Nigel Morris: Why the story refuses to go away

Analysis: Fall-out from the release continues to engulf the Government
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The Independent Online

As ministers remind us, the decision to free Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was taken by the Scottish National Party in Edinburgh. But fall-out from the release continues to engulf the British Government.

Gordon Brown cannot rue bad luck or rail against Tripoli for raising the diplomatic temperature. The blame for the damage lies at home: the Government's reaction to the Lockerbie row has been characterised by silence, confusion and panic.

It took 13 days for the Prime Minister to break his silence over the wisdom of Megrahi's release. Even then his comments were ambiguous: when he said he "respected" the decision to free the bomber, he appeared to endorse it without quite saying so.

The Government released a mountain of documents to prove it had no involvement in the release. But the paperwork showed Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, had changed his mind over whether Megrahi could be sent home – and that keeping Libya sweet was a factor in the switch.

Correspondence published by the Scottish Executive revealed that the minister Bill Rammell had reassured Libya that Mr Brown did not want Megrahi to die on British soil. The disclosure caught Downing Street by surprise and it took hours for Mr Rammell to explain his remarks.

Mr Straw undermined his leader's assertion there had been "no deal on oil" during negotiations over Megrahi, confirming trade had been a factor in the decision to include the bomber in a prisoner transfer deal.