The Government admitted last night that the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, on compassionate grounds was "a mistake". Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the UK's ambassador in Washington, made the admission in a statement issued after four US senators demanded an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the release.
The public condemnation of the ruling by the Scottish Government follows a decision by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to look into claims by a group of Democrat senators that BP lobbied for Megrahi's release to help it win oil contracts in Libya.
BP acknowledged that it pressed the government for a prisoner-transfer agreement with the Gaddafi regime but insisted that it had made no representations about al-Megrahi's release. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a hearing on 29 July into his release, and will ask officials of BP Plc to testify.
Megrahi, who was convicted of the 1988 bombing of a jumbo jet over Lockerbie causing 270 deaths, was freed last August on the orders of the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, on the grounds that he was terminally ill and likely to die within three months. Almost 11 months later, the Libyan remains alive and at liberty in his homeland. His release provoked outrage in the UK and the US, where most of the victims came from.
Sir Nigel said in the statement released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: "The new British Government is clear that Megrahi's release was a mistake. The British Government deeply regrets the continuing anguish that his release on compassionate grounds has caused the families of Megrahi's victims in the UK as well as in the US.
"However under UK law, where Scottish justice issues are devolved to Scotland, it fell solely to the Scottish Executive to consider Megrahi's case. Under Scottish law, Megrahi was entitled to be considered for release on compassionate grounds.
"Whilst we disagreed with the decision to release Megrahi, we have to respect the independence of the process."
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