Leading article: Lockerbie will not be laid to rest by this release

Al-Megrahi's triumphalist return has caught the Government off-guard

Share
Related Topics

The sight of a man convicted of mass murder being greeted as a hero on his return to his home country is no a doubt a deeply shocking one. But for the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to suggest that Libya's response to the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was somehow unexpected and then to threaten the country with unspecified action if they continue the celebrations simply betrays how far he is from understanding what is going on.

The Libyan government has never accepted the guilt of their former intelligence officer, nor has their public ever believed that his trial and conviction by a Scottish court was anything other than an act of colonial bullying in an effort to find culprits for the downing of the Pan Am flight, guilty or innocent.

Which is why this tragic case remains such a profoundly unsatisfactory affair. As an act of compassion, the decision by the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, to release the Libyan was a humane one, which we have supported. But to pretend that this decision was not riddled with political interests and a degree of consultation, if not collusion, between Edinburgh and London beggars belief.

That is not to make the accusation, which so offended Mr Miliband yesterday, that it was all done to gain oil concessions for British Petroleum. But you would have to be naive not to sense the odour of backroom dealing. The fact was that al-Megrahi's release, however justified on judicial grounds, suited nearly all of the parties concerned. It seemed, when first mooted, to provide a degree of closure that brought credit to the compassion of Scotland's separate legal system, earned brownie points with Libya's government and, above all, removed the threat of an appeal which could unearth who-knows-what in the background of the trial. Nor was it deemed likely to cause too much fuss in the bereaved families, many of whom believed al-Megrahi was a fall guy – a suspicion that remains to this day.

What has taken the authorities, not least in London, by surprise is the extent of reaction from the US, where the families have expressed outrage at the sight of a mass killer walking free to shouts of acclaim in a country named as a rogue regime by previous presidents. For them, and for the government representing them, justice is about retribution not mercy. Once the White House and the Secretary of State made their objections clear, the UK government had to respond in kind.

Yet it is difficult to see what can be done to mend the damage now. There is talk of cancelling a visit by Prince Andrew this September but, considering his close relationship with the regime, this is hardly a serious gesture. The reality is that the man has been released. It was done, for whatever reason, under proper judicial process. You can hope that Gaddafi puts a damper on public displays in his country during Ramadan. But any loud complaint at this stage is mere posturing on London's part.

That is no excuse for drawing a line under the whole affair, however. Even without an appeal from al-Megrahi, the unanswered questions posed by his sole conviction should still be pursued and, one hopes, will be by Jim Swire and the other bereaved relations of the victims. At the same time the relationship between London and Edinburgh and, even more, between the UK and the regime in Libya – so carefully and so obsequiously pursued by this government – should be held up to scrutiny. We haven't heard the last of this story. Nor should we.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: pours or pores, pulverised, ‘in preference for’ and lists

Guy Keleny
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect