Lockerbie bomber drops conviction appeal

Author: By Andy Philip, Press Association

Terminally-ill Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi is serving a life sentence
after being convicted in 2001 of the 1988 atrocity.

Three judges at the High Court in Edinburgh today accepted his bid to formally
drop his appeal amid growing speculation that he could be freed within days.

The court heard Megrahi’s medical condition had worsened “very
considerably” recently.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is deciding whether to release
Megrahi, who is dying from prostate cancer, on compassionate grounds.

Today’s successful bid by Megrahi’s lawyers to drop his second appeal removed
one possible obstacle to his returning to Libya by another mechanism – under
a prisoner transfer agreement.

Scotland’s top judge, the Lord Justice General Lord Hamilton, sitting with two
other judges, was told Megrahi’s condition was worsening and that he was
anxious to spend what little time he has left with his family.

Defence QC, Margaret Scott, said: “The court is aware of Mr Megrahi’s
medical condition in that he has progressive prostate cancer.

“This has now reached the terminal stage and my client’s condition has
recently worsened very considerably.

“Up-to-date medical reports from three eminent experts also concurred in
the view that he has a very aggressive cancer, that his condition is grave
and that the prognosis is extremely limited.”

Ms Scott also told the court her client believed dropping his appeal would
speed up Mr MacAskill’s decision on whether he should be freed or
transferred to Libya.

She said the case met the guidelines for compassionate release and that “serious”
health complications were “certain to arrive” in the very near
future.

The lawyer said he was now very weak, suffering severe pain and was in
distress.

She told the court: “His absolute priority in the little time he has left
is to spend it with his family in his homeland.”

Ms Scott added: “It’s the appellant’s belief that instructions to abandon
his appeal will assist in the early determination of these applications.”

The Libyan government applied in May for Megrahi to be transferred home to
serve the rest of his sentence.

Last month, Megrahi put in a separate request to the Scottish Government to be
released on compassionate grounds, a move which could have been granted even
if the appeal was continuing.

Mr MacAskill has said he will announce his decision on the bomber’s future by
the end of the month.

The court heard that a separate appeal by the Crown against the length of
Megrahi’s sentence is still outstanding.

Lord Hamilton said it was “of the utmost importance” that the Lord
Advocate Elish Angiolini makes an early decision on whether she intends to
insist upon the appeal.

The judge said the court urged her to reach a decision on that matter without
undue delay.

Megrahi was convicted of mass murder for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over
Lockerbie, killing all 259 people onboard and 11 people in the Scottish town.

It was Britain’s biggest terrorist atrocity.

After protracted international pressure, Megrahi and co-accused Al Amin
Khalifa Fhimah were put on trial under Scots law at Camp Zeist in the
Netherlands.

Megrahi was found guilty and ordered to serve a minimum of 27 years. Fhimah
was found not guilty and freed.

Megrahi has already had one failed attempt to appeal his sentence, which he is
currently serving at HMP Greenock.

When news of Megrahi’s bid to drop his second appeal emerged last week, it
prompted anger from relatives of victims because courtroom scrutiny of the
case would not take place. Calls for a public inquiry were also renewed.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton entered the complex picture last week
when she phoned Mr MacAskill to insist Megrahi serves out his jail term in
Scotland.

Seven US senators, including Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, have also written
a letter to Mr MacAskill urging him to keep Megrahi behind bars.

Megrahi lost his appeal in 2002 but was given a new chance to appeal against
his conviction in 2007 when the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
referred his case back to senior judges for a second time.

Following a £1.1m three-year investigation into the case, the commission said
there were grounds – some put forward by the defence, others arising from
its own investigations – where it believed a miscarriage of justice may have
occurred.

After many months of protracted procedural hearings, the appeal in full got
under way in April – almost two years on from the commission’s referral.

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