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Why did they do it?

Nick Robinson | 12:35 UK time, Thursday, 3 September 2009

A smile, or is it a smirk, is rarely off the face of the Scottish first minister but today he can scarcely conceal his delight. It's not just that he's unveiling his programme for government and plans for a referendum on independence (more on that on my colleague Brian Taylor's blog). It is that it's Gordon Brown, and not he, who is getting the flak for releasing the Lockerbie bomber.

Alex SalmondYesterday, he lost the vote in the Scottish Parliament but felt that was the end of his troubles on this issue and not the beginning of more to come.

It all raises the question what calculations lay behind the Scottish government's decision to act as they did. Just as I was pondering on this, I received an e-mail with the thoughts of Tim Luckhurst - now professor of journalism at the University of Kent - but a former editor of the Scotsman and adviser to Labour's Donald Dewar:

"Downing Street and the Foreign Office are being blamed for profoundly desiring a result they had no power to deliver. To achieve this release they had to make their sworn enemy, the SNP, do their bidding. How likely is it that the SNP simply volunteered? Think about it... The most likely explanation is that MacAskill released Megrahi despite intense pressure from London. That would explain why, in his statement announcing the release, he took care to explain that he was NOT releasing the prisoner under the prisoner transfer scheme and that the SNP had opposed the scheme from the beginning.
Remember that they had a choice of letting Megrahi die in Scotland - either in jail or outside it under heavy police protection; transferring him to a Libyan jail under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement - apparently London's favoured option or releasing him on compassionate grounds as they did."

So far, so uncontroversial, but Luckhurst then goes on to ask a contentious question:

"Was MacAskill bribed with promises of an increase in the Scottish block grant? Was Alex Salmond given an assurance that Westminster will tolerate the referendum on independence he is explicitly banned from funding?
If neither of these, then what?... did MacAskill believe his decision would embarrass Brown more than it has humiliated the SNP? That remains the most likely explanation. After all, the release has damaged UK interests. But it has damaged Scotland too and the alternative explanation, ie that Westminster offered Holyrood something valuable in exchange, now deserves thorough scrutiny."

Tim Luckhurst is, of course, no fan of the SNP, and given that Alex Salmond announced this morning that his spending powers for next year will fall by almost half a billion pounds and that Scottish Labour declared its adamant opposition to the referendum bill this morning, his first two theories seem unlikely.

There are plenty of other possible explanations:

• The SNP may have acted as ministers first and nationalists second, taking seriously the warnings of the economic, diplomatic and strategic impact of falling out with Libya

• The nationalists may have relished the prospect of their Scottish government taking a major internationally significant decision that set them apart from Westminster

• The prospect of Megrahi dying in Scotland, whether in prison or outside it, surrounded by dozens of policemen, could have raised fears about unrest or even a terrorist response

Of course, the real answer may simply be the one that the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, has given all along - that he followed the due process of Scottish law which culminated in an appropriate act of compassion for a dying man.

Speculation all, I grant you, but intriguing isn't it?


Page 1 of 2

  • Comment number 1.

    There is another explanation.
    That we're saddled, both in Westminster and Holyrood, with a bunch of prima donna politicians who, regardless of party, all seem to consider their self-indulgent hang-ups and schoolboy points scoring over issues like this more important than trying to address the worst economic crisis in 80 years. The whole lot of them are a waste of space. Caledonian Comment

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm a subscriber to the conspiracy theory that Kenny MacAskill displayed his compassionate side and released a dying man. By showing an evil man compassion Mr MacAskill did what Gordon Brown could never do - take a decision without fear, publicly announce that decision and stand by it in Parliament without mealy mouth words.

  • Comment number 3.

    I wouldn't trust Brown or Straw as far as I could throw them, so any decision made by Mr MacAskill that embarrasses Brown is alright by me.

  • Comment number 4.

    Isn't it more likely to be a combination of factors. And don't forget the links between Scotland's oil industry and Libya. Making difficult decisions is what ministers are paid to do. I happen to agree with this one. I just wish that everyone, especially Gordon Brown, had been honest about what happened and why.

  • Comment number 5.

    Michael White in the Guardian today asks the obvious question: why couldn't Gordon Brown tell the truth about the release?

  • Comment number 6.

    I really think that the poster in number 1 spot has got it absolutely right.
    Oh for something that will wipe the smug, self satisfied gurn off Salmonds face. I am ashamed to come from the same country as that parochial, divisive and intensely irritating over promoted local councillor.
    Where's Galloway when you need a really effective insult??

  • Comment number 7.

    The SNP have prospered in Scotland mainly by opposing and where possible not doing in Scotland the things that New Labour have done that have upset traditional Labour supporters.

    There are of course many traditional Labour supporters in Scotland. Scottish voters did not support Mrs Thatcher in her heyday as enthusiastically as those in England, so many have been unimpressed by New Labour's neo-Thatcherism.

    The Megrahi decision performed the double trick of not doing what Westminister wanted and showing that SNP ministers were not prepared to be as subservient to US wishes as New Labour ministers appear to be.

    In spite of the vote in the Scottish Parliament the SNP will probably gain in the medium term. Especially if it turns out that Megrahi was innocent all along.

  • Comment number 8.

    My understanding of Scottish (and indeed UK) law is that it is not just a possibility to release a dying man on compassionate grounds, but a requirement. This being based on prisons not being equipped to care for the terminally ill, and the staff not being trained for it either. It is also to allow some dignity in death. As such our values are to be commended.

    Conditions of such release are that the person is able to get sufficient care and access to friends and family.

    Political and criminal considerations are specifically not allowed to be taken into consideration, the only other requirement being that the released person must not be a danger to anyone else.

    Guidelines suggest three months as a reasonable life expectancy for such action.

    Nothing more to see here now, move along please...

  • Comment number 9.

    Independence? Read this then see if you think you still want to be part of the union.

    This isn't about whether you can still visit your granny in Kent but economic survival.

  • Comment number 10.

    To set the whole release in context, could someone ask what I consider to be a very important question -- How many prisoners in Scotland have been released on compassionate grounds in the last 1/ 3 / 5 years.

  • Comment number 11.

    Something about that smile on his face, just way to much like the cat that got the cream.

    I quite like the theory that westminster will let Salmond have his referendum, would certainly make sense for that to tempt the SNP. Plus if they got the chance to show Labour up at the same time then I think that would of tipped it for them.

    No country wants to look bad internationally, overall here the U.K has made itself look alot more compassionate and forgiving which will put us in good stead in countrys which we need to reach out to. The unfortunate side effect of this is we now also look like a petty little country whose internal squabbles are the most important thing to it.

  • Comment number 12.

    Message 1 CaledonianComment

    Well said!

  • Comment number 13.

    What a sad state of affairs when politicians as a whole have lost so much trust that the last possible explanation Nick suggests is the explanation that MacAskill himself gave.

    I don't suppose we'll ever know which is the right reason, but just for once, my gut feeling is to take MacAskill at his word. He was simply taking the decision that was the correct one under Scottish law.

  • Comment number 14.


    Agreed, the day Brown stands up and says this is my idea and my plan (and were not talking about his saving the world gaffe) then he'll instantly get a lot more respect from the voters.

  • Comment number 15.


    Speculation all, I grant you, but intriguing isn't it?

    Yes, it is true, speculating it is at this time, but, it is also intriguing and; Waiting for the rest of the story to come out....

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 16.

    "APbbforum wrote:
    Michael White in the Guardian today asks the obvious question: why couldn't Gordon Brown tell the truth about the release?"

    From what I have seen many politicians have problem giving a straight-forward, honest answer to an asked question and this is one of the very few things that Gordon Brown seems to be an expert in.

  • Comment number 17.

    Sorry, Nick.

    You are doing all that inside political parties stuff all over again. Speculation may be life or death to you, but it's background chatter to most people.

    The bigger issue revolves around the Trust that can be attached to the UK government.

    It seems the Americans have revealed that, in 1998, representatives of the UK and US governments gave an undertaking to the UN Security Council that anyone convicted of the Lockerbie bombing would serve their term in a UK jail.

    As far as I can tell, there were no "unless this or that" clauses.

    Any undertaking must have been approved at the very highest level.

    Subsequently, the UN Security Council passed a resolution, in response to which Libya produced al-Megrahi.

    But a UK Minister recently assured the Scottish Executive that any previous undertaking was "no longer binding".

    Did he do that on his own initiative? Doubtful, but:
    If so, he should be sacked.
    If not, then who else was involved in the decision to set aside an undertaking to the UN Security Council?

    So this (our) government says that an undertaking given to the UN is only "applicable" until they change their mind. (Although there is no evidence that this was ever suggested.)

    So not only did they break an undertaking jointly entered into with the USA - but also one given to every member of the Security Council.

    It is obvious that the US never expected the undertaking to be broken. So this shattered, shambolic mob of an administration didn't even bother to try and pave a diplomatic path towards facilitating release.

    Forget whether compassion is involved. This is the worst bit of diplomatic nonsense we've seen for decades (and that's saying a lot!!!).

    A full public enquiry should be set up, with every scrap of information available to the government being produced in a "quasi-judicial" environment - with evidence given under oath.

    Maybe there will even be more light shed on exactly how the bombing was arranged - and who was involved.

    It's shaming that our Foreign Secretary doesn't seem to give a good goddam about the impact of a UK undertaking within the UN having to carry a clause "unless of course something crops up under Scottish legal jurisdiction".

    Where on earth does that leave the UK within the UN?

    No wonder Brown doesn't want to talk about this.

    The USA, China, India, Russia are not interested in the nuances of internal UK arrangements. But they do assume that the UK government talks on behalf of a nation. If not, then there should be seats at the UN Security Council for bits of much bigger countries...

  • Comment number 18.

    Interesting points made above. I enjoyed reading them.
    I understand it was difficult to get a conviction in 1989 for Megrahi for various reasons. I also understand, when sentence was pronounced it was recommended he serve at least 20 years and when he was released, he should be deported. This is how it has happened. The current row is about a dying man, a pawn, it would seem, in a much bigger game. When he is dead will the controversy go on? Whether innocent as he has always claimed or guilty. He will die as a convicted murderer. It was up to the Scottish Government to make this decision. It had done it.
    I occurs to me it is much better to keep on good terms with Lybia for both the UK and the US than to continue to dispute about the rights and wrongs of this.
    In 1988, when the plane crashed over Lockerbie, the US was on very bad terms with Lybia, mainly due to to its bombing expeditions in 1986, whatever the rights or wrongs of that were. Politicians, as usual are arguing about rights and wrongs over the release of Megahi. Since it has happened can we not start to look at it in a positive light, if we don't have an agenda of our own to air on this newslog?
    I have found the way in which certain politicians are being pilloried over this extremely tedious, especially when I hear carefully worded statements, day after day about it. Am I alone in thinking "Oh not more, not again!"

  • Comment number 19.

    #10 says that journalists should ask how many Scottish prisoners have been released on compassionate grounds. See link below. Relevant extract:

    "Compassionate release is a regular feature of the Scottish system when a prisoner is near death. Of the 31 applications over the last decade, 24 prisoners have been freed on compassionate grounds in Scotland, including al-Megrahi. Another seven applications were turned down because the medical evidence did not support the claim."

  • Comment number 20.

    I, personally, see no point in speculating on the why of the situation. This may have created a negative impact on the reputations of Westminster and Holyrood, but I feel it's about time that governments in the UK aren't just seen as the lapdogs of American policy.

    If Megrahi was only going to be looked after until he died using taxpayer money from UK residents for security, food, drink, accommodation, etc. then I see no reason to criticise the final outcome. Megrahi is no longer a concern of the UK.

    Also, yes Libya may have taken their Welcome celebrations a bit too far but what's wrong with choosing a decision that went Libya's way one time. It's not like we agree to everything Libya ask of the UK, it's more the perception that we agree to everything the USA ask of us.

    Whether the decision was political or not, it's nice to know that every decision doesn't go America's way and that when the Americans complain we stand our ground no matter what the cause of the decision because the decision has been made.

    The Americans are just throwing a temper tantrum because they didn't get their way, they're starting to act like spoilt children who after years of compliance start hearing the word NO.

    America, get over it, you'll probably get your way the next time.

  • Comment number 21.

    The use of the comments attributed to Tim Luckhurst is an interesting example of the way online journalism is changing the nature of reporting - even on the BBC.
    Essentially we have fantasy comments from someone who knows precisely nothing about SNP strategy getting an airing. These carry zero authority and are clearly ludicrous. For those reasons, presumably they would not feature in a radio or television package - so why is it ok to put them online?

  • Comment number 22.

    Mandleson is very quiet on this one. Wonder what trade deals he set up with Lybia.

  • Comment number 23.

    Why does anyone in politics do anything? I will avoid this topic if that is OK but "All that is wrong about politics" - heard just now.

    My favourite MEP - not - on the news just now - has a job hasn't he?

    Yet he - Nige - has suggested he is intending to run against the current Speaker of The House of Commons - in presumably less than a year? To attempt to become an MoP? Because someone is - allegedly - etc etc

    Say what, Mr Farage? You are entitled to your opinion but as I said - are you not busy?

    In my opinion - Europe doesn't deserve you and

    That is my problem with this country, Nicholas - I do not feel I am ABLE to contribute enough to mocking these people completely out of public life.

    But maybe - I am wrong about them all and their motives. And there is the rub. I accept I could be wrong about everything!

    Let loose this dog of "Whoah"!

  • Comment number 24.

    #9. At 1:16pm on 03 Sep 2009, Wee-Scamp wrote:

    "Independence? Read this then see if you think you still want to be part of the union.

    This isn't about whether you can still visit your granny in Kent but economic survival."

    Indeed it is, so why does the SNP want to even think in terms of independence - apart from dogma, it's a known fact that once and if Scotland did obtain independence the SNP as a political party and force for change would break up with massive in-fighting, the only thing that keeps the cohesion is the wish for a greater say for Scottish citizens in how Scotland is ruled - the most likely reason for making such an announcement now is to deflect from the Libya 'incident', with NSO and NSG fast running out (and thus any chance to fund an independent Scotland via such tax revenue) Scotland will be another Iceland should it's people be daft enough to fall for this Salmond wheeze top try and dig himself out of his self dug hole... Well, in my humble opinion anyway!

  • Comment number 25.

    @ 10
    since the current compassionate release law was introduced in 2000, I Beleive the figure is 27 released while 31 have appiled I'm not sure what happen to 4 who appiled but weren't released.

  • Comment number 26.


    re your email from Prof Luckhurst. He writes:

    "The most likely explanation is that MacAskill released Megrahi despite intense pressure from London"

    I am not sure how he draws this conclusion, given that we know the government did not want to see al-Megrahi die in a Scottish prison

    If there was any pressure from London , isn't it far more likely that it was to release him. Why would the Government put "intense pressure" on Scotland to do the opposite of what they actually desired?

    Of course, we may not know the real answer for some time (if ever) due to the clandestine way government operates and all the shady dealings done behind closed doors.

    I expect the real reason the SNP acted the way it did was because it could.

  • Comment number 27.

    Then let me throw this conspiracy theory in.

    Brown is a card carrying Scotland first member. (Fact)
    Blair meets Gadhaffi and deals are made (Fact)
    Manglebum goes to Libya, as does a number of other labour ministers. (Fact)
    Megrahi gets released on Compassionate grounds and Brownie boy keeps shtum letting SNP take the flak. (Fact)

    Labour come out and declaim the whole deal - Brown makes the point it is Scotland's deal not his ( Emancipated but hey?)

    So now these deals are done - which country out of the 'union' benefits the most from any oil deal with Libya?

    Now thankfully I haven't been eductated under Labour so I can actually put two and two together.

    Hmmm - I wonder if any English MP's were allowed to have a say in Scotland's politics whether or not this deal would have happened?

    Still I guess its still ok for Scottish MP's to upset our allies at our expense, without any recourse back to London.

    Whether or not it was a genuine deal or a compassionate move is irrelevant, if Scottish MP's continue to make enemies of our allies, without recourse or thought of the 'United' Kingdom, then I think the sooner independence happens the better. Certainly we in the rest of the UK would be able to sleep a little sounder.

    Please Scotland - become independent and take the present London incumbents with you.

  • Comment number 28.

    Sorry, Mr Robinson, but not "..intriguing.." in the least.

    Unfortunately for you and all those Politicians either side of the Atlantic and north or south of the UK border your closing sentences Mr Robinson are the actual facts of the matter.

    All speculation is based on unsubstantiated and largely spurious verbiage in documents/letters etc. that have nothing new to add. The fact is as MacAskill described them: Right or wrong that is all there is to the release of Megrahi.
    Any description alluding to alternative reasons produced by a really foolishly playing to the crowd Pres Obama, a truly dullard and inept performance by the jock in No.10, and most certainly by all the billy-goat guff and puff of Cameron etc. is simply a waste of energy. They are a diversion from the real issues facing the UK and to some extent the USA.

    Yesterday, on BBC News, the former White House foreign affairs advisor was claiming the Megrahi issue would damage UK - US relations for years because of the duplicity: Stuff and nonsense - - what a poorly informed advisor he must have been - - US and UK will cling together in Iraq, Afghanistan and if the US wants NATO to continue they will eat their annoyance and welcome UK Armed Forces who are the only ones backing them in any operational theatre of the World.

    Minister for Justice MacAskill following legal procedures as laid down in law granted convicted Megrahi release on the compassionate grounds that guilty or innocent of the heinous Lockerbie crime he is rapidly dying.

    End of.

  • Comment number 29.

    Tim Luckhurst?

    Hardly a man without an agenda, Nick - I think 'no fan of the SNP' is masterful understatement

    Not only was he a former editor of the Scotsman and adviser to Labour's Donald Dewar, but also to the Scottish Labour group of MPs at Westminster. He was also an unsuccessful Labour party candidate in 1987 and a contributor to "What a State - Is Devolution for Scotland the End of Britain".

    So hardly likely to present a balanced view. But then he worked at the BBC so that's all right then

  • Comment number 30.

    Some facts:

    Megrahi was included in the PTA with Libya despite the Scottish Government's open resistance.

    An application for compassionate release is a right enjoyed by all prisoners in the Scottish prison system, regardless of the severity of the crime for which they have been convicted.

    The decision to grant, or not to grant, compassionate release is made by the Scottish Justice Minister, alone.

    It is clear that the UK government wanted Megrahi released under the PTA. The reasons why they wanted him released in such a manner have not been fully explained but no doubt include not wanting him to die in prison in the UK (obviously terrible for UK-Libya relations, both diplomatic and commercial, and potentially an excuse for terrorist action against UK interests). It is also most probable that this position was made clear to the Scottish Government.

    As stated above, the Scottish Government has always been against Megrahi being returned to Libya under a PTA. Why were the SNP against the PTA? Because they were bounced into it by the UK government. It too, however, was not keen to see Megrahi die in prison, most likely for similar reasons to those stated above, but also, I suspect, because there are many within senior SNP ranks who have serious doubts as to the safety of his conviction.

    In normal circumstances, in such a position, the SNP government would have allowed the appeal process to do its job and in due course either Megrahi would have been released or his conviction upheld. As he was given less than three months to live, however, this was not an option.

    It therefore had only one course open to it, and that was to consider compassionate release, which has as its only substantive criteria, the question of whether the Justice Secretary wishes to be compassionate towards a dying man, allowing him to die at home, with his family, rather than alone, in prison. As stated above, the rules do not differentiate between prisoners on the basis of the gravity of the crime for which they were convicted, so the Justice Secretary has only two choices. Show compassion, or do not. Given that it was clearly their desire to see him sent back to Libya, it is hardly surprising that Megrahi was then released on this basis.

    The only question that remains is why did Megrahi abandon his appeal? He could have been compassionately released without such a move. The only possible explanation must be that someone, somewhere, was able to bring sufficient presssure to bear on either Megrahi, or the Scottish Government, or both, to ensure that in the event that Megrahi was released, the apppeal would be dropped. To answer who, one must first ask why, who stood to gain from dropping the appeal?

    The one party that gains nothing from the appeal being abandoned, is the SNP government.

  • Comment number 31.

    #17 Fairlyopenminded - Well said.

    The speculation for motives is pointless and unbecoming. The real issue here is not Megrahi's guilt, or deals that may, or may not, have been made to secure his release. In my opinion sending him home was both the humane and pragmatic answer, and one entirely in keeping with Scottish law.

    No, the real issues here are:
    a. the UK governments diplomatic handling of the situation, which has been dire
    b. how to prevent similar situations in the future, where the UK government has no legal say in matters that have been devolved but affect us all.

    I think even his greatest admirers (if he still has any) would admit that Gordon Brown does not come across as personable, diplomatic, tactful or charming. Therefore persuading the US that the decision was correct was always going to be a struggle, especially as it seems to contravene an agreement made earlier to keep Megrahi in jail for his whole term (though what a 'whole term' is is subject to debate). If there is even a hint that he was released for commercial reasons the US have every right to feel mightily aggrieved.

    Labour have opened a Pandorra's box by granting partial devolution to (some of the) consituent nations of the UK. It is not at all obvious how a similar situation could be avoided in the future, even if it is presented better.

  • Comment number 32.

    #11, calmandhope wrote:

    "... No country wants to look bad internationally, overall here the U.K has made itself look alot more compassionate and forgiving which will put us in good stead in countrys which we need to reach out to. The unfortunate side effect of this is we now also look like a petty little country whose internal squabbles are the most important thing to it."


    If the UK government gave an joint undertaking, with the US, to the UN Security Council that anyone convicted of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, that HAS to apply across the whole UK.

    If that doesn't work, then it means the UK has no place at the UN Security Council.

    The US never says we give an undertaking, except if the states of Texas, California, Pennsylvania - who have bodies of differing laws - decide they won't agree.

    If the government can't speak for the nation, we are in deep dark stuff.

    I'm all in favour of compassion. (Especially if there remain nagging doubts about the real guilt of an individual.)
    For many nations we deal with in the international arena, compassion simply looks like weakness. Good people shrug that off. But there should be some "reasoned basis" that extends across the whole of a nation - not just bits of it.

    I don't really care whether there was encouragement given by the UK mob to the Edinburg set to find a way to release Megahi.

    BUT, if a UK government gives assurances to the UN, I expect them to be met.

    If there were any idea that an undertaking could be withdrawn, I would at the minimum expect massive diplomatic preparation before it occured.

    Has that happened? Just what have David Miliband and his FO minions been doing to prepare the ground for a change to a commitment given to the UN Security Council in 1998?

    It obviously didn't even reach the USA.

    I don't really care whether the Scots have a different legal system. I do care that a UK government has to speak for the whole of the nation when dealing internationally.

    Suppose a US nuclear submarine had a problem and came into Faslane. And was sabotaged and destroyed with massive loss of life. Would the US consider it was a "Scottish" crime - or a UK-based act of terrorism?

    Blair initiated/approved the UK-Libyan prisoner transfer agreement. Brown brought it into force. Both shrugged and said "It doesn't matter because any undertakings we gave to the UN can be set aside by a troublesome area of the UK".

    For me, that just isn't right...

  • Comment number 33.

    The interesting thing here is while there are so many potentially dodgy questions for the London government to face, why did Scots Labour Leader Iain Gray go into full attack mood when Megrahi was released? Now that all the accusations of trade deals have come out he has been made to look stupid (something he does nearly all the time anyway!). Obviously Brown and co. didn't keep him in the loop!

    Certainly I think the Scottish government could have handled the release better but it's Brown and co who now have all the difficult questions to answer.

  • Comment number 34.

    There is another explanation:

    The Scottish government did not want a Megrahi appeal and the prospect of Megrahi passing on during the trial. This would have exposed concerns about his prosecution and the potential for exposing the perversion of justice at the original trial and the wrong man or accomplice man in jail for 8 years - his death under these circumstances would have caused the 'unrest' and other problems for sure.

    SNP knew from nods and winks that Westminster sleazers wanted Megrahi released for oil and building/saving reputations of Brown/Blair and the escape route was releasing Megrahi on so called 'compassionate' grounds. The murder of the PC and other problems would also be conveniently buried/ out of focus as well as would suit the dictator in Libya and British corporate interests.

    The SNP says Megrahi's release was on quasi judicial grounds but we only here the judicial reasons - what are the 'other bits' that we are not being told - convenience, appeasement and 'double dealing'.

    Prof Luckhurst I think you need to study a bit more at the University - but not a bad try!

    One thing is for sure - the fiasco dicredits all those UK interests involved.

  • Comment number 35.

    Why did they do it?

    Because they could - and it really is that simple.

    McAskill gets to look like a decent sort of guy, Salmond gets his referendum, Mandelson gets his trade deal, Miliband is home free and Brown ends up with rather less egg on his face than you would normally expectgiven the prevarication.

    When all this has calmed down, of course, it might make sense to ask whether or not Labour did not completely cock up devolution, whether ministers should really have the power to make judicial decisions - in London or Edinburgh - and whether the right decision was made on purely humanitarian and legal grounds rather than pragmatic ones.

    But that can all await the judgment of history and, for now, everyone is happy. Except, of course, our American friends. Some you win, some you loose. This is begining to look like a no score draw.

  • Comment number 36.


  • Comment number 37.

    "...Speculation all, I grant you, but intriguing isn't it?"

    Not really, Nick.

    A waste of time, I'd suggest. I really don't give much attention to the subtle interactions between febrile small minded politicians.

    The intriguing thing is that this UK administration decided that commitments given by its (own-party) previous administration should be set aside.

    It was explicitly stated by a Westminster Minister to a Scottish Executive "equivalent" that a UK undertaking was no longer binding.

    The undertaking to the UN pre-dated the creation of the Scottish Executive. However, Scottish law has always been separately recognised since the act of Union. So NOTHING changed between the time of the UK undertaking and the present dilemma.

    So why should a UK Minister tell a Scot that a UK statement to the UN Security Council "didn't matter any more" - without telling the international community?

    Who authorised that statement/letter? And on what legal basis?

    Presumably, any Blair-endorsed commitment had been checked prior to an undertaking given to the UN? And that must have included any legal anomalies. (If not, what was his friend the Lord Chancellor doing?)

    Can you imagine the next time there is a serious international incident and the UN Security Council considers a response.

    And the Russian representative asking the UK representative, "Do you speak for a nation, or a bit of it? And just how long do should we expect any agreement to be upheld?"

    It's an international disaster.

  • Comment number 38.


    Maybe I explained myself badly earlier on. I happen to agree with you on the fact that if the U.K gave assurances then its up to the WHOLE of the U.K to keep to them and to meet those obligations. My main point was intended to be about the fact that now the main focus is on these discrepencies coming out between different departments and westminster and Scotland which shouldnt even have had the chance to be there. Your last paragraph sums it up perfectly though.

    Apoligies for any confusion, new here so still getting used to explaining myself first time.

  • Comment number 39.

    As a scot I am proud of what the justice secretary did, the compassionate grounds release system has been used many times before,under the previous administration with a Labour First Minister and Lib Dem Justice Minister a child killer was released on compassionate grounds, something that i'm sure would have been just as abhorrent to many as the release of Megrahi. It saddens me that our opposition parties, who have been involved in these decisions before and obviously must realise how difficult it is to come up with a solution, are scoring cheap political points over the release.

  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 41.

    #31 Quite correct...where was Milliband during these events?

    Correct, the handling of Foreign Affairs is NOT a devolved matter, therefore the international aspects of this quasi-judicial decision, rightly fall upon the Foreign Secretary to deal with.

    It may not seem fair that he cannot influence the Scottish Justice Secretary, but it's a fact he has to live with. - His response was to lie under cover, and let the ship drift without an advocate in stormy international waters.

    I agree that MacAskill took a controversial decision, which Westminster agrees fell into his brief...but Milliband deserted his watch in times of trouble. - That was inexcusible, even if he has no liking for the SNP.

    I sense that these has been a change to the political landscape, north of the border, and parties of all colours will have to take stock before elections loom on the horizon.

  • Comment number 42.

    #6 Where's Galloway when you need a really effective insult??

    Galloway sides with MacAskill on this one. He wrote that Labour were hypocrites back at the end of last month.

    If you are looking for one of his insults, Galloway wrote in his paper column that the FBI Mueller guy couldn't carry Edgar Hoover's handbags.

    (He did actually write that if any moderator is vetting that comment)

  • Comment number 43.

    Given up writing your own blog then?
    Leaving it to Tim Lacklustre is more than I can bear.
    The man attempted to manipulate voters prior to the Scottish elections with attack after attack in every possible newspaper.
    He was an editor of the utterly discredited Scotsman, wrote speeches for the Labour party and you allow him free rein on your blogsite.?
    The discussions that take place about breach of the impartiality clause by the BBBC on every blogsite I visit are many and various.
    This really takes the biscuit.

  • Comment number 44.


    I'm new to this board but feel quite strongly about Mr Megrahi being released.

    From what I have read I feel that he is very probably innocent and would probably have been released on appeal on the evidence.

    From that viewpoint I have no qualms about him being released to die in his homeland.

    Obviously, some posters will disagree. All I can ask is "if he were your son, how would you feel believing him to be innocent and dying in a foreign jail."

    This is the problem with politics - rather like journalism - "why let the truth get in the way of a good story."

    On another tack, I hope we will get some comments from Mr Robinson on the government's consultancy episode asking McKinsey to see how they could save £20billion. I really enjoyed the Gerry Robinson programmes on Rotherham Hospital which started as a bit of a basket-case and ended up, not through management but asking the staff, a showcase for the NHS on how to be efficient. I'm sure that all hospitals can save lots of money if they really try and take politics and egos out of the equation.

  • Comment number 45.

    #35 threnodio

    "When all this has calmed down, of course, it might make sense to ask whether or not Labour did not completely cock up devolution"

    We don't need to wait in order to see what is obvious! The arrangements for this one-sided devolution benefit Scotland, but only at the expense of England.

    It's a bit like a married couple getting half a divorce. One partner is divorced, but the other partner is still married! With New Labour dominated by Scottish MPs, guess which partner gets the best deal?

  • Comment number 46.

    I half-agree with Distant Traveller about this half-divorce.

    For sure the situatio has changed in 2 key aspects; firstly the Scottish Govt is no longer composed of Labour puppets, and secondly the popular suport for Labour (north & south) has ebbed away.

    I think there is an increased appetite for a full-divorce on both sides of the border. - A referendum would be a worthy step, but the Labour Party in Scotland resists for fear of defeat.

  • Comment number 47.

    #44 stewartroad

    "From what I have read I feel that he is very probably innocent and would probably have been released on appeal on the evidence.

    From that viewpoint I have no qualms about him being released to die in his homeland"

    Unfortunately we will never know. One of the consequences of his release was the condition that he dropped his appeal. If he was REALLY released on 'compassionate grounds', why was it a condition that he had to end his attempt to clear his name? Where is the compassion in denying a man his right to justice? Why couldn't his lawyers be allowed to continue this case in absentia? And what about the relatives' right to know the truth, one way or the other? And our rights to know?

    It's not surprising therefore that some people take the view that the real reason he was released was to avoid the possibility that he would win his case, thereby showing the Scottish judicial system in a poor light. If they had banged up the wrong person, not only would that mean an injustice had occurred, but the REAL culprits had got away with it.

    One thing we cannot expect from this government is the truth. We now can't know about the safety of the original conviction, so quite apart from differing opinions about compassion, justice has not seen to be done.

  • Comment number 48.

    #47 Distant traveller
    It was NOT a condition that he had to drop his appeal to be released on compassionate grounds. The appeal only had to be dropped if he was to be released via the prisoner transfer agreement.

  • Comment number 49.

    can it be true that the scottish parliment has the same problem as westminster, inept self promoting mp's that ignore the public and run wild over common sense.

  • Comment number 50.


    I understand that all of the evidence for Mr Megrahi's innocence has been handed to his lawyer who will publish it. Then I suppose we must make up our own minds.

    Whatever the conlusion I think this is one "can of worms" that will continue wriggling for some time.

  • Comment number 51.

    Distant Traveller, I largely agree, BUT the dropping of appeal was NOT a condition of release. - I'm weary of constantly hearing this erroneous claim.

    The appeal is ONLY connected to the PTA conditions, NOT to Compassinate Release. - Please everybody, absorb this fact.

  • Comment number 52.

    47. At 4:07pm on 03 Sep 2009, DistantTraveller wrote:

    "One of the consequences of his release was the condition that he dropped his appeal"

    Absolute drivel, you clearly have not been keeping up to date with the legal requirements of this case. The appeal was never a condition for compassionate release, it was for the PTA but as the crown hadnt dropped its appeal for the length of sentence it is a moot point.

  • Comment number 53.

    Just to be clear, Mr. Al-Megrahi is perfectly free even today to pursue his appeal under Scots Law. - Unfortunately life is (quite literally) too short.

    The Crown Office have ensured that his appeal on 6 grounds has been delayed while his cancer took hold. - Shall we despise the Crown Office for letting a man die rather than permit his appeal to be heard in court.?

  • Comment number 54.

    DT Wrote: "Why couldn't his lawyers be allowed to continue this case in absentia? And what about the relatives' right to know the truth, one way or the other? And our rights to know?"

    Wrong question, since the appeal was at liberty to proceed, even with Al-Megrahi in a Libyan hospital bed.

    Thus the decision by MacAskill was the ONLY decision available to him, which ALLOWED the case to remain open.

    It was only the irregular PTA promoted by Downing Street, which required the case to be dropped.

    These are basic facts which the London media have mis-reported repeatedly. It seems to me that MacAskill's decision was the only available route to justice...bravely chosen.

  • Comment number 55.

    #38, calmandhope wrote:

    Maybe I explained myself badly earlier on. I happen to agree with you on the fact that if the U.K gave assurances then its up to the WHOLE of the U.K to keep to them and to meet those obligations. My main point was intended to be about the fact that now the main focus is on these discrepencies coming out between different departments and westminster and Scotland which shouldnt even have had the chance to be there. Your last paragraph sums it up perfectly though.

    Apoligies for any confusion, new here so still getting used to explaining myself first time."


    Please don't apologise on this post. Especially to me. I'm an in-and-out poster. Watch out for the real devotees!

    I actually agree that the result of this "pass the parcel" stuff makes it look as though the UK is simply a bunch of regional or national politicians with ferrets down their trousers.

    I just don't like the idea that the UK government gives a commitment to the UN, then casually disregards it without at least preparing its working (international) partners with any proper justification.

    Not too interested about whether "English and Welsh" or "Scottish" law applies. If a government commits a nation, it must = surely (?) have taken account of any legal oddities before such an undertaking could be offered.

    And it must = surely (?) have taken all aspects of international impact into account before allowing a convicted murderer (whether guilty or not) to be moved from where the Government commited our nation to say he'd be held?

    At the moment, it feels a bit like the US and UK governments agreeing a perpetual peace agreement, but somebody in Washington shrugging and sayin "Yeah, well, sorry about those guys in Florida. Hope you didn't have too many casualities".

    I'd like David Miliband, as Foreign Secretary, (described as "Brains" by Campbell and Co) to publish the legal basis on which he believes the UK could disregard the nation's 1998 undertaking to the UN. And any preparations made to mitigate against that decision.

    If he can't do that, then there is absolutely no justification for allowing a convicted murderer (whether or not he was guilty) to be released from custody in the UK.

    All this Scottish/Brit stuff is irrelevant. If any minister of the UK Parliament cannot speak on the international stage on behalf of the nation, then all that nonsense stuff about Global Warming carbon-reduction commitments is just spit in the wind. ("Of course, we are only promising that bits of the UK will make a bit of an effort - sorry we can't talk for all of us...")

    I long ago gave up believing anything to do with UK "apprenticeships" because there was no reality attached. That only affects us as poor deluded/ spun-to-death locals. But if you wander onto the international stage, it rather changes things.

  • Comment number 56.

    #50 stewartroad

    "I understand that all of the evidence for Mr Megrahi's innocence has been handed to his lawyer who will publish it. Then I suppose we must make up our own minds"

    Perhaps this is better than nothing, but for justice to be done, the court has to hear both sides of the case and witnesses available for cross-examination. That's why we cannot safely make up our own minds without the matter being properly examined in court.

    Much is being made of this episode being an example of the superiority of Scottish Justice. It's nothing of the kind! By all means show compassion to a dying man - but not at the cost of denying the prisoner and the rest of the world an opportunity to know the truth. Whether the original conviction would have been upheld or overturned is now a moot point. Justice has not been done!

    For anyone interested, you can now read those letters in full to discover who said what when.

  • Comment number 57.

    More interesting comments above. And some which consider Megrahi may have been innocent. He may be, but even though he is soon to die, in his home country, Libya, and among his family, he will die as a convicted murderer.
    Maybe England has something to learn from Scottish law and its compassionate clauses for prisoners. One great advantage of devolution is that here in the south we learn more about the way Scottish law works, especially with such a high profile case.
    The fatal crash Megrahi has been convicted of causing was so shocking and claimed so many innocent victims, it is difficult to make a dispassionate judgement about his release. Public shock and disgust at the Lockerbie bombing was only a little placated with an arrest and conviction. It is that which still informs opinion now. What I find unpalatable is the amount of political point scoring which is now going on over Megrahi's release. Politicians are just politicians. Whatever they say, they have an eye on the opinion polls and the ballot boxes. I wouldn't be inclined to listen to any of them over this. But thank you, all you newslog contributors for throwing further light on the events surrounding the controversial release of the dying Megrahi.

  • Comment number 58.

    27. sircomespect
    "So now these deals are done - which country out of the 'union' benefits the most from any oil deal with Libya?"

    erm the UK, as BP is as the name suggests a British company that pays its taxes to The UK treasury, you may get a few engineers jobs from some Scottish companies going over, but the days of Oil Rigs etc being built up here are long gone, so apart from that, US companies will benefit most after BP.

    Why would Scotland want more oil, its got some already which is being sooked out of the ground by mainly foreign companies for export, always puzzled me why no one thought of going hmmm oil prices are volatile and we need oil for the economy to be competitive , so we could have had cheap oil for the past 30 years, but no lets sell it and then pay loads for it from abroad
    who thought that one up , magic !

    I would be more concerned with one of the UK's largest exports (military hardware ) as to where it is going and are they using it against UK forces overseas

  • Comment number 59.

    FOM @ 55

    I've been reading on here for a while and generally agree with most of your posts, and agree with all of your points made in that one. I agree completely with the point about the U.N and the fact that we should be able to keep our word on that, even more seeing as its the same administration.

    The longer this drags on the worse we will look. And when Megrahi dies in a few months this will be dragged open again and we will look worse.

  • Comment number 60.


    There are plenty of other possible explanations:

    Yes, there are always many possible explanations, regarding the justificable reasons of this decision on releasing the Lockerbie Bomber....

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 61.

    "Much is being made of this episode being an example of the superiority of Scottish Justice. It's nothing of the kind! By all means show compassion to a dying man - but not at the cost of denying the prisoner and the rest of the world an opportunity "

    DistantTraveller....when will you listen.?

    Compassionate release permits continuing appeal. - Legal fact. That was MacAskill's central point!!! - He was keeping the door open, for goodness sake.

    That, exactly, was the "superiority" of the decision. - Get it.?

  • Comment number 62.

    Why did MacAskill release Megrahi:
    a. simple answer: because he had no other choice according to the criteria for compassionate release
    b. 'conspiracy' answer: because Salmond et al suspected a deal had been done in the desert by Blair/Brown and they hoped the details would leak in due course (which they have - partly) and embarrass them

    Why did Brown not see this coming and prepare for it (e.g. by briefing the US that the release was possible and was part of keeping Libya on-side)
    a. simple answer: Brown & his ministers are incompetent
    b. 'conspiracy' answer: they are incompetent

  • Comment number 63.

    "A smile, or is it a smirk, is rarely off the face of the Scottish first minister"

    Nothing like a bit of unbiased journalism... and this is nothing like it. What did that little swipe about Salmond "smirking" add to this article, other than negative connotations about the First Minister?

  • Comment number 64.

    So, the UK government in London is powerless to influence an important world event decision by the devolved government in Edinburgh.

    Next we will be in a position where the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels will be announcing a policy that our inept so called leaders in Westminster cannot influence.

    What price democracy in the mother of parliaments

  • Comment number 65.

    So Nick, how are you getting on finding the 'smoking gun (or letter)'?

  • Comment number 66.

    In reply to me "One of the consequences of his release was the condition that he dropped his appeal"

    #51 luibeg - "the dropping of appeal was NOT a condition of release. - I'm weary of constantly hearing this erroneous claim. The appeal is ONLY connected to the PTA conditions, NOT to Compassinate Release."


    #52 skintybroko - "Absolute drivel"

    Do have a look at the correspondence published in the Telegraph.

    You can read a quick summary and click on links to the individual letters. You will see that Scotland apparently wanted exclude al-Megrahi from the Prisoner Transfer Agreement. Jack Straw initially seemed to agree (letter dated 23 September 2007) but later replied that he was unable to secure such an exclusion (letter dated 19 December 2007). However, Straw wrote that prisoners whose "status is undetermined" would not be eligible. This meant al-Megrahi could not be considered because his appeal was still ongoing.

    It would seem unlikely al-Megrahi and/or his lawyers were unaware of the implications for his release whilst the appeal continued. The fact is, on 18th August 2009 Judges accept an application by the Lockerbie bomber to drop his second appeal against conviction. 2 days later, 20 August, al-Megrahi was released. Bingo!

    For the timeline see

    Whether or not al-Megrahi could technically have continued his appeal (because he was eventually released on compassionate grounds and not a PTA) is not relevant. The fact is, the appeal WAS dropped - and then he was released.

    Are these events related? Perhaps you think not. Brian Taylor casts some doubt on it all being a coincidence.

    Two things we do know for sure. Scotland had previously made it clear they did NOT want al-Megrahi released under a Prisoner Transfer Agreement. We also now know that the British Government did not want him to die in prison. So releasing him on compassionate grounds seems to have been the only way out. If dropping the appeal did not expedite or influence the decision, then we will never know why the appeal was withdrawn.

  • Comment number 67.

    Speculation all, I grant you, but intriguing isn't it?
    IMO I think that alot of that is most probaly true, I would not trust Brown or Salmond to organise a party in a brewry. Why is there nothing about Germany and France wanting to pull out of Mr I saved the World Browns super 1 trillion global bail out deal? Thoughts???

  • Comment number 68.

    No sign of the BBC reporting Eric Joyce a PPS in the Ministry of Defence resigning tonight... C4 News, Sky News all reporting this... come on Auntie do keep up with the news...

  • Comment number 69.

    I see that Eric Joyce MP has just resigned as PPS to the Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth over Afghanistan and the treatment of the armed forces in general.

    The meltdown continues for Gordon Brown.....

  • Comment number 70.

    I say Qadhafi, he says Gaddafi

    I say Megrahi, he says McGravy...

    Qadhafi, Gaddafi, Megrahi, Mugabe

    Lets call the whole thing off.

  • Comment number 71.

    Frankly I'm bored rigid by this story and the attempts to implicate the UK Government in what was clearly a quasi-judicial decision by the Scottish Justice Minister acting according to his own conscience. The irony is that if he had kept Magrahi in prison, he would probably now be being accused of kow-towing to US pressure for vengeance and fuelling terrorism by showing no compassion. Likewise, the Foreign Office statement that GB wanted Megrahi to die in prison would be used as evidence of undue influence by the UK Government. He could not win. I feel very sorry for him being placed in this position, and rather angry the BBC seems quite happy to drag his name through the mud. Is it not time we got back to issues that really matter to the people of this country?

  • Comment number 72.

    All the rationales over-look the fact that a convicted mass murderer was released to an oil state for what one can only conclude is for the interest of BP. The political intrigue is certainly interesting but the end result is a back peddling on dealing with terrorism and kow-towing to the wishes of BP. Citizens, of any country, are now at risk because of this act of "Compassion." Maintaining higher standards has been lost to doing buisness like third world dictators....clang in the governmental coffers...and deals are other rationale necessary.

  • Comment number 73.

    44 - stewartroad

    Valid point but here is the irony. We will probably never know because the appeal wil not now go forward. Strange, is it not, that someone who has always proclaimed his innocence should give his right of appeal up in return for his freedom to die at home. (Yes, I understand all the arguments above that suggest that he can still appeal but the legal system can take forever and terminal cancer takes no prisoners).

    This is all over bar the shouting and the sooner the shouting ends, the better.

  • Comment number 74.

    #66 Distant Traveller, you are determined to mis-grasp the legal facts. Possibly the most complex way to arrive at the wrong understanding.

    Fact: Compassionate Release has no requirement for the Appeal process to be concluded. Appeal is free to continue while released. - The due process for this is enshrined in Statute, the prisoner forfeits NO rights of appeal.

    PTA: Al appeals must be terminated prior to transfer.

    Nudge & wink all you like, but the Statutory fact is that the appeal need not be terminated.

    The procedure for Compassionate release is also a mater of Law, and requires reports from the various services, whose reports are now published.

    The droping of Appeal is an irrelevance to the Compassionate release, as witnessed by Statute, and in the oft-repeated statement of the Justice Secretary.

    As for motive, there is no motive for the Justive Secretary to seek a droping of Appeal, for the dirt is not on his shoes. - Those with something to hide , were most certainly those who originaly set out the PTA.

    Propose al the inuendo you like, but the Statutes require no droping of appeal. - You MUST grasp that fact.

  • Comment number 75.

    Can I also point out that this release has NOT shut Megrahi up. - In fact it GIVES him a free voice.

    For under the PTA he would still be in jail..just in Libya, not Scotland. - BUT now he is a man free to give interviews & place his dossier in the media, which I understand he intends to do before he dies.

    MacAskill gave him this opportunity by his decision. - He may not have his appeal, but he is now free to show the world's media the good reasons why others should press for an effective inquiry which might lead to a re-investigation of the true events & cause of the explosion.

  • Comment number 76.

    Whatever the rights or wrongs in this case, people around the world will now be in no doubt that Scotland has its own Government.

    Earlier on this summer, whilst in New Jersey, I explained to an American that the political entity 'United Kingdom' is now living on borrowed time.

    Her eyes widened and she exclaimed "Wow, that's big" but I think she was just being polite.

    This Englishman does'nt particularly think it is that earth-shaking, either locally here on the island of Britain or in the global context.

    Our day in the sun has been prolonged by skillful politicians for a very long time but is now reaching its natural conclusion.

    We English, Scots and Welsh should be prepared to enter a new phase which is more appropriate to our standing, as relatively small players/countries, on the global political stage, encapulated within our over-arching political communities, namely the EU and the Commonwealth.

    When we are all fully devolved countries, the politicians will find the new political landscape much easier to manage than the current highly dysfunctional 'UK' setup.

  • Comment number 77.

    You have implied that there was a link between Westminter's desire for Megrahi to be sent to Libya as part of PTA and Edinburgh's decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds. There is no evidence to suggest such a link. Besides, it seems unlikely that an SNP government would cave into London Labour demands - it is not built into their DNA! Moreover, it seems unlikely that there is any specific Scottish-Libyan dimension to the deals that Westminster have been involved in with Libya and specific Scots-Libyan relationship that Salmond would be desperate to preserve.

    Let me stress that the SNP were not blameless in terms of the way in which their decision was announced. The patriotic rubbish that MacAskill couched his conclusions in was horrific (his appeal to a unique brand of Scottish mercy was as bizarre at it comes). More foolishly, his decision to visit Megrahi in prison risked conflating questions about guilt and innocence with the compassionate release and gave the impression of deal making. Nonetheless, the decision was legally sound, and anything else would have probably have ended up in a successful appeal.

  • Comment number 78.

    I hope you find out why the UK's foreign policy is being set in Holyrood

    I suppose on the plus side we know that we can get rid of all the present incumbents in Westminster that haven't even had the debate

  • Comment number 79.

    Indeed there is nothing in this for the SNP. All the doubts hang over the construction of the PTA. - It appears obvious to anybody familiar with the workings, that the PTA was a plan being hatched...but was overtaken by advancing illness, rendering the desert deal partially unnecessary.

    MacAskill probably was indeed a bit lavish in his presentation, but as you say legally sound and probably honest too, in having compartmentalised the issues within a matter of Law.

    Megrahi will not go quietly however, and I would urge patience among those who hope to know the truth eventually.

  • Comment number 80.

    It appears that the one aspect of this issue that has been ignored, or is it intentionaly omitted, is that of the EU!!!!! We are frequently told that this rule and/or law is EU and must be obeyed, why not prisoner release,where oil/gas and Libya are involved.?
    All this conflated rubbish that Brown, his cronies here and in Sotland have poured out. Now I know why Brown kept quiet, he was waiting for you to come back from holiday. What other reason is/was there to remain silent?
    I would not wish the pain of prostate problems to be visited on any-one but it does beg the question, when was that all important medical report that forecast Mehagri's death written? Much has been made of it but we were never told the author or the date of that report.
    The next month will be all revealling.

  • Comment number 81.

    “If I was First Minister, Megrahi would not be going back to Libya. The decision to release him is wrong."
    “Kenny MacAskill’s conduct has damaged the Scottish Justice system and, in turn, Scotland’s international reputation."
    Iain Gray, Scottish Labour leader

    "It is in all our interests and Britain's national interest that Libya rejoins the international community. So it was the duty of those responsible to look at all possible outcomes of the Megrahi case and their effect on our relations with Libya and on international terrorism and nuclear proliferation."
    "I respect the right of Scottish ministers to make the decision – and the decision."
    Gordon Brown

    Not quite the same hymn sheet.

  • Comment number 82.

    As a Scottish lawyer I'm becoming increasingly bemused by the bizarre conspiracy theories being peddled around this story.

    There's one strand relating to the UK government (which seems to underpin the Cameron critique):

    The UK government negotiated a prisoner transfer agreement which included Scotland when only 1 Libyan prisoner was in Scotland. The PTA was signed to further commercial interests. The PTA would allow the UK government to transfer the prisoner to Libya. The commercial deals would follow megrahi’s transfer. Problems with this theory? (a) the decision lay with the relevant minister responsible for criminal justice – in Scotland the Justice Secretary in the Scottish government. The UK government could not intervene in the decision. (b) while empowering the government of Scotland to make a decision Article 3 of the PTA precluded any transfer when there were outstanding appeals (and given one appeal was from the Lord Advocate (Scottish leading prosecutor) for an unfairly lenient sentence) nothing could be done until those appeals were dealt with – so even if Megrahi dropped his appeal (as he did) the Crown appeal continued (it was only dropped after the application for compassionate release was granted). Any suggestion that the UK government could promise release is suggesting that they would interfere with the independence of the Scottish prosecution service. (c) The idea that the Uk government could force an SNP minister to do something for Uk interests when the SNP were against the PTA (they even had an emergency statement in the Parliament on it when it was originally suggested) is laughable. The governments hate each other. (d) in any event the Uk had a formal undertaking in the run up to the Camp Zeist agreement that meant any sentence would be served in Scotland. See the comment appended to an excerpt from the Times article by professor Robert Black QC, the architect of the Lockerbie trial arrangement in his blog at (it gives references to the international material).

    If as they appear to allege the UK government did have a deal with Tripoli then it’s the worst negotiated and drafted deal in legal history – because all of the powers to transfer lay in the hands of third parties over whom they had no power: the Scottish government to make the decision; the prisoner if there was an outstanding appeal (where Art 3 of the PTA precluded transfer); and the Crown office in Scotland whose own appeal was outstanding meaning the PTA could not operate in relation to Megrahi (and Crown Office only dropped the appeal against an unduly lenient sentence following the release of Megrahi on compassionate grouonds because such an appeal is pointless if the prisoners is going to die). If Cameron and the Conservatives are suggesting that the independent Scottish prosecution service in the Crown Office could be pressured by the Westminster government to facilitate the PTA (which is the implication of their comments) that is a very serious allegation. Would they ever dream of making a similar allegation about the DPP? Of course not, because for the Conservative party at Westminster Scotland is a far away country of which they know little.

    The alternative set of conspiracy theories which seem to form the basis of this post relate to the SNp and Mr MacAskill. There was something in it for the SNP. While you go through a number of theories which stem from purely political motives) there is a further theory which runs in anonymous parts of the legal system in Scotland (& is largely ignored down south). Megrahi's conviction was dodgy. There was going to be an appeal that Megrahi would definitely win because the Scottish Criminal cases review Commission had clearly shown flaws in the reasoning underlying the decision of the 3 judges and had identified other grounds - including new evidence which was not before the court during the trial. In Scotland where the appellant in a criminal case dies, the appeal continues. The propsect of Megrahi dying in Scotland and the appeal then showing that (a) the judges screwed up in the original case; and (b) that an innocent man died when imprisoned for something he did not do thereby embarrassing the whole legal system was something that could not be countenanced by MacAskill - a liberal lawyer - or the legal establishment. Therefore Megrahi had to be persuaded to drop his appeal (if released on compassionate grounds his appeal could continue, but not if that appeal was dropped). And the price of dropping the appeal was his release. This theory has been backed by some because MacAskill went to see Megrahi in prison, and the appeal was dropped days later (when both before & after release Megrahi was protesting his innocence - although dropping the appeal admitted guilt). [I should say I think MacAskill was wrong to visit megrahi, and I think this rendered his decision potentially challengeable by judicial review].

    The problem with this theory is that a decision in support of compassionate release was almost inevitable whatever the position on the appeal (see the position of one senior Scottish QC, Jonathan Mitchell at and his second post at ), & Megrahi's decision to drop his appeal may have been tied to his government's view of the PTA.

    Of course the media actually bothering to speak to Scottish lawyers within the system who could inform accurately on the legal background against which MacAskill was operating (and which render his decision virtually inevitable without the need for paranoiac conspiracy theorising) would be rather a big step for the London based media who seem to prefer speaking to English QCs about a far away system of which they know little.

    Megrahi was tried under Scottish law. He was imprisoned under Scottish law. He appealed under Scottish law. And his application for release was decided applying the precedents applicable under Scottish law. There is no conspiracy. It's just how the law works.

    As Jonathan Mitchell QC put it

    "on the published facts of Megrahi’s case, had the Scottish Government refused to allow compassionate release in terms of a policy which had been applied by it and its Lib-Lab predecessors, and before them by Labour and Conservative Secretaries of State alike, it would have been open to legal challenge with excellent prospects of success. That’s the way the law works; it doesn’t suddenly cease to operate because the person claiming its benefits is criminal, or a foreigner, or because release is politically undesirable."

    Still, the simple answer doesn't suit the political agenda of various politicians and commentators. But, as someone that was at Lockerbie and whose family was profoundly affected by the decision I wish that you would stop using this whole process for political point scoring and show the victims, and the people of Lockerbie who survived some respect and have some dignity.

  • Comment number 83.

    Kenny MacAskill explained very clearly how he reached his decision. The only thing that was missing at the time was a prompt statement by the Prime Minister which is why this saga is going on and on. Political ineptitude of a high order especially given the understandable annoyance on the other side of the Atlantic. We need a general election.

  • Comment number 84.

    #82 scotslaywer

    An excellent post addressing all aspects of this issue thus far. In particular I agree with your posts conclusion.

  • Comment number 85.

    82. scotslawyer

    Can we in Scotland thank you for setting the record straight.

  • Comment number 86.

    J. Constable @ 76

    Her eyes widened and she exclaimed "Wow, that's big" but I think she was just being polite

    no John, I'm sure she meant it - it is big after all, isn't it?

    ... the end of the Union

  • Comment number 87.

    Why should the 'real' answer(s) not be precisely as the Scottish Justice Minister has repeatedly explained?

    Why should every conceivable conspiracy theory, on top of the opinion of everyone other than Kenny MacAskill, of everyone who opposes the SNP, those who know nothing of the SNP, and those who have never heard of the SNP, be explored and discounted before anyone dares to believe that Mr MacAskill's actions were precisely in line with due process, and his words have been the honest truth.

    Is it because, following the Westminster expenses scandal (in which the SNP were amongst the mildest 'offenders'), no politician is to be trusted?
    Or is it that no-one should trust the SNP simply because they the SNP??

    Certainly, the politicised posturing and basis of their 'censuring' by the opposition parties at Holyrood betrayed a fundamental adherence to the latter attitude.

    The SNP are certainly human and fallible.

    What many cannot or will not grasp, however, is that there may exist a political party that does not do shady horse-trading, let alone over international terrorists, compromise itself through brackstairs deals, or any other such behaviour long associated with the grubbiness of London politics - and who might actually believe in upholding the trust and honesty between a people and their elected representatives.

    Despite their detractors' relentless smears, for me the SNP have always upheld that essential trust, and Kenny MacAskill's decision in the face of such pressure, moreover, was an uplifting example, not only of human decency, but of a politician of integrity doing what he believed was right.

    The vote by Holyrood's opposition parties to censure him has, by contrast, betrayed our Parliament as morally weak, indecisive, and cowed by reactionary opinion.

    Perhaps worst of all, in purporting to be 'righting a wrong' it countermanded an act of uplifting compassion with a declaration of cynical mistrust.

  • Comment number 88.

    82 scotslawyer... thank you for showing us the facts so clearly. And particularly for pointing out how various degrees of ignorance both in the media and in certain politicians have skewed and distorted the facts of this recent development in the Lockerbie bombing case. I notice some entries on this newslog seem to imply the differences between Scottish and English legal procedures have only been in operation since Scotland had its own Parliament. Historically, as far as I am aware, the different, but corresponding, systems have evolved in tandem with each other.

  • Comment number 89.

    24. Boilerplated
    "Indeed it is, so why does the SNP want to even think in terms of independence - apart from dogma, it's a known fact that once and if Scotland did obtain independence the SNP as a political party and force for change would break up with massive in-fighting, the only thing that keeps the cohesion is the wish for a greater say for Scottish citizens in how Scotland is ruled"

    I accept that your argument is plausible, but I think that the SNP as it stands is genuinely a political party whose reason for existence is to see Scotland become independent. It is well known that that many people who currently vote SNP do so because that represents their best hope for gaining independence, the SNP know this. I believe that the SNP see the uncertain future of their party makeup after independence as a price well worth paying.

  • Comment number 90.

    #74 luibeg

    "you are determined to mis-grasp the legal facts"

    That's a little disingenuous if you don't mind me saying so. You have repeated yourself several times so let me assure you I do indeed understand the point you are making. For the benefit of new readers, al-Megrahi would have needed to drop his appeal in order to qualify for a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA), but not to be released on compassionate grounds - in theory at least.

    We are going round in circles, so let me have one last try.

    Whether or not al-Megrahi would have theoretically been able to continue his appeal is totally irrelevant. The real question is whether he was persuaded that MacAskill was more likely to exercise his discretion if the appeal were dropped.

    Read al-Megrahi's statement in full:

    He said: "I have been faced with an appalling choice: to risk dying in prison in the hope that my name is cleared posthumously or to return home still carrying the weight of the guilty verdict, which will never now be lifted"

    So, if no pressure was put on him to drop the appeal, why did he do so?

    Two days after the appeal was officially withdrawn, al-Megrahi gets his release on compassionate grounds.

    You say "The droping of Appeal is an irrelevance to the Compassionate release, as witnessed by Statute, and in the oft-repeated statement of the Justice Secretary"

    You are forgetting that the granting of compassionate release relies on the discretion or judgement of the Justice Secretary. In his statement, MacAskill said: "Having therefore met the criteria, it therefore fell to me to decide whether Mr al-Megrahi should be released on compassionate grounds".

    It does NOT happen automatically, and MacAskill went to great lengths to explain how and why he reached his decision.

    We have no idea what the outcome of the appeal might have been. But now as a result of this mess, we shall probably never know.

  • Comment number 91.

    leave brown alone hes doing fine ...for the conservative party,best person they have by far. brownwatch 269 days(max).

  • Comment number 92.

    With such an important subject as the PM's statement on Afghanistan due today we feel bound to refer readers to an important blog just in from the site NOT BORN YESTERDAY.
    There appears to be be very worrying alleged facts about Mr Brown’s health which are possibly connected to the overnight resignation of the once-insider Eric Joyce.
    The BBC reports that the PM is to make a major statement defending the government’s stance and strategy…but is he up to it?
    The link is:

  • Comment number 93.

    When this news broke and Brown was silent, I could have written the script from then on. I have never heard of any countries leader who has made so many gaffes, so many slip ups, so many wrong decisions. Its laughable. Is it just me or does everyone now expect that when Brown is involved with absolutely anything it all ends up in tears!

  • Comment number 94.

    Interesting that The Times is carrying the story regarding oil for prisoners and that it could be that our beloved Lord Mandleson has been caught not quite telling the full truth again. The Government were lobbied by BP on the prisoner transfer request. Mandleson stated that this had not occurred.

  • Comment number 95.


    You mean to say that he was caught setting up deals with businesses and then denying it?!?! I would never believe it of him...

  • Comment number 96.

    Luibeg - I understand that dropping his appeal is not legally required to obtain compassionate release but the question remains "Why did he drop his appeal?" Surely he would want to clear his name of a heinous crime, if at all possible?

    What odds Megrahi still being alive at Christmas (and out living his 3 month life expectency)? That would open up this sorry mess all over again...

  • Comment number 97.

    96,only if there were those around determined to indulge in petty politics , and in that I include journalists from all spheres.

    The man is dying , he has stated that he intends to publish everything he has which he believes proves his innocence.

    It can be done posthumously if necessary.

    If anyone is in any doubt why Mr Megrahi was released , might I refer you to the post by the Scotslawyer at Number 82.

    Perhaps if you read the post it will prevent lies and spin, perpetrated by those who wish to fudge the issue /muddy the waters, from taking hold.

  • Comment number 98.

    I think you ought to leave Scottish politics to Brian Taylor

  • Comment number 99.

    ukhuman1st and #71.

    Well written: You stuck to the facts, avoided speculation and hyperbole. Unlike almost all Mr Robinson's, BBC News, SKY, ITN, the press and certainly ALL American coverage of this interesting and vexing story you are among the few who addressed the basic issue.

    Yes indeed, with all due respect and regard for the victims and relatives of the tragic criminality of Lockerbie, G.B. and the USA have a good deal more important matters at hand than the release of 1 Libyan who (if at all responsible) most definitely could not have acted alone.

    The bandwagon of false outrage and naivety in the G.B. and USA media plus the clueless ravings of American and British polticians simply yet again exposes the paucity of Statesmenship among Leadership of the 'west' we have all been enduring this first decade of the 21st Century.

    Will someone emerge to take the moral-ethical Political high ground on behalf of the 'west'? Well, Blair, Dubya and Brown with Chirac, Sarkozy and Merkel are about as inspiring as paint drying - - the only hope seems to be Pres Obama and then we see his grandstanding on Megrahi - - oh well, maybe someone else is around the corner!

    Let us hope so.

  • Comment number 100.

    sagamix @ 86

    After posting @ 76 I was slightly mortified to reread my post, which to remove any ambiguity should have read:

    "Her eyes widened, as I explained the political context, and she exclaimed "Wow, that's big" but I think she was just being polite."

    Fortunately for me, most of the posters on this blog do not usually display their sense of humour, unless it is of the gallows variety, so I escaped this time.

    More seriously, the end of this particular political Union will, I believe mean that us, the English people, will end up with a more responsive Government, as I believe many Scots have already noticed with their current SNP based Government.

    At the more rarified senior political level, there will be significant changes. For example, the 'UK' seat at the UN Security Council, which already looks like a historic anomaly, should be transfer to the EU.

    For us, the English people, there is nothing to fear, except fear itself.


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