Megrahi is one for Mr MacAskill and should be taken on the facts of the case alone. Meeting Megrahi will not help that process."

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Robert Brown said: "The Justice Secretary is setting a ridiculous and unworkable precedent. Is he now going to visit every murderer convicted under Scots law? What on earth does he expect to find out from this visit that he doesn't know already? Kenny MacAskill needs to consider this decision in a dispassionate manner, rather than getting caught up in the media hype that surrounds this case."