Al-Megrahi release row: What do we know?

The release by Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell of papers related to the freeing of the Lockable bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi has resulted in a furios debate.

The release by Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell of papers related to the freeing of the Lockable bomber has once again resulted in a furious debate over the decision in 2009 by the SNP’s justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi from Greenock Prison on compassionate grounds, and allow him to return to Libya.


At the time, the Mr MacAskill explained:

The decision was mine and mine alone – I stand by it and I live with the consequences.”

The documentation relates to negotiations between Her Majesty’s Government (HMG), the Scottish Executive and the Libyan government as to whether Al-Megrahi should be included within a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA).

In a nutshell, Gus O’Donnell’s summary of events (pages 3 – 18) outlines the following:

• The UK Government did not want the bomber to be included within the PTA, as outlined in June 2007 in a letter from the then Justice Secretary, Lord Falconer to Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond.

• The Libyans were not prepared to accept Al-Megrahi’s exclusion from the PTA, with the Cabinet Secretary explaining (page 5):

“The Libyan view was that because the PTA did not confer on a prisoner an automatic right to transfer, and both States had the right to refuse an individual request, the exclusion clause was not necessary.”

• BP lobbied the UK Government to achieve a swift conclusion to negotiations over the PTA over concerns that a deal between them and the Libyans was at risk otherwise. No mention however was made of the Lockerbie bomber.

• In 2008, the UK Government eventually signed a PTA with Libya, which did not explicitly exclude Al-Megrahi.

Undoubtedly, the most quoted line in the document is that from O’Donnell himself in the summary, in which he concluded (pages 9/10):

“Policy was therefore progressively developed that HMG should do all it could, whilst respecting devolved competences, to facilitate an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish Government for Mr Megrahi’s transfer under the PTA or release on compassionate grounds. Such an approach was understood across all relevant Government Departments.”

There are also interesting revelations about the Scottish government’s attitude to the PTA between the UK and Libya. Writing to the then UK justice secretary, Jack Straw, on December 6th 2007, Mr MacAskill outlined the Scottish government’s opposition to Al-Megrahi being included within the transfer agreement.

He explained (page 10):

“In my earlier letters I made clear our preference is that al Megrahi should be clearly and specifically excluded from the terms of any prisoner transfer agreement with Libya. I am grateful for your agreement that the negotiations with Libya should proceed on that basis.”

The documents published by Mr O’Donnell, however, appear to suggest that at the same time, the UK government was given the impression that the Scottish National Party administration would accept the Lockerbie bomber’s inclusion in a PTA in return for a deal to end slopping-out compensation payments to Scottish prisoners, and provided the UK government took steps to devolve further powers to the Scottish parliament over firearms legislation.

The Cabinet Secretary found (page 7):

“Subsequently it is clear that HMG’s understanding was that a PTA without any exclusions might be acceptable to the Scottish Government if progress could be made with regards to ongoing discussions relating to liabilities for damages under the Scotland Act for breaches of Human Rights (the Somerville judgment), and devolution of firearms legislation.”

Reacting to the Cabinet Secretary’s report, a spokesperson for the Scottish government said:

“In terms of the UK review of documents, the key issue which emerges is how UK Government policy changed in the autumn of 2008 to favour the release of al Megrahi – while maintaining that UK Ministers had no position.

“The Scottish Government is delighted to have the opportunity to release the final documents we can publish, which relate to notes of meetings and conversations with UK Ministers – they confirm that Scottish Ministers followed the due process of Scots Law and practice throughout the entire period, without regard to foreign policy, economic or any other considerations.

“The Scottish Government maintained our opposition to the Prisoner Transfer Agreement and to the UK Government’s reneging of its commitment to secure the exclusion of al Megrahi – regardless of any understanding arrived at by the then UK Government.”

While for Scottish Labour, the party’s justice spokesman in Holyrood, Richard Baker, said:

“Kenny MacAskill and Alex Salmond now have very serious questions to answer about Megrahi’s release.”

20 Responses to “Al-Megrahi release row: What do we know?”

  1. Liam Quinn

    RT: @leftfootfwd Lockerbie bomber release: //bit.ly/dEIZT5

  2. Ed Jacobs

    RT @leftfootfwd: Al-Megrahi release row: What do we know? //bit.ly/hBORbW

  3. mediafrendzee

    Al-Megrahi release row: What do we know? A spin-free analysis //bit.ly/hBORbW v/ @leftfootfwd:

  4. Stewart Lochhead

    RT @leftfootfwd: Al-Megrahi release row: What do we know? //bit.ly/dEIZT5 by @EdJacobs1985

  5. Robert

    Well thats not what the people will say, to get BP a contract Brown did get involved the news about Straw, I’m sorry but the hell with spin Labour needed to get BP the contact and Labour sold out the people, guilty or not guilty has sod all to do with this bomber he was found guilty in court and all this bull shit about letting him go because people felt he should die at home.

    Real bloody New labour.

  6. Bill

    We’ve been caught hook line and sinker, the best approach is to deny everything and blame the Scots. The prols will forget this by Thursday next week.

  7. John Boettcher

    “he documents published by Mr O’Donnell, however, *appear to suggest* that at the same time, the UK government was given the impression that the Scottish National Party administration would accept the Lockerbie bomber’s inclusion in a PTA in return for a deal to end slopping-out compensation payments to Scottish prisoners, and provided the UK government took steps to devolve further powers to the Scottish parliament over firearms legislation.”

    Em, not true. Read the document available here: //www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/107396/0113187.pdf

  8. John Boettcher

    “The documents published by Mr O’Donnell, however, *appear to suggest* that at the same time, the UK government was given the impression that the Scottish National Party administration would accept the Lockerbie bomber’s inclusion in a PTA in return for a deal to end slopping-out compensation payments to Scottish prisoners, and provided the UK government took steps to devolve further powers to the Scottish parliament over firearms legislation.”

    Em, not true. Read the document available here: //www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/107396/0113187.pdf

  9. Anon E Mouse

    Why are we surprised Labour did this?

    Elsewhere on this fine blog we have Kevin Meagher, a special adviser to Labour Northern Ireland secretary, Shaun Woodward, who calls the IRA, (rightly proscribed in 2000 by the last Labour government) terrorist campaign a “Guerilla War”.

    The deputy editor of this blog, Shamik Das even defends this sympathetic description of those murderous terrorists and seems unable to articulate an opinion of his own.

    //www.leftfootforward.org/2011/01/gerry-adams-david-cameron-departure-from-commons/

    With this type of advise why are we surprised when Labour behave like this?

    There was a time that the Labour Party wouldn’t have accepted SPAD’s with those sorts of views but none of this surprises me.

    Bet this post gets pulled as well – the sooner Will Straw gets his ar*e back here the better…

  10. Mr. Sensible

    It is clear that the decision to release Mr Al-Megrahi was the wrong one.

    He was released on compassionate grounds to go home to his family, but the 270 people who died on Pan Am 103 and on the ground were not afforded that.

    I know there is debate among the families of some of the victims as to whether or not he did it, but to date no contrary evidence has emerged and he remains convicted of the bombing.

    Therefore, the decision of the Scottish government was the wrong one, and if the UK government had anything to do with it, that is not something which I, as someone who is principally Labour, am proud of.

  11. Anon E Mouse

    Well said Mr.Sensible.

    I personally don’t think he did it but agree with your paragraph three…

  12. scandalousbill

    I just finished watching News night and the comments of Al-Megrahi doing the Hokey-kokey in Libya were well out of line.

    For me it matters little that he is still alive or if he had died just after or even before his release. What bothers me that arguments regarding a miscarriage of justice were never fully addressed? I personally feel that the evidence that fostered his conviction had serious deficiencies and he could have been granted a retrial. The failure to examine these issues is more significant than Al-Megrahi or his health. The memory of the innocent victims is not honoured if the wrong person, or persons, is convicted and the true perpetrators of this horrible crime escape justice.

  13. Anon E Mouse

    scandalous bill – You are completely missing the point of this article and the item.

    The last Labour government berated the SNP over the matter when all along they were doing all they could to help get Britain’s biggest ever convicted mass murderer released. That is sneaky hypocrisy in anyone’s book.

    Your point is valid regarding his innocence or otherwise but completely irrelevant in this context.

    What’s your opinion of the behaviour of the last Labour government in this matter. I think it’s disgraceful personally but you are commenting on a question that isn’t being asked I feel…

  14. Selohesra

    Its a shame Gordon Brown did not turn up in Parliament to explain/defend his governments record

  15. Ed Jacobs

    John – let me just quote again the Cabinet Secretary:

    “Subsequently it is clear that HMG’s understanding was that a PTA without any exclusions might be acceptable to the Scottish Government if progress could be made with regards to ongoing discussions relating to liabilities for damages under the Scotland Act for breaches of Human Rights (the Somerville judgment), and devolution of firearms legislation.”

  16. scandalousbill

    Anon,

    “The last Labour government berated the SNP over the matter when all along they were doing all they could to help get Britain’s biggest ever convicted mass murderer released. That is sneaky hypocrisy in anyone’s book.”

    Agreed on the hypocrisy point. The BAA/Saudi Arms deal is equally distasteful as BP’s Lobbying in this case. The UK government should face a public and judicial inquiry over the matter in both cases.

    This is not just a problem with the Blair/Brown administrations, but one where incidents with previous governments, including the US administrations. Money talks and Big Money does seem to get its way more often than not. Al-Megrahi and the victims of the bombing have, to my mind, become bystanders to disgusting level of Political Posturing. However, I feel that a plague on your houses type of response misses the mark.

    You will recall that Al-Megrahi withdrew, on advice, his application for appeal and retrial in favour of consideration for release on compassionate grounds. I believe that a retrial would have provided exposures to embarrass the Scottish, UK and |US administrations as well as Libya. Unless it can be shown that Al-Megrahi made Lee Harvey Oswald his life study, the notion of his acting alone is unsustainable. Until the full details of the incident are brought into public scrutiny, the conviction of Al-Megrahi will remain an expedient political sham.

  17. Anon E Mouse

    scandalousbill – Agreed. I’m old enough to remember the Westland helicopters thing – they are all the same…

  18. Daniel Pitt

    RT @leftfootfwd: Al-Megrahi release row: What do we know? //bit.ly/dEIZT5 by @EdJacobs1985

  19. Look Left – Mubarak finally resigns; next stop: democracy | Left Foot Forward

    […] government in return for his release. Labour’s justice spokesman in Holyrood, Richard Baker, said: “Kenny MacAskill and Alex Salmond now have very serious questions to answer about […]

  20. Salmond: We remain committed to Lockerbie enquiry | Left Foot Forward

    […] Al-Megrahi release row: What do we know? – Ed Jacobs, February 7th […]

Leave a Reply