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Lockerbie bomber’s release was wrong, says William Hague

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi sits in his wheelchair in a Tripoli hospital
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi sits in his wheelchair in a Tripoli hospital. It is almost a year since he was released on medical and compassionate grounds from a Scottish prison for his role in the Lockerbie bombing Photograph: Str/REUTERS

 

July 24, 2010

(KATAKAMI / GUARDIAN.CO.UK)  The release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was “wrong and misguided”, the foreign secretary, William Hague, has told US senators. 

In a letter to John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee which is holding an inquiry into the bomber’s release, Hague said that nevertheless it was “legally and constitutionally proper” that the decision was one for the Scottish government.

Hague said the then foreign secretary Jack Straw held several discussions with the oil giant BP about Megrahi before his transfer to Libya was agreed in 2007 but denied that this had any impact on his bomber’s release.

Megrahi is the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing in which270 people died and his release on compassionate grounds last August provoked outrage in the US.

Medical evidence indicated Megrahi had three months to live but next month will mark a year since he was freed.

The issue overshadowed David Cameron’s first official visit as prime minister to the US, amid concern that BP had lobbied the UK government over the prisoner transfer deal with Libya.

Hague said both he and Cameron had criticised the decision to release Megrahi.

“We think that the decision taken by the Scottish executive to release him on compassionate grounds was wrong and misguided,” the foreign secretary writes.

“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 government had wanted anyone convicted of the Lockerbie bombing excluded from a controversial prisoner transfer deal agreed with Libya in 2007. But this condition was opposed by the Libyans, and the UK government eventually agreed to deal without exclusions.

Hague’s letter acknowledges that several conversations took place between the UK government and BP about the exclusion.

BP made the government aware of a warning from the Libyans that failure to agree the prisoner transfer scheme could damage an oil exploration deal that the company had signed with the country, Hague writes, adding that this was “perfectly normal and legitimate practice” for a British firm.

Hague adds: “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.”

A US senator today asked the Scottish government to reconsider its decision not to send officials to a hearing into the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

In a letter, Frank Lautenberg said he was “pleading” with first minister Alex Salmond to help shed light on claims that BP had influenced the release.

Salmond has declined an invitation to send his justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who took the decision to release Megrahi, and a medical expert to the senate hearings in Washington.

The New Jersey senator expresses frustration at what he portrays as the UK and Scottish governments blaming each other for the row.

He writes: “I am pleading for direct representation from the Scottish government at our hearing next week to help us seek answers.

“Your co-operation in sending a knowledgeable person will help establish a credible record of what transpired.”  (*)

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