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Elementary, my dear Watson

Brian Taylor | 15:13 UK time, Friday, 14 August 2009

Not sure if, like me, you are a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In one, Holmes' trusty associate Dr Watson asserts that one event, following hard upon another, represents "an amazing coincidence."

Holmes replies: "The odds are enormous against its being coincidence. No figures could express them. No, my dear Watson, the two events are connected - MUST be connected. It is for us to find the connection."

A comparable task confronts those who are trying to understand, fully, the apparent endgame which is under way with regard to Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

Item: Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is actively considering whether to return Megrahi to Libya, either on compassionate grounds or under a prisoner transfer scheme.

Item: Megrahi's lawyers announce that he is seeking leave of the court to abandon his appeal against conviction, the second such appeal he has lodged.

We are asked by the Scottish Government to accept that these two incidents are entirely unrelated.

I refer, my honourable friend, to the reply given earlier by Mr S. Holmes of 221b Baker Street, London.

A couple of points. Prisoner transfer to Libya could not proceed while proceedings in this country remain active. So dropping the appeal would be a precondition for that avenue.

How about the other route, then? Compassionate release because of Megrahi's illness?

The two issues - abandoning the appeal and Megrahi's health - are linked in the statement issued today by the Libyan's lawyers, Taylor and Kelly.

They say that his condition has taken a "significant turn for the worse in recent weeks."

Others argue that Megrahi has come under pressure to drop his appeal in order to pave the way to his release on compassionate grounds. That would, arguably, be a tidy solution.

Once again, the Scottish Government adamantly denies that there is any link.

Which leaves us where? Awaiting developments.

On Tuesday, Megrahi's lawyers will seek leave of the High Court to drop the appeal. Mr MacAskill's decision will follow shortly thereafter.

He has promised an outcome by the end of the month. I would not be remotely surprised if the result is that Megrahi returns to Libya.

Mr MacAskill is in an exceptionally difficult position, pressed from all sides, faced with competing perspectives.

UK ministers plainly want an end to the process, not least because they are resisting publication of documents said to emanate from a foreign government which, it is claimed, could cast light upon the case.

The resistance is founded upon an assertion that security would be breached by publication. So diplomats and the security service would welcome a deal that forestalled disclosure.

From an early position where the Scottish Government protested angrily that it had not been consulted over the agreement between Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi, ministers in Scotland have - quite rightly - been brought into discussions with their UK counterparts.

The Scottish legal system might well welcome closure of this protracted, challenging case.

The counter point of view, advanced by Nationalist MSP Christine Grahame, among others, is that Scottish justice is better served by persisting in efforts to dig out the truth.

Then there is the issue of compassion. Megrahi is said to be terminally ill with prostate cancer.

Regardless of other issues, should the justice secretary pay heed to that?

Either way, relatives of those who died are decidedly not content.

There are those who believe that Megrahi is guilty and who say there should be no deal whatsoever - he should remain in jail in Scotland.

Those who believe he is innocent - and consequently welcome his release - nevertheless are voicing distress that the emerging shape of events means that the search for further information will be stalled.


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