We noticed you're blocking ads.

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker.

Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us

Font Size

- Aa +

Wed 2 Sep 2009 02:18 PM

Font Size

- Aa +

Britain wanted Lockerbie bomber freed, but denies deal

Britain did not want the Lockerbie bomber to die in prison, country's foreign secretary reveals.

Britain did not want the Lockerbie bomber to die in prison, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Wednesday, but he denied London had pressed Scotland to free him or done a deal with oil-rich Libya.

In an admission likely to increase pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Miliband insisted that Scotland alone decided the fate of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1988 bombing which killed 270 people.

His comments came as Scotland's parliament debated Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision to free the 57-year-old on compassionate grounds, because he had terminal cancer.

"We did not want him to die in prison... we weren't seeking his death in prison," Miliband told BBC radio, in the first public admission of London's stance by a senior minister.

"The allegation that is being made ... is that somehow we pressured the Scottish government into making a decision one way or another," he said, insisting: "There was no pressure from the British government on the Scots."

Miliband's comments came nearly two weeks after Megrahi returned to Libya after his release from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds, because he is dying of prostate cancer and could have less than three months to live.

The Libyan's release -- and the hero's welcome he received on his return to Tripoli -- drew a furious US reaction, both from President Barack Obama's administration and families of the 189 US victims of the atrocity.

The British government has insisted that the decision to release Megrahi was one solely taken by the semi-autonomous Scottish government.

On Tuesday documents were released by British and Scottish authorities about the case, which London hoped would counter charges that Megrahi was released as part of a deal to facilitate a huge oil and gas deal with oil-rich Libya.

Miliband insisted there was no deal with Tripoli, noting that Brown made this clear in a meeting with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in July this year.

"He was absolutely clear in his meeting with Colonel Kadhafi that he could not instruct, and he could not give comfort about the Megrahi (case) .. there was no way for us to control Megrahi's fate," said the foreign minister.

"At no stage were we willing to say that we could offer the kind of deal that is being alleged, because it was not in our gift to release Megrahi," he added.

Megrahi, jailed for at least 27 years in 2001 over the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, served eight years of a life sentence before being released on August 20.

The minority Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) has been heavily criticised by opposition deputies, including Labour, over its handling over the affair.

But at the start of a debate by Scottish lawmakers in Edinburgh Wednesday, First Minister Alex Salmond said Brown's Labour Party's stance on the Lockerbie bomber was "totally and absolutely ridiculous".

In theory his government could face defeat in a vote expected around 5:00 pm (1600 GMT).

Back in London, the leader of the main opposition Conservatives accused Brown and his government of "double dealing" on the issue and called for an independent inquiry to establish exactly what happened.

"On the one hand (Brown and his government were) apparently saying to the Americans they wanted Megrahi to die in prison, but on the other hand saying privately to the Libyans that they wanted him released," he said.

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

Real news, real analysis and real insight have real value – especially at a time like this. Unlimited access ArabianBusiness.com can be unlocked for as little as $4.75 per month. Click here for more details.