Saturday, August 22, 2009

So why is Brown silent on release of Megrahi?

So why is Brown silent on release of Megrahi?

Published Date: 22 August 2009
PRIME Minister Gordon Brown came under intense pressure last night to end his silence over the Lockerbie bomber – amid claims Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi's release was linked to trade deals with the UK.
And Tory leader David Cameron wrote to Mr Brown demanding to know what conversations had gone on between Westminster, the Libyan authorities and the Scottish Government that paved the way for the decision to free Megrahi.

The Prime Minister was under the spotlight as US president Barack Obama described Megrahi's homecoming as "highly objectionable".

Last night, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam, reportedly said the bomber's release had been linked to trade deals with Britain – a claim swiftly denied by the Foreign Office.

He also told a TV interviewer that Megrahi's release was a "victory" for all Libyans.

Mr Cameron said Britain's international reputation was at stake because of Megrahi's release, and while other governments had commented, "Britain's own Prime Minister has not".

Mr Brown's reluctance to make a statement was in sharp contrast to his quick reaction to other, less important events. Just hours after the death of reality TV star Jade Goody, the Prime Minister released a statement saying the whole country admired her determination. He also reacted quickly to the death of Michael Jackson and commented on the troubles of Britain's Got Talent star Susan Boyle.

Last night, the top story on the Downing Street website was a video message from Mr Brown to Muslims around the world for Ramadan. There was no mention of Lockerbie.

Meanwhile, it emerged that Mr Brown had sent a letter to Tripoli warning Col Gaddafi not to mark the return of Megrahi with jubilant scenes – a plea that appeared to have been largely ignored after the man convicted of 270 murders after the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 received a hero's welcome. Mr Brown had asked that Col Gaddafi "act with sensitivity" over Megrahi's return.

In an interview published today, Megrahi said he was "very, very happy" to be free. He said: "This was my hope and wish – to be back with my family before I pass away … I always believed I would come back if justice prevailed."

Downing Street continued to maintain a silence over whether Mr Brown believed Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill had made the correct decision in releasing the man responsible for Britain's biggest terrorist atrocity. A spokesman for the Prime Minister said Mr Brown had made clear that it was the Scottish Government's decision to release him.

Mr Brown, who is still officially on holiday but is now in charge of running the country, appeared to have no time to make a statement on the impact to Britain of the release.

He did, however, break away from his vacation to make other official statements, including praising British troops in Afghanistan. He also attended a one-hour meeting with Rose Gentle, the Scottish anti-war campaigner who lost her son in the Iraq war.

Mr Cameron – who has said that the decision to release Megrahi was wrong – urged Mr Brown to make a statement, pointing out Britain's standing in the world was threatened by Mr MacAskill's decision to grant Megrahi compassionate release.

The Conservative leader wrote: "We are entitled to know what you and your ministers have said to the Libyan authorities on the matter and to the Scottish justice secretary. Above all, I believe that the public are entitled to know what you think of the decision to release Megrahi and whether you consider it was right or wrong.

"The fact that the decision was taken by the Scottish justice secretary does not preclude you, as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, from now expressing your opinion on a subject that is of great public concern and which affects Britain's international reputation and our relations with our allies."

Earlier, Foreign Secretary David Miliband also side-stepped questions about what the UK government felt about the decision.

Mr Miliband, who previously made sure that the background papers to the Lockerbie case would be kept secret for ever, slapping a public interest immunity certificate on the files, yesterday condemned the scenes greeting Megrahi on his return to Libya as "distressing".

"The sight of a mass murderer getting a hero's welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing, above all for the 270 families who grieve every day for the loss of their loved ones," he said.

The Foreign Secretary also angrily dismissed suggestions that the UK government had wanted Megrahi to be released so that commercial relations with the oil-rich north African state could be improved.

"I reject that entirely," he said. "That is a slur both on myself and the government."

And he warned Libya that the eyes of the world were on the country. "I think it's very important that Libya knows – and certainly we have told them – that how the Libyan government handles itself in the next few days after the arrival of Mr Megrahi will be very significant in the way the world views Libya's re-entry into the civilised community of nations," he said.

First Minister Alex Salmond, who also condemned the scenes of jubilation, defended the Scottish Government's decision.

"We made a difficult and controversial decision for the right reasons," he said.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray cited the "sickening" scenes in Tripoli and criticism in the Libyan press of the Scottish justice system.

He said that, as well as reaching a wrong decision, the justice secretary had announced it in a "badly judged" statement which showed naivety and a lack of understanding of the international repercussions.

The scenes in Tripoli are also threatening a planned visit to Libya by the Duke of York.

The duke's spokesman said the trip in early September had been "in its planning stages". He added: "We will continue to take advice from the Foreign Office as we do with all overseas royal visits."

Last night, in a final act of legal tidying up, the Crown Office formally dropped its appeal against the "leniency" of Megrahi's original sentence – a minimum term of 27 years.

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