Wrong to free Lockerbie man says Clinton

The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton piled more pressure on the Scottish Government today over whether to free the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing by issuing a fresh call to keep him locked up.

Mrs Clinton said it was "absolutely wrong" to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, adding: "We are still encouraging the Scottish authorities not to do so and we hope that they will not."

Megrahi - who has terminal prostate cancer - successfully dropped his appeal against conviction yesterday amid mounting speculation he could be moved to Libya within days on compassionate grounds.

Mrs Clinton has already called the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to say Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland.

After the bomber's appeal hearing, she told US reporters: "I just think it is absolutely wrong to release someone who has been imprisoned based on the evidence about his involvement in such a horrendous crime."

Three appeal judges in Edinburgh heard Megrahi's condition had worsened "very considerably" in recent days.

Defence QC Margaret Scott said: "Up-to-date medical reports from three eminent experts also concurred in the view that he has a very aggressive cancer, that his condition is grave and that the prognosis is extremely limited."

She said the case met the guidelines for compassionate release and "serious" health complications were "certain to arrive" in the very near future for Megrahi, who was now very weak and in distress with severe pain.

"His absolute priority in the little time he has left is to spend it with his family in his homeland," Ms Scott added.

"It's the appellant's belief that instructions to abandon his appeal will assist in the early determination of these applications."

The successful bid to drop the second appeal against conviction removes one potential obstacle to the return of Megrahi - who was convicted in 2001 of the 1988 airliner bombing which killed 270.

Mr MacAskill cannot agree to return him to Libya under a prisoner transfer treaty if any legal proceedings are outstanding.

Yesterday's ruling removes some red tape although a Crown appeal against Megrahi's sentence is still outstanding.

Appeal judge Lord Hamilton said it was of the "utmost importance" Scotland's top law officer, Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini, made an early decision on whether she intended to insist on the appeal.

All 259 people on the Pan Am Flight 103 Boeing 747, and 11 people on the ground, were killed in Britain's biggest terrorist atrocity.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, in Aberdeen for a Cabinet meeting, said he would "absolutely trust" his Justice Secretary to reach the right decision over Megrahi.

Mr Salmond said: "There will be no consideration of international power politics or anything else, it will be taken on the evidence in the interest of justice."

The Rev John Mosey, whose daughter Helga, 19, died in the bombing, said the appeal hearing outcome was "more or less what we expected".

He went on: "It's the worst possible decision for the families because we lose the opportunity to hear evidence that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission thought was worth putting forward."

And he said the big questions about Lockerbie - who did it, and why it was allowed to happen - remained unanswered.

"We are back where we started 21 years ago, asking for a wide-reaching independent inquiry into all aspects of this disaster."