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

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

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

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?