Lockerbie bomber dies in Tripoli
THE FAMILY of convicted Libyan Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who died yesterday, can now seek a second appeal against his conviction, the Scottish government has said.
The Libyan, who passed away at his home in Tripoli, was released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish authorities in August 2009 in the belief he had but a few months to live, but his survival until yesterday caused frequent embarrassment.
In Chicago, British prime minister David Cameron kept to the view al-Megrahi should not have been freed: “Today is a day to remember the 270 people who lost their lives in what was an appalling terrorist act.”
Scottish first minister Alex Salmond also noted the victims, saying Scottish police were continuing to investigate Lockerbie and had never believed the Libyan acted alone.
“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,” said the Scottish government.
The Libyan’s survival until now is partly explained by the fact he had received a prostate cancer drug called abiraterone during his time in Greenock prison in Scotland, and later.
The drug was deemed too expensive for National Health Service patients in England and Wales until last week.
Al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, had always denied responsibility for downing Pan Am Flight 103, an act which killed 259 people on board and 11 more in Lockerbie village.
He and another Libyan, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, were indicted by the Scottish and US courts in November 1991, but then Libyan leader Col Muammar Gadafy refused to extradite them.
Following years of negotiations, the two men were eventually handed over for trial before a three-judge, non-jury court under Scottish law in a former United States airbase in the Netherlands called Camp Zeist.
The trial began in May 2000 and lasted for nearly a year. Mr Fhimah was acquitted of all charges, but al-Megrahi was found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of 27 years in prison.
A review costing £1 million by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission led to it recommending the Libyan should be granted a second appeal because of doubts over forensic evidence and the testimony of a Maltese shopkeeper.
The shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, claimed al-Megrahi had bought clothing in his store which the prosecution said was later packed into the suitcase that exploded on Pan Am 103.
Al-Megrahi abandoned his bid for a second appeal before the Scottish government granted him compassionate release, but the al-Megrahi family are now free to apply to the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission, it said last night.
Describing al-Megrahi’s death as “a very sad event”, Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died at Lockerbie, said the Libyan had been determined “right up to the end” to ensure his conviction was overturned.
A campaign group set up by Dr Swire and including former BBC correspondent Kate Adie and former hostage negotiator and hostage Terry Waite has argued for years that the prosecution case against the Libyan “held water like a sieve”.
The charge that the Libyan checked in luggage in Malta that went onto Frankfurt and then Heathrow before “miraculously” finding itself in the right place in the hold of Pan Am 103 is not backed up, the group say. “Evidence supporting the alternative and infinitely more logical ingestion of the bomb directly at Heathrow was either dismissed at the trial or withheld from the court until after the verdict of guilty had been returned,” they add.
Mr Salmond’s handling of the case remains a live political issue for some in Scotland. Scottish Labour leader Johann 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,” she said, apologising for his release.