Wikileaks: Libya threats troubled UK

By Alex Stevenson

The full extent of Libya’s threats over Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi shook up the British government has been revealed by Wikileaks.

The whistleblowing website’s latest instalment of US diplomatic cables revealed the British feared the “disastrous implications” of a failure by the Scottish government to release Megrahi.

“They could have cut us off at the knees, just like the Swiss,” the US ambassador was quoted as saying.

Demonstrations against British facilities, suspension of all British commercial activity in Libya and even Britons in Libya being placed at risk were all threats faced by the British government.

Publicly London avoided expressing a firm opinion on whether it agreed with the Scottish government’s August 2009 decision to free Megrahi.

Behind closed doors, Wikileaks has revealed, officials were troubled by Libya’s threats.

“Consequences for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship would be dire were al-Megrahi to die in Scottish prison,” one cable read.

Megrahi was the only man convicted of the worst terrorist incident ever to occur in Britain. Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

The decision sparked outrage in the US, where many of the victims were from.

“The Scottish government severely underestimated the both US government and UK public reaction to its decision to grant compassionate release,” a further cable released by Wikileaks stated.

The dispatches showed how Mr Salmond had sought to exacerbate divisions between London and Edinburgh.

“Salmond reiterated that he and his government ‘had played straight’ with both the US government and UK government, but implied that the UK government had not,” he said.

“During the meeting… he said he wanted to move beyond the Megrahi issue and deepen Scotland’s relationship with the US government.

“He said the Libyan government had offered the Scottish government ‘a parade of treats’, all of which were turned down.”

Megrahi was released by Scottish justice secretary Kenny Macaskill on compassionate grounds, arguing he was terminally ill and had three months to live. Fifteen months later he has still not died.

US diplomatic cables show officials were aware that Megrahi could survive beyond the three months stated by Mr Macaskill.

“The average life expectancy of someone of his age with his condition is 18 months to two years,” one dispatch stated. “Doctors are not sure where he is on the time scale.”