News In Focus
Megrahi released on compassionate grounds
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet Al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the bombing of flight Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie in December 1988, is on his way home to Libya to die, following his release on compassionate grounds by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill at lunchtime today.
In a decision broadcast live at 1pm, Mr MacAskill announced that he was refusing the application by the Libyan Government for Mr Megrahi's release under the prisoner transfer agreement between the UK and Libya signed in 2007, but granting his release on licence on compassionate grounds in the light of clear medical advice that his life expectancy was no more than three months.
Mr Megrahi is suffering from terminal prostate cancer, and Mr MacAskill said he was acting on the prison service doctors' view that his clinical condition had declined significantly, his condition was hormone resistant, and that a three month prognosis was now a reasonable estimate of his remaining life.
The Justice Secretary had before him two applications concerning the man found guilty in 2001 of the worst single terrorist atrocity committed in the UK, in which all 259 on board the aircraft together with 11 residents of Lockerbie lost their lives.
In relation to the application by the Libyan Government, Mr MacAskill said that the Scottish Government had opposed the making of the transfer agreement without an exclusion for anyone found guilty in relation to the Lockerbie atrocity, but had failed to secure such an exclusion. Having consulted all interested groups, in was clear to him that the United States Government, and the families of the American victims, had been left by the UK Government with the clear understanding, or had been led to believe, that there would be no transfer in relation to Lockerbie.
While the UK Government, which had declined to make representations, had maintained that there were no legal barriers to the transfer and that it had given no assurances, it had produced nothing to substantiate its position as to what was said to the Americans – something the Justice Secretary described as "highly regrettable". He had therefore decided, in view of the clear understanding of the Americans, that this application should be refused.
Justice with mercy
Regarding compassionate release, Mr MacAskill referred to section 3 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993, which permits release on such grounds, and the Prison Service guidance under which terminal illness may constitute a ground for release. He emphasised that he was conscious of the deeply held feelings on the issue and that many would disagree whatever decision he reached; and acknowledged that the bereaved could not be expected to forget or forgive.
He continued: "Mr Al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power, one that no court can overrule." Scottish people had always prided themselves in their humanity, and the nature of the atrocity could not be a basis for forgetting our values. "Our system demands that compassion be available, that justice be served but that mercy should remain.
"For these reasons, and these alone, my decision is that Mr Al-Megrahi should now be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return home to Libya to die."
In answer to questions from reporters, Mr MacAskill insisted that he stood by the conviction, asserting his confidence in the police, prosecutors and judges involved in the case, and that the decision to abandon the second appeal against conviction had been taken by Mr Megrahi and his advisers alone.
As to its effect on relations with the United States, he insisted that he had followed due process.
The decision had been his, and his alone.