Lockerbie: Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi has died

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By a Newsnet reporter

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man who was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, has died at his home in Libya.

Mr Megrahi, who contracted terminal cancer whilst in prison in Greenock and was sent home on compassionate release in 2009, passed away at his home in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

His brother Abdulhakim, said Abdelbaset’s health had deteriorated quickly after complications set in last month when he was rushed to hospital for a series of blood transfusions.

Mr Megrahi always protested his innocence and there was doubt cast over his conviction by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

A recent book ‘Megrahi: You Are My Jury’ cast further doubt on the conviction of the Libyan and revealed flaws in the forensic evidence around the circuit board fragment presented at trial.

Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the Lockerbie atrocity has called the death of Mr Megrahi “a very sad event”.

Mr Swire, who is a member of the Justice for Megrahi group, added: “Right up to the end he was determined, for his family’s sake… [that] the verdict against him should be overturned,”

“And also he wanted that for the sake of those relatives who had come to the conclusion after studying the evidence that he wasn’t guilty, and I think that’s going to happen.”

First Minister Alex Salmond has called on people to remember the victims of Lockerbie.

Commenting on the news, Mr Salmond said: “Today should be about remembering the victims of the Lockerbie bombing.

“Our first thoughts are with the families of the Lockerbie atrocity, whose pain and suffering has been ongoing now for over 23 years.

“Today’s news was not unexpected – Mr Megrahi was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, which was the basis on which he was released.  His death does, however, put to rest some of the conspiracy theories which have attempted to suggest that his illness was somehow manufactured – today’s news confirms what we have always said about his medical condition.

The First Minister explained that another appeal was still possible: “It is open for relatives of Mr Megrahi to apply to the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission to seek a further appeal.  And the best, indeed the only, place for guilt or innocence to be determined is in a court of law.

Mr Salmond responded to those who claim the decision to grant compassionate release was based on anything other than the compassion built into Scots law by pointing out that all correspondence backed the Scottish Government’s statements on the matter.

He contrasted this with the behaviour of the previous Labour Government and added: “Indeed, what emerged is that the Scottish Government were the only ones playing with a straight bat – in contrast to the last UK Government which was revealed by Sir Gus O’Donnell’s Review as doing ‘all it could’ to facilitate Megrahi’s release, either under the PTA or compassionate release.‪”

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont used the death of the Libyan to launch an attack on the SNP Government and called the compassionate release of Mr Megrahi “an insult”.

Ms Lamont said: “Megrahi was convicted by a Scots court, under Scots law, of the greatest act of mass murder in Scottish history.

“Three years ago the Scottish Government chose to release him on the pretext he had just three months to live.  That was an insult to the victims.

“At this moment let me, on behalf of the people of Scotland, apologise to the families of all the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, for his early release.”

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie appeared to question Mr Megrahi’s conviction and said: “Although this is an end to a chapter of one of the worst terrorist events in Scotland there should be no celebration that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has died.

“Instead it should act as a spur to establish the facts including whether crucial forensic evidence was withheld from the trial.”

The 1988 atrocity led to the deaths of 270 people, most of them Americans.  Mr Megrahi was convicted in 2001 at a special court in Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

In 2007 there was outrage after it emerged former Labour PM Tony Blair had negotiated a secret deal with former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to repatriate Mr Megrahi back to Libya.

The Scottish Government refused to endorse ‘the Deal in the Desert’ and Megrahi was eventually freed two years later on compassionate grounds after contracting prostate cancer.

The release of Mr Megrahi in 2009 was controversial as Unionist parties lined up to attack Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill.  Former Labour leader in Scotland Iain Gray claimed that he would have left the Libyan in prison.

However secret documents released by Wikileaks revealed that the UK Labour Government had in fact been in favour of Mr Megrahi’s return to Libya.  It also emerged that Whitehall officials had been secretly advising the Libyans on Scots law.

Caught up in the frenzy, BBC Scotland’s Glenn Campbell labelled Mr MacAskill “the toast of Tripoli”, a comment that led to a facebook campaign against the Justice Minister.

Speaking today on SKY news, Russell Brown, Labour MP for Dumfries and Galloway repeated his party’s public line on the release by attacking Kenny MacAskill.

Mr Brown said that the compassionate release was the “wrong decision made by Kenny MacAskill” and that it had damaged relations between The Scottish and UK Governments.

Asked to comment on the growing doubts around the safety of Mr Megrahi’s conviction, Mr Brown said that the trial had been conducted under Scots law and that it had “Gave us a result”.

The Labour MP insisted that “more than just Al-Megrahi and his colleague were involved in this”.

The release of Megrahi has led to considerable misreporting and conflation on the part of the Scottish and UK media.  Initial claims that Scotland’s international image and businesses had been damaged by the compasisonate release proved groundless.

Some media commentators still to this day argue that the BP oil deal, signed immediately after Tony Blair’s secret deal in the desert – but crucially two years prior to the compassionate release – are somehow related.

More recently BBC Scotland was criticised after publishing an online article that implied Mr Megrahi had admitted involvement in the bombing of Pan Am 103.

Following the headline in October last year ‘Megrahi – My role exaggerated’, Good Morning Scotland presenter Gary Robertson told listeners that it seemed to be “some kind of admission of guilt”.

However it later emerged that Mr Megrahi had in fact made no such statement and that far from admitting guilt, he had in fact continued to protest his innocence.