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Deal or no deal?

Brian Taylor | 12:44 UK time, Tuesday, 18 August 2009

I am not a conspiracy theorist. Prolonged exposure to the chaotic worlds of politics and the media has tended to drive me towards the other end of the spectrum.

However, that need not mean that we flounder fecklessly on every occasion, in every given set of circumstances.

Sometimes things work - or can be made to work. There can be a handy concatenation of circumstances.

Such, I believe, is palpably occurring with regard to the future of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber.

The Scottish Government is adamant it has made no deal with Megrahi in respect of his application to be returned to Libya on compassionate grounds, given the state of his health.

In those terms, I accept that. I do not believe Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, went to Greenock prison to strike a bargain.

I do not see him saying: "OK, here's the thing, drop the appeal and you're on your way home."

Competing interests

For one thing, say ministers, the Scottish Government has no interest in seeing the appeal abandoned.

Quite the contrary, they say, they are as keen as others to get to the facts underlying the Lockerbie tragedy.

So, no explicit deal in those terms. That does not mean, however, that the two are not linked, that there has not been choreography extending to other parties including the UK Government, the Libyan government, perhaps the Crown Office and Megrahi himself.

If you like, there is a nexus of influence here, sometimes with competing interests.

But the preponderance of influential interest is for this case to be closed - not least because the UK Government, for one, has indicated it is reluctant to see the disclosure of further documents emanating from foreign sources which the Megrahi legal team say must be made public.

In the High Court in Edinburgh today, Megrahi's counsel, Maggie Scott, made the potential connection explicit - the link, that is, between dropping the appeal and returning her client to Libya.

To be absolutely clear, she did not at any point say that a deal was on offer or that there had been any negotiations.

Early move

She merely said it was her client's belief that abandoning his appeal against conviction and sentence would "assist in the early determination of those applications".

Note, that is "applications", plural. She was referring to the two optional avenues for her client to be returned home: either via Prisoner Transfer (at the request of the Libyan government) or on compassionate grounds (the request of her client himself.)

We already knew all legal proceedings had to be dropped before prisoner transfer could be activated - that includes the Crown's appeal against sentence.

There were indications to the court today there will be early moves on that too. Expect it to be dropped.

That would, therefore, clear the way for Mr MacAskill to grant prisoner transfer, were he so minded. I do not believe he is so minded.

However, again, we are invited to contemplate the "applications". Plural.

Quite apart from prisoner transfer, Megrahi also believes his plea for clemency will be assisted, in his counsel's phrase, if he drops his appeal and closes down the case.

'Stretching credulity'

Mr MacAskill is adamant he made no such suggestion to Megrahi, he offered no such bargain.

So did the Megrahi legal team come to this conclusion themselves - or did others suggest that such a course might be wise, might "assist"?

I would guess the latter. Doesn't make this invidious, of itself. Doesn't make it egregious. Doesn't make it conspiratorial, of itself.

But, again, it's stretching credulity to suggest that there aren't links within the current round of developments.


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