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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The plot thickens

Suggestions by Wales on Sunday columnist Matt Withers that Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, may have been a bit out-of-his-depth in making the decision to release Lockerbie bomber, al-Megrahi can be seen in a new light by the revelation in this morning's Sunday Times, that perhaps the British Government had a bigger involvement in the matter than they or the Scottish Government are prepared to admit.

The paper tells us that leaked ministerial letters have revealed that the British government decided it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to make Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi eligible for return to Libya. Apparently, this decision was made after discussions between Libya and BP over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had hit difficulties. These were resolved soon afterwards.

The Sunday Times says that the correspondence makes it plain that the key decision to include Megrahi in a deal with Libya to allow prisoners to return home was, in fact, taken in London for British national interests:

Two letters dated five months apart show that Straw initially intended to exclude Megrahi from a prisoner transfer agreement with Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, under which British and Libyan prisoners could serve out their sentences in their home country.

In a letter dated July 26, 2007, Straw said he favoured an option to leave out Megrahi by stipulating that any prisoners convicted before a specified date would not be considered for transfer.

Downing Street had also said Megrahi would not be included under the agreement.

Straw then switched his position as Libya used its deal with BP as a bargaining chip to insist the Lockerbie bomber was included.

The exploration deal for oil and gas, potentially worth up to £15 billion, was announced in May 2007. Six months later the agreement was still waiting to be ratified.

On December 19, 2007, Straw wrote to MacAskill announcing that the UK government was abandoning its attempt to exclude Megrahi from the prisoner transfer agreement, citing the national interest.

In a letter leaked by a Whitehall source, he wrote: “I had previously accepted the importance of the al-Megrahi issue to Scotland and said I would try to get an exclusion for him on the face of the agreement. I have not been able to secure an explicit exclusion.

“The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom, I have agreed that in this instance the [prisoner transfer agreement] should be in the standard form and not mention any individual.”

In the light of this information the attack by some Labour politicians on the SNP Government for releasing the Lockerbie bomber looks a bit two-faced. Gordon Brown's silence on this matter together with the outstanding questions about UK Government involvement always left open the possibility that this sort of deal had been struck.

Surely, it is now in everybody's interests to have all the paperwork on this 'compassionate release' made public including details of any communications between Westminster and Holyrood about this issue so that we can judge for ourselves whether we have been told the full story or not as to why al-Megrahi was set free.
leaving aside the rights or wrongs of the Maghrabi case, I thought Matt Withers made a particularly poor attack on the whole Assembly in today's WoS. Claiming that the standard of AMs was lower than MPs and therefore they were incapable of making big decisions is ridiculous.
Has he seen how shite the present intake of Welsh MPs and government ministers are? Bob Ainsworth, Peter Hain, Alistair Darling, Peter Bloody Mandelson.
Sorry Matt, the argument doesn't hold water.
I just pray he doesn't harm any more people.
The noise about Kenny MacAskill's decision to free Megrahi seems to be more about the effects than the essence namely whether or not he was right to approve it. My personal take was on balance he was but i can see the strength of the argument against release.

On the wider issues now coming forward, I may be naive but I can't see an SNP government lifting a finger to the UK government off a hook of its own making. I strongly suspect that Blair nodded and winked at Gadaffi about Megrahi's release - hence the strong reaction from Alex Salmond at the time. However the awkward fact is that he was not sent to Libya as part of the prisoner exchange deal and this rather knocks the conspiracy theories on the head.

My take is that Kenny MacAskill would not have agreed to a prisoner transfer both to make it clear that he was not in London's pocket and because of the reaction from the USA. His get out was that because Megrahi has terminal cancer he could use compassionate release as I strongly suspect that the last thing the SNP government wished was for him to die in jail in Scotland with the quite strong indications of the guilty verdict being unsafe; procedurally it was not a jury trial and there are doubts that a scots jury would have convicted on the evidence. The Crown might have got not proven and Megrahi would have walked free.

As to Gordon Brown's silence, I can't see what he could usefuly say. He can't condemn the release without playing into the hands of the SNP for meddling in devolved affairs; he can't say he agrees with it without Alex Salmond using it against him. There's a scots expression - a still tongue in a wise head - and this is where he surely must be.
I thought Jack Straw's statement to BBC News yesterday raised as many questions as it answered.
Well, what do they want from us...simpathy? He caused so many people to die...well, we'll give him our "sorries" but not for what he did.
How can Libya "demand" the release of a convicted terrorist?
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