Letters back No 10 Lockerbie account

By Liz Stephens and Ian Dunt

The UK government has published correspondence which appears to back its position over the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi by the Scottish executive.

The Scottish government followed suit in the afternoon by publishing background reports on the case.

The letters support UK government assertions that no deal was done securing Mr Megrahi’s release with Libya. They also support the view that Westminster consistently informed both Libya and Scotland that the decision over his fate could only be taken by Scotland.

In a letter from justice secretary Jack Straw to Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, dated November 21st 2008, Mr Straw writes: “You will be aware that Libyan concerns for Megrahi’s health and possible return to Libya remain.

“I would like to assure you that at both ministerial and official level we are continuing to reiterate to the Libyans that any questions of treatment, possible compassionate release or any application to transfer under the PTA [prisoner transfer agreement] and bail are a matter exclusively for Scottish ministers and Scottish courts respectively.”

The letters are available on the official MoJ website.

Separate questions will be asked about the extent of the government’s opposition to Mr Megrahi’s release to Libya, and analysts will be keen that people ‘read between the lines’ of the correspondence to see if any pressure was put on Scotland without being made explicit.

Certainly, UK government figures go out of their way to stress the value of a “wide ranging and beneficial relationship” with the Libyan regime.

But at an early stage in the correspondence, Mr Straw exhibits his support for a prisoner transfer programme which would specifically exclude Mr Megrahi.

“I have noted your preference for an exclusion clause that would apply not just to al-Megrahi but to anyone convicted of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing. I agree with your proposal.”

20081121 Jack Straw to Alex Salmond Prisoner Transfer Agreement

Later in the process, Mr Straw changes his mind concerning the exclusion, and writes that the agreement should take “standard form”.

Minutes released by the Scottish government show that Abdulati Alobidi, Lyban Europe minister, told Scottish delegates that Bill Rammell, then Foreign Office minister, told Tripoli that Gordon Brown and David Miliband did not want Megrahi to die in prison.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey said: “The question is, is it all the documents involved?

“Will we still have to have some sort of foreign affairs select committee inquiry, so ministers can actually be questioned, so we can get some of the background to the letters and to any conversations that were held?”

In an interview with the Financial Times today, Gordon Brown reiterated that he told Colonel Gaddafi at the G8 summit in L’Aquila that Megrahi’s release was a matter for the Scottish authorities.

“I made it absolutely clear to him… it was a matter for the Scottish Executive and it was their decision, and their decision alone, that would decide it,” he said.

Meanwhile, in a letter to the Times, David Cameron called the decision to free the Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds “a fiasco”.

He once again criticised the prime minister for failing to give an opinion on the matter.

“Such candour is a basic requirement of leadership – a quality that once again Mr Brown has demonstrated he lacks,” he said.

The publication of the documents comes ahead of another debate tomorrow on the decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

The Scottish government has put forward a controversial motion for the debate which states that the compassionate release was consistent with the principles of the Scottish justice system.

They are likely to face extremely strong opposition to the motion in the Scottish parliament.

Meanwhile, the Libyan government has hinted for the first time that it may be considering a payout to victims of the IRA, which it has been accused of arming.

Libya’s secretary for international co-operation Mohammed Siala claimed the issue of compensation had been discussed with London.

Speaking to The Independent he said: “It is a special case. We have a good understanding with the UK.”

World leaders are expecting to gather tonight in Libya to take part in celebrations to mark 40 years since the coup that brought Colonel Gaddafi to power.

However no European head of state other than Malta will be attending the celebrations in protest over the hero’s welcome that Libya laid on for Megrahi when he returned home to Libya last week.

Megrahi himself is too ill to take part in tonight’s celebrations, but a video of his arms being held aloft by Col Gaddafi’s son Saif will allegedly be the finale to the event.