Saltires waving in Tripoli branded 'sickening'

Share this article

THE triumphant scenes in Tripoli which greeted the return of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi's return, with Libyan crowds waving Saltires, were last night condemned as "sickening".

Pamela Dix, whose brother Peter died along with 269 others when the Pan Am jet exploded above Lockerbie in 1988, said: "I think a hero's welcome is entirely inappropriate in the circumstances. He has been released on compassionate grounds, but he remains a convicted man. His return to Tripoli should not have been handled in this way."

Russell Brown, Labour MP for Dumfries, described the scenes as "stomach churning", adding: "I have never been ashamed to see my country's flag waved before, but to see it misused to celebrate mass murder is outrageous.

"This man is convicted of murdering 270 people in my part of Scotland and that conviction stands. This adds further pressure to the SNP to explain why they have freed a man who showed no remorse for the crimes he committed. The SNP are damaging Scotland's reputation and have put our flag in a position where it can be abused like this."

Tory MP David Mundell, whose constituency includes Lockerbie, said: "This is as we feared and why we said that Mr Megrahi should be kept in Scotland. Alex Salmond's government has made a mistake of international proportions. These reports (of the flag being waved] are sickening."

However, a spokesman for justice secretary Kenny MacAskill defended the decision to release Megrahi: "Mr al-Megrahi has been sent back to Libya to die. We deliberately eschewed political and diplomatic considerations, and he was released according to due process and under licence conditions. Our concerns are the interests of justice, and making the right decisions."

The decision to allow Megrahi to go home will be seen as a huge snub to US president Barack Obama, who last night demanded that Libya put the Lockerbie bomber under house arrest as anger at his release grew in the United States.

Earlier, relatives of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing condemned Megrahi's release. Stephanie Bernstein, the widow of Michael Bernstein, a prosecutor who tracked down Nazi war criminals, said: "MacAskill talks about showing compassion and mercy. This is weakness. This is how it will be seen by Gaddafi. This is how it will be played within Libya and this is how it will be seen by every single person that wants to do harm to people all over the world."

Susan Cohen, whose daughter Theodora was one of many students killed on the flight, said: "This has been despicable. He was convicted of mass murder, but you've let him out on the most sickening grounds possible. Shame on Scotland. We were told about this proud little country, but you are still in the grip of the British Empire."

The issue has once again highlighted the divide between the British and American relatives of those who died in the Lockerbie bombing. British relatives, most of whom believe Megrahi is innocent, welcomed the decision to release him.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was on Pan Am Flight 103, said: "I don't believe for a moment that this man was involved in the way that he was found to have been involved."

But Dr Swire reiterated his regret that Megrahi's appeal against his conviction had been dropped. "I feel despondent that the West and Scotland didn't have the guts to allow this man's second appeal to continue, because I am convinced had they done so, it would have overturned the verdict against him."

However, there was anger from Lockerbie over Megrahi's release. The self-styled "Baby of Lockerbie" described the decision as "quite disgusting". Aimee Guthrie was born within an hour of the disaster to a couple who ran a hotel in the Borders town. She said she would have preferred it if Megrahi had been left to die in jail.

There was also a fierce debate over how Mr MacAskill's decision had affected the reputation of Scotland's legal system. Despite his claims to support the original verdict on Megrahi's guilt, some claimed the justice secretary had caved in to those who said that Scottish judges, police and prosecutors had got it wrong.

But Scottish Law Society president Ian Smart said the decision had upheld the reputation of the legal profession. He said the doubts were only over evidence, not process.

And retired judge Lord McCluskey said: "There is no reason for us not to show compassion – apart from revenge, which isn't the sweetest of virtues."