Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Trade would suffer if Megrahi had died in jail, admits Miliband

Published Date: 13 October 2009
By David Maddox
FOREIGN Secretary David Miliband last night insisted that British interests "would be damaged, perhaps badly" if Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi had been allowed to die in a Scottish jail.
His comments were the closest the British government has yet come to formally endorsing the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Miliband said: "Notwithstanding that any decision on release was for Scottish ministers and the Scottish judicial system, the UK government had a responsibility to consider the consequences of any Scottish decision.

"Although the decision was not one for the UK government, British interests, including those of UK nationals, British businesses and possibly security co-operation would be damaged, perhaps badly, if Megrahi were to die in a Scottish prison, rather than Libya.

"Given the risk of Libyan adverse reaction, we made it clear to them both that, as a matter of law and practice, it was not a decision for the UK government, and as a matter of policy we were not seeking Megrahi's death in Scottish custody."

He added that the government made "no apology" for its part in improving relations with Libya over the past decade, but insisted a prisoner-transfer deal signed with Tripoli was not an agreement to release the convicted mass murderer.

The statement follows hints by Prime Minister Gordon Brown that he supported the controversial release in August by Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill of the only man convicted of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December, 1988, which claimed 270 lives.

Former foreign minister Bill Rammell also confirmed that he gave the Libyans the same message in meetings running up to the decision.

And Mr Miliband's statement last night appeared to have left the Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, who opposed the release, further isolated.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "All of the evidence supports the justice secretary's decisions to reject the prisoner transfer application and grant compassionate release to Mr Al-Megrahi to be sent back to Libya to die.

"The UK Labour position played no role whatever in the justice secretary's decisions to reject prisoner transfer and grant compassionate release.

However, in response to Mr Miliband, Tory MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who was Scottish secretary at the time of the Lockerbie bombing, accused the UK government of paying more attention to Libya than to the US.

Sir Malcolm said: "Never for a moment did I expect the person convicted of murdering 200 people to be released and sent home, after serving only eight years of a 27-year minimum sentence."

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