Salmond to rule on Lockerbie bomber's return to Libya
ALEX Salmond was preparing his legal team last night for the most difficult decision of his time in office – whether to allow Britain's biggest mass-murderer to be released from jail and serve the remainder of his sentence in Libya.
The Libyan authorities have formally applied to have Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, transferred from Scotland. The request was submitted on Tuesday – only six days after the formal ratification of a prisoner transfer agreement between Libya and the UK.
Megrahi, 57, a former Libyan secret agent, is terminally ill with prostate cancer and has only just begun his appeal, a process expected to last a year.
However, if he opts to drop the appeal then it will be up to the First Minister, justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and Scottish Government officials to decide whether to send him home.
Megrahi is serving a life term in Greenock prison for the 1988 bombing that killed 270 people, and the move to have him transferred is certain to be controversial. Aside from some relatives, both Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians are opposed to any transfer.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott said: "A Scottish court convicted Megrahi of a truly heinous crime – 270 people lost their lives in the Lockerbie bombing.
"The justice secretary needs to respect the judgment of the Scottish courts. Megrahi should serve his time in a Scottish prison. This application should be refused."
Susan Cohen, who lost her daughter in the bombing, said: "We are talking about a man who was convicted of killing 270 people. I cannot believe people think this man should be under house arrest in Libya rather than remaining in a prison in Scotland."
However, others supported the transfer request and said they believed Megrahi was innocent and that he should be allowed home to spend his last few weeks with his family.
The Scottish Government made it clear that, if the appeal was dropped, the transfer request would be examined by lawyers and legal experts before a decision was taken by ministers, probably within 90 days, but possibly after that time.
Megrahi's second appeal against conviction began at the Appeal Court in Edinburgh last week. It will continue as ministers consider the transfer request, but they believe it will have to be dropped if they are to make a decision.
A senior Scottish Government source said there was no way ministers could agree to transfer Megrahi to Libya if legal proceedings were still ongoing. The appeal would have to be concluded – one way or the other – before any decision was taken, he said.
Megrahi has always protested his innocence, but if he drops his appeal and relies on the transfer agreement to get him home, he will leave as a convicted murderer. If he decides to pursue his appeal, he could die before the legal process concludes.
Martin Cadman, 84, from King's Lynn, Norfolk, whose son Bill died in the bombing, said he felt the proposed transfer was an attempt to "bully" Megrahi into admitting his guilt.
"I am afraid the idea that Lockerbie was a cover-up is all the more increased by this disgraceful arrangement," he said. "I thought once the appeal had started, the Scottish authorities would have said it ought to go through. It is very clear that, after 20 years, those who want to cover this up are beginning to win."
But Rosemary Wolfe – whose stepdaughter Miriam was one of 22 students from Syracuse University in New York who were on Pan Am Flight 103 – said: "I hope that now the application has been made, Alex Salmond sticks to his guns and does not release Megrahi from a Scottish prison under any circumstances.
"I think the appeal should run its course. I never thought he was the only guilty party – there may have been other nations involved – but he was tried and convicted, and he has already had an appeal. There were assurances to the US government that he would serve his sentence in Scotland. That's exactly what we want to happen."
However, Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was also on board the jumbo jet, welcomed the possibility of Megrahi being moved to Libya.
He said: "I am not opposed to this, simply because I don't believe the man is guilty as charged and I don't think Megrahi should be in prison."
He said it was only right that he should be allowed home.
But Dr Swire added: "He has to renounce his appeal before he can go home. Just because the authorities have applied, doesn't mean it is going to happen immediately."
Barrie Berkley, from Hexham, Northumberland, whose son Alistair was killed in the bombing, said he hoped Megrahi's appeal would continue. "
We want the appeal to go through because it's the main means of us getting further information about how our family members died or why they died," he said.
"If (Megrahi] is found guilty, the government has to decide where he serves the remainder of his term. It shouldn't be up to him or the Libyan authorities."
Megrahi's second appeal was prompted by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice.
It said there were grounds – some put forward by Megrahi's defence and others arising from the SCCRC's own investigations – where it believed a miscarriage of justice might have occurred.
Scottish Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken said: "When this issue (Megrahi's transfer] first arose as a possibility, we said we would normally expect someone convicted of such an atrocity over Scotland to serve their full sentence in Scotland. That view still prevails today."
The prisoner transfer agreement can be traced back to a "deal in the desert" between Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi and then-prime minister Tony Blair, which prompted the first serious row between Westminster and the newly elected SNP government in June 2007.
Mr Salmond protested to Mr Blair over the "judicial co-operation" agreement, reached on 29 May that year when Mr Blair was in Tripoli, which the First Minister said could lead to Megrahi being transferred back to Libya.
He protested that the Scottish authorities had not been consulted over the deal.
But Downing Street said at the time: "It is totally wrong to suggest we have reached any agreement with the Libyan government in this case."
If Megrahi does seek a transfer, and is turned down, he could either make another application or seek a judicial review of the decision.
So should Lockerbie bomber get mercy?
YES - Jim Swire
FROM a humanitarian point of view, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi should be allowed to go.
He is dying and I do not think he is guilty, so he should go home to his family.
But I think we will have to consider our position carefully if this does happen.
We would want to see the credibility of the evidence tested in a Scottish court, but there are other ways this can be done.
Perhaps there can be a fresh fatal accident inquiry.
The original inquiry did not hear evidence that there was a break-in at Heathrow in the early hours of the day of the tragedy.
This was evidence that was not put before the original trial, evidence that would have seriously undermined the prosecution's position that the bomb used originated in Malta.
We now need an inquiry into how this information was hidden.
A full inquiry, given the right terms, would be eminently satisfactory.
As relatives, we have a right to know who murdered our loved ones.
From the point of view of Scotland, if all the questions are not answered in an open court, it will be terrible blow for the criminal justice system.
However, from a human perspective, Megrahi should be allowed to go back to Libya.
• Jim Swire's daughter Flora was among the 270 people killed in the atrocity.
NO- Susan Cohen
PEOPLE say Megrahi would be under house arrest if he was sent back to Libya. He'll be regarded as a hero if he goes back there. How long is the house arrest really going to last?
We are talking about a man who was convicted of killing 270 people. Therefore, I just cannot believe people think this man should be under house arrest in Libya rather than remaining in a prison in Scotland.
We were told Megrahi would serve his time in Scotland. Then Tony Blair made this deal with Gaddafi about prisoner transfers, which he didn't even inform Scotland about. He did this for the oil money.
My husband and I fought for Libya to take full responsibility for Lockerbie and they never did. We're not dealing with a worldwide conspiracy here. My government has committed some terrible crimes, but do government' actually get away with conspiracies of this level for 20 years, when nothing leaks out?
He had a good trial, Megrahi – I was there and the world was watching.
They want to get Megrahi back because Gaddafi wants it and they want the oil money.
Do you seriously think there is anything to this other than greed and oil?
This is the time that Scotland must show some independence from England and refuse this application.
• American Susan Cohen lost her 20-year-old daughter Theo in the bombing.
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