Almost a year after his release the Lockerbie bomber remains very much alive, with new suggestions that he could live for up to another 20 years, whilst conflicting reports indicate that he could now be close to death.
Last year, Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill took what looks set to be one of the biggest decisions of his political career –releasing Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi. In doing so, he stipulated that the release was on the basis of compassion as a result of his cancer.
In making his decision, he faced a barrage of criticism both at home and abroad; almost a year later and al-Megrahi remains alive, with new suggestions that he could live for up to another 20 years, whilst conflicting reports indicate that he could now be close to death.
Whichever is correct, it is clear that the medical assessments that formed the basis of the justice secretary’s decision now seem wide of the mark in suggesting the man convicted of the deaths of 243 passengers on Pan Am Flight 103 had just months to live. What is more, it has been reported that al-Mergrahi is now preparing to write and publish his autobiography.
Last August, Mr MacAskill told MSPs:
“Section three of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 gives the Scottish Ministers the power to release prisoners on licence on compassionate grounds. The Act requires that ministers are satisfied that there are compassionate grounds justifying the release of a person serving a sentence of imprisonment.
“Although the Act does not specify what the grounds for compassionate release are, guidance from the Scottish Prison Service, who assess applications, suggests that it may be considered where a prisoner is suffering from a terminal illness and death is likely to occur soon. There are no fixed time limits but life expectancy of less than three months may be considered an appropriate period.”
In light of the latest revelations, the Conservatives have led calls for the Lockerbie bomber’s medical recordsto be released, with the party’s justice spokesman at Holyrood John Lamont saying:
“There are growing suspicions that the SNP decided to release the Lockerbie bomber and then found facts to fit the decision. Their refusal to publish the medical reports only adds fuel to the flames of suspicion
“As well as making all the evidence public, the SNP government must publish full details of the regular reports it is supposed to receive from Libya concerning Mr Megrahi’s health. More and more people are asking: ‘Why was the Lockerbie bomber really set free?'”
Last week at first minister’s questions, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray used Mr MacAskill’s decision to release the bomber to accuse Alex Salmond of siding with criminals rather than victims.
In response, a spokesman for the Scottish Government said:
“Mr al Megrahi has terminal prostate cancer. He was released on compassionate grounds and allowed home to die based on the medical report of the Scottish Prison Service Director of Health and the recommendations of the Parole Board and Prison Governor, all of which has been published by the Scottish Government.”
Last month in a comment piece, the Herald outlined why the truth over the events surrounding the bombing still needed to be known:
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“Many of the relatives of the victims are plagued with doubt about whether justice was done at Camp Zeist. For their sake, and to remove the uncertainty that has clouded the case and damaged the reputation of the Scottish justice system, it is essential that the truth is established.”