Monday 20 November 2017

Lockerbie bomber freed 'to protect BP oil deals'

Toby Harnden in Washington and James Kirkup

British officials repeatedly pressurised the Scottish government to free the Lockerbie bomber on "flawed" compassionate grounds because of Britain's "expanding business ties to Libya", according to a United States Senate report.

The report suggests that a $900m (€670m) BP oil deal that the Libyans had threatened to cut off and a $165m (€130m) deal with General Dynamics for a "tactical communications system" were motivating factors for the British government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The scathing 58-page report into the release of Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988, threatens to sour transatlantic relations. It states that the prognosis given to al-Megrahi that his terminal prostate cancer meant he had just three months to live was "inaccurate and unsupported by medical science" and that the Scottish government "simply intended to use compassionate release as political cover for returning al-Megrahi to Libya". Al-Megrahi was released in August 2009 and is still alive but in a coma in Libya.

The report claims that the decision to release him was influenced by three doctors hired by the Libyan government.

The "prognosis was manipulated by officials within the Scottish government, including the Medical Director of the Scottish Prison Service Andrew Fraser and Dr Peter Kay", in charge of medical treatment at Greenock Prison.

According to the report, Scottish officials "ignored the advice of Scottish prostate cancer specialists" and instead relied on Dr Fraser and Dr Kay, who had "no specialisation, training, or experience in the treatment or prognosis of prostate cancer".

The UK Foreign Office dismissed the report, a move likely to heighten tensions over the issue. British prime minister David Cameron has sought to draw a line under the affair, stressing that the release took place under Mr Brown's premiership.

"[The] report contains no evidence to demonstrate a link between the pursuit of Britain's legitimate commercial interests in Libya and the Scottish Executive's decision to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds," a spokesman said. Al-Megrahi's release was "a mistake" but the decision was "solely made by the Scottish Executive" and Mr Cameron "has asked the Cabinet Secretary to review papers held by the Government" to ensure the fullest explanation of what happened.

Four Senators, in whose states many of the relatives of the 270 victims reside, signed the report. It followed congressional hearings in which, they note acidly, a slew of British and Scottish government officials "declined to participate".

Justice undone

The report, titled "Justice Undone: The Release of the Lockerbie Bomber" was released 22 years to the day since the plane was brought down over Scotland and crashed in the town of Lockerbie.

Senators Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand of New York, the signatories, are all from President Barack Obama's Democratic party.

The Labour government acted, the Senators claim, for commercial reasons. "The UK government played a direct, critical role in al-Megrahi's release. © The Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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