Britain advised Gadaffi on how Lockerbie man could be freed
Published 01/02/2011 | 05:00
BRITISH ministers secretly advised Muammar Gadaffi's Libyan regime on how to secure the early release of the Lockerbie bomber, documents obtained by a newspaper have disclosed.
A Foreign Office minister sent Libyan officials detailed legal advice on how to use Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's cancer diagnosis to ensure he was freed from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds. The Duke of York is also said to have played a behind-the-scenes role in encouraging the terrorist's release.
The Libyans closely followed the secret advice, which, within months, led to the controversial release of Megrahi, who was convicted of the murder of 270 people through his involvement in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
The disclosure seriously undermines claims by the then Labour government that it was not complicit in the release of Megrahi and that the decision to free the convicted terrorist was taken by the Scottish Executive alone.
It will also lead to renewed pressure from senior American politicians on David Cameron to release all internal documents detailing Britain's role in the scandal. Last summer, the Prime Minister pledged to release the relevant information but the publication has yet to occur, prompting fears that a cover-up may have been ordered.
American documents, obtained by the WikiLeaks website and passed to 'The Daily Telegraph', provide the first comprehensive picture of the often desperate steps taken by Western governments to court the Libyan regime in the competition for valuable trade and oil contracts.
Any perceived political slight on the part of the Libyans often leads to Western companies losing lucrative contracts, with Col Gadaffi's erratic behaviour a major problem in maintaining good relations.
The documents disclose in detail that British ministers and officials were desperate not to allow Libyan anger over the ongoing imprisonment of Megrahi to derail the growing commercial relationship between the two countries.
Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, was imprisoned in 2001 for life.
For several years, the Libyans pressed for the terrorist to be returned under a prisoner transfer agreement that was being negotiated.
According to American officials, Tony Blair was suspected of securing trade deals after agreeing to include Megrahi in the agreement.
However, any decision on his release was for the Scottish authorities. In October 2008 Megrahi was diagnosed as suffering from cancer.
Within a week, Bill Rammell, a junior Foreign Office minister, had written to his Libyan counterpart advising him on how this could be used as grounds for securing Megrahi's compassionate release from prison. A senior Foreign Office official met the American ambassador to brief him on the letter. (©Daily Telegraph London)