Monday 11 December 2017

Britain's Hague says release of Lockerbie bomber 'wrong'

Scott Macnab in London

THE release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was "wrong and misguided", British Foreign Secretary William Hague has said in a letter to a US senator.

However, he accepted it was "legally and constitutionally proper" that the decision had been taken by the Scottish Government.

Mr Hague also revealed that discussions had been held between the then foreign secretary Jack Straw and oil giant BP ahead of a controversial prisoner-transfer agreement (PTA) with Libya in 2007.

Megrahi is the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing, which killed 270 people. His release on compassionate grounds last August prompted fury in the US.

Mr Hague's letter was sent to Senator John Kerry. He chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is holding an inquiry into the bomber's release, which came after medical evidence indicated that Megrahi had just three months to live. Next month will mark a year since he was freed.

The issue flared up again last week as British Prime Minister David Cameron made his first official visit to the US, amid concern that the oil giant BP had lobbied the British government over the proposed deal with Libya.

Mr Hague said both he and Mr Cameron had previously hit out at the decision to free Megrahi.

"We think the decision taken by the Scottish executive to release him on compassionate grounds was wrong and misguided," Mr Hague wrote.

"Notwithstanding that, however, we must also recognise that it was legally and constitutionally proper that the decision over his release was one for the Scottish executive alone to take."

The Scottish devolved government had wanted anyone convicted of the Lockerbie bombing to be excluded from a controversial prisoner-transfer deal that was agreed with Libya in 2007.

But this condition was opposed by the Libyans and the British government eventually agreed to the deal without any exclusions.

Mr Hague's letter to Senator Kerry said a number of conversations had taken place between the British government and BP about the exclusion of the Lockerbie bomber.

"There were three discussions between BP and Jack Straw or his office between October and November 2007 and at least two contacts in the same period between BP and the prime minister's foreign policy adviser," he wrote.

BP had been made aware by the Libyans that failure to agree a PTA could damage an exploration deal it had signed with the African country, Mr Hague said, and the oil giant wanted to bring this to the UK government's attention.

Mr Hague insisted that this was "perfectly normal and legitimate practice" for a British firm.

Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who took the decision to release Megrahi, rejected a request from Libya on prisoner transfer.

Mr Hague added: "There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegation of BP's involvement in the Scottish executive's entirely separate decision to release him on compassionate grounds in 2009, nor any suggestion that the Scottish executive decided to release him on compassionate grounds in order to facilitate oil deals for BP."

Mr Straw yesterday declined a request to give evidence in person at the Senate committee hearing into Megrahi's release.

The former justice secretary said he could not help the inquiry because he had "absolutely nothing to do" with the decision.

Sunday Independent

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