“The Lockerbie bomber has left Scotland on board a plane bound for Libya after being freed from prison on compassionate grounds. Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, 57, was jailed in 2001 for the atrocity which claimed 270 lives in 1988. The decision to release Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, was made by the Scottish Government.
The White House said it "deeply regretted" the decision and some of the US victims' families reacted angrily.”
At about 25 to 2 this afternoon, the Justice Minister Kenny McAskill announced the release of the only person convicted of the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 – The Clipper of The Seas. Megrahi has terminal prostate cancer, and is said to have months, if not weeks to live. The decision to release Megrahi, especially after the leeks a couple of weeks ago, has attracted criticism and unwarranted ignorance in equal measure. The other day on Radio 5 Live, the American commentator Charlie Wolf wondered why this decision was taken by a "regional assembly", in complete ignorance of 300 years of Scottish history and many more of Scot’s Law. Brian Taylor’s response was restrained and measured.
It is in this atmosphere that McAskill has made the brave and grown up decision to release the convicted killer, on compassionate grounds. There are people who are angry at this decision, their response from the other side of the pond has been particularly vociferous. President Obama has described the release as “a mistake”, while Kara Weipz, who lost her 20-year-old brother Richard Monetti, said: "I don't understand how the Scots can show compassion. It is an utter insult and utterly disgusting. It is horrible. I don't show compassion for someone who showed no remorse." On top of this, Iain Dale speculates the possibilities of some sort of boycott of Scottish goods.
In the face of this hostility McAskill’s decision was brave. To have that amount of pressure put on you to go one way, only to make the opposite decision is brave, whether it's the right decision or not. However the reaction above all rather assumes that Adbelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was the sole person who placed a bomb on a flight to Frankfurt at Luqa Airport in Malta, which connected on to the ill fated Flight 103 from London Heathrow, in short it assumes that the conviction of Megrahi was not the biggest miscarriage of justice in Scottish legal history.
McAskill throughout his speech went to great pains to praise the Scottish legal system, yet in his heart of hearts he must have known that Megrahi was convicted on some seriously shoddy evidence and unsound circumstantial evidence. It is unlikely that the bomb made it through Frankfurt without being detected, as the security services in Germany were on the lookout for bombs hidden in Toshiba electronics devices. This theory was also further undermined by the settlement out of court by Granada when Air Malta sued regarding the link. Commercial Solicitors Norton Rose proved that none of the 55 bags checked on to the flight from Malta to Frankfurt were ascribed to passengers travelling on to London.
Indeed it came out around the trial that there was a break in on the morning of December 21st at Heathrow, an incident which was covered up for 12 years. One of the loaders reported that one of the containers had two extra pieces of luggage than there was when the loader went off on his tea break. One of those additional pieces of luggage was a “maroony brown Samsonite”. It was agreed by all the experts that the bomb was contained within a Samsonite. The discrepancies here are only the tip of the iceberg, but should have been enough to cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution case.
I personally feel very sorry for Megrahi. The guy is going to die convicted of a crime that I certainly think he did not commit and it is in the best interests of higher powers than you or me that he stay convicted. I think Kenny MacAskill today made a sensable grown up decision, and completely ignored the noise from the other side of the pond, the special interest groups or the noise from down south. He sought out the information he needed and made his decision based on that. MacAskill made the kind of decision we expect all our polititians to make. In this respect, Holyrood finaly came of age today.