‘UK advised Libya on Lockerbie bomber’
London - A British minister advised Libya on how to use Lockerbie plane bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi's cancer diagnosis to secure his release, memos published in Tuesday's Telegraph newspaper revealed.
US diplomatic cables leaked by the WikiLeaks website show that Labour junior Foreign Office (FCO) minister Bill Rammell wrote to his Libyan counterpart to explain how Megrahi could obtain his release on compassionate grounds.
Responsibility for Megrahi's release rested with the Scottish executive as the Pan Am 747 jet which Megrahi blew up in 1988, killing 270 people, exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
Labour were replaced in government by a Conservative-led coalition in May 2010 and incoming Prime Minister David Cameron promised to release internal documents relating to the case.
A statement released by the Foreign Office on Monday said: “The government is clear that Megrahi's release was a mistake, and the decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds was solely made by the Scottish executive.”
“The review is ongoing,” the statement continued. “The cabinet secretary aims to conclude this work as soon as possible.”
The leaked cables revealed that Rob Dixon, a senior Foreign Office official, met with the US ambassador to explain the existence of Rammell's letter.
An official US memo on the meeting said: “FCO Minister for the Middle East Bill Rammell sent Libyan Deputy FM Abdulati al-Obeidi a letter, which was cleared both by HMG (the British government) and by the Scottish Executive … outlining the procedure for obtaining compassionate release.
“It cites Section 3 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act of 1993 as the basis for release of prisoners, on licence, on compassionate grounds,” the memo continued.
“The Scottish Crown informed the families of the Pan Am 103 victims … that the time frame for compassionate release is normally three months from time of death, Dixon stressed to us that the three month time frame is not codified in the law.”
At the time, the ruling Labour party insisted the decision was taken solely by the Scottish executive and that Libya's lucrative trade and oil contracts had nothing to do with the release.
Then foreign secretary David Miliband told parliament “there was no link between the pursuit of Britain’s legitimate commercial interests in Libya and the Scottish executive’s decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds”.
Another leaked US memo expressed doubt about this claim, citing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's thanking of British trade envoy, Prince Andrew, as a sign that economic considerations had played their part.
“He (Gaddafi) went on to thank his 'friend Brown’, the British Prime Minister, his government, Queen Elizabeth, and Prince Andrew, who against all odds encouraged this brave decision,” the memo said.
“He (Gaddafi) noted that the UK efforts would positively affect 'exchange’; between the two countries,” the note concluded. - Sapa-AFP