Swire offered cash help to al-Megrahi

THE father of a Lockerbie bombing victim made an astonishing £500,000 offer to help free the Libyan accused of his daughter's murder.

Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the December 1988 atrocity, offered part of his compensation cash to lawyers trying to prove the innocence of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, currently serving life in Greenock Prison.

Swire last night told Scotland on Sunday he had unwittingly contributed to a miscarriage of justice by helping to persuade Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi that Megrahi would receive a fair trial under the Scottish legal system.

Swire revealed he is now actively campaigning for Megrahi's release. It is understood he has held meetings with First Minister Alex Salmond to try to persuade him to set up a public inquiry into the affair.

Flora was among the 270 Lockerbie victims. Megrahi was found guilty and sentenced to life but he has been granted a second appeal after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission decided earlier this year his conviction was unsafe on six key grounds.

Swire has previously made it clear that he believes Megrahi is innocent of the crime and it is known he visited the Libyan in Greenock jail. But remarkable new details have now emerged of the extent to which Swire is fighting to have Megrahi returned to his family.

Sources close to the defence team said the offer of financial help was made in 2005, shortly after Swire and his wife Janet had dinner with Eddie McKechnie, who was at the time Megrahi's lawyer. According to the sources, McKechnie was downhearted by the drying up of financial support from Libya for Megrahi's defence. The Swires had their own overwhelming concern: the recovery of their son William from treatment for a brain tumour.

But that did not stop Swire offering McKechnie 500,000 if it was needed to keep Megrahi's defence team in operation. The money was to be paid from the compensation the Swires were due to be paid by Libya, estimated at 2m per family.

As events turned out, the Swires did not hand over a penny. Shortly after the discussions, McKechnie was replaced by another lawyer, Tony Kelly, and the funds started to flow again from Libya.

A source said: "That they were willing to make it underlines their commitment to doing all they can to see justice done in the case, and also tells you clearly what they think of the guilty verdict against Megrahi. It was an incredible offer from a man who you might expect would have nothing but anger and contempt for Megrahi."

As well as pressing Salmond for a public inquiry, Swire is in constant contact with Westminster politicians and fellow campaigners including Tam Dalyell.

Swire declined to discuss his offer of financial help to Megrahi's defence, but admitted: "When Megrahi goes home, I will feel a great weight off my shoulders. I might be overstating the significance of it, but I travelled to Libya three times to meet with their leader, Colonel Gaddafi, and I assured him that he could entrust the two Libyan citizens accused of the bombing to the Scottish criminal justice system.

"I witnessed every piece of evidence in the court at Zeist and I don't believe for one moment Megrahi was guilty. I also witnessed at first hand the sleight of hand and deceit of the legal system Megrahi had been entrusted to. I was and remain embarrassed and angry. I feel a personal burden on my shoulders.

"Megrahi languishes in Greenock Prison, an innocent man, and his wife and family, who had moved to Scotland, have had to return to Libya for the sake of the children."

Of his prison visit, Swire said: "I shook his hand when we met, which I could not have done if there was a shred of doubt in my mind of his innocence.

"He showed gratitude for my support. He has never shown any evidence of bitterness that I played a part in bringing him to this sorry pass. In fact, he has never shown any trace of bitterness or resentment over his predicament. He is very quick to show gratitude for my continuing efforts to support him. He is a very dignified man."