Conservative leader and UK PM David Cameron has again attacked the decision to release Abdelbasset Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds claiming that such a release was “wrong” and that it musn’t happen again.
Speaking at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham Mr Cameron repeated attacks he originally made when visiting the US and added that the release had “undermined our [UK] standing in the world”.
The release of Al Megrahi, who is suffering from terminal cancer, just over a year ago was greeted with anger by many US relatives of the Lockerbie victims and senior US politicians. It also saw Scottish Labour, Tory and Lib Dem politicians attack the Scottish government although many respected international figures, including Nelson Mandela and the son of Mahatma Ghandi, backed the Scottish government and welcomed the showing of compassion to Mr Megrahi.
However Mr Cameron went further by appearing to issue a veiled threat against the independence of Scots Law when he said that “nothing like that must ever happen again”. The remark has been interpreted by some as an edict from Westminster and an attempt at interfering with the integrity of the Scottish judicial system which remains steadfastly non-political.
Mr Cameron said:
“Like the sight of the man responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, the biggest mass murderer in British history, set free to get a hero’s welcome in Tripoli. No. It was wrong, it undermined our standing in the world, and nothing like that must ever happen again.”
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused the UK Prime Minister of not understanding Scottish self-government and of showing disrespect to Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon said: “David Cameron appears not to understand the reality of Scottish self-government, which shows more Tory disrespect for Scotland.
“Regardless of people’s opinion, the decision was Scotland’s to take on the basis of the due process of Scots law, which was done to the letter.”
Mr Cameron’s claim that Al Megrahi was “responsible” for the downing of Pan Am 103 has been challenged by Robert Forrester who is part of The Justice for Megrahi Committee, a group of campaigners who believe Abdelbaset Al Megrahi may have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Mr Forrester described the UK PM’s remarks as a “gaffe” and claimed the Lockerbie verdict continued to be highly contentious.
In a statement to Newsnet Scotland Mr Forrester said:
“I note that in David Cameron’s conference address that his gaffe laden career continues apace. In it, he claimed that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was “responsible” for the Lockerbie tragedy. The use of the word responsible implies truth.
“As everyone well knows, this Zeist verdict was and continues to be highly contentious, to the extent that even bereaved families have been campaigning since 2001 to have the case reviewed on the ground that no reasonable court could have arrived at such a verdict on the basis of the evidence laid before the court.
“Like the vast majority of the public, it has clearly escaped Mr Cameron’s attention that courts do not exist to establish truth. Their function is to listen to the various arguments presented to them and decide on the basis of that what constitutes fact. The word fact in turn is bound up in the word manufacture. Hence, the verdict of a court is of human manufacture.
“If in the course of accepting a given position as constituting fact which happens to coincide with the truth, that is clearly a bonus. Moreover, courts of fact are subject to human frailty, this is why we have the fall back institution of the Court of Appeal. Mr al-Megrahi was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, this does not mean that the conviction represents the truth.”
Mr Forrester also suggested that Mr Cameron’s remarks would not help relations between Westminster and Edinburgh and added:
“Furthermore, whatever the failings of our justice system, it is the best shot we have been able to come up with, thus far, at establishing a method which can arrive at a conclusion which makes sense, but it must at all times be beyond reasonable doubt of course.
“Mr Cameron and those who applauded him would do well to acknowledge this. It is also hard to imagine how Mr Cameron intends to maintain even ‘cordial’ relations between Westminster and Holyrood by indulging in such rhetoric.”
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Board uncovered new evidence that cast doubt on Megrahi’s original conviction, however Mr Megrahi dropped his appeal prior to returning to Libya.