MacAskill’s full statement on Lockerbie bomber

Author: Press Association

“It is my privilege to serve as the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the
Government of Scotland. It is a post in which I take great pride, but one
which carries with it great responsibility.

“Never, perhaps, more so than with these decisions that I now have to make.

“On the evening of 21 December 1988 a heinous crime was perpetrated.

“It claimed the lives of 270 innocent civilians. Four days before Christmas,
men, women and children going about their daily lives were cruelly murdered.

“They included 11 from one small Scottish town. That town was Lockerbie – a
name that will forever be associated with the worst terrorist atrocity ever
committed on UK soil.

“A prisoner transfer application has been submitted by the Government of Libya
seeking the transfer of Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi.

“The man convicted of those offences in the Scottish courts. He has also now
sought to be released on compassionate grounds due to his prostate cancer
that is terminal.

“This crime precedes both the election of our Government and even the
restoration of a Parliament in Scotland.

“I now find myself having to make these decisions. However, the applications
have been lawfully made, and I am obliged to address them.

“Final advice from my officials was given late on Friday 14 August 2009.

“I have now had an opportunity to reflect upon this.

“Let me be absolutely clear. As Cabinet Secretary for Justice in Scotland it
is my responsibility to decide upon these two applications. These are my
decisions and my decisions alone.

“In considering these applications I have strictly followed due process,
including the procedures laid down in the Prisoner Transfer Agreement and in
the Scottish Prison Service guidance on compassionate release.

“I have listened to many representations and received substantial submissions.

“Let me be quite clear on matters on which I am certain. The Scottish police
and prosecution service undertook a detailed and comprehensive investigation
with the assistance of the US and other authorities.

“I pay tribute to them for the exceptional manner in which they operated in
dealing with both the aftermath of the atrocity and the complexity of a
world-wide investigation.

“They are to be commended for their tenacity and skill. When Mr Al Megrahi was
brought to justice, it was before a Scottish court sitting in the
Netherlands.

“And I pay tribute to our judges who presided and acted justly.

“Mr Al Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of 270 people.

“He was given a life sentence and a punishment part of 27 years was fixed.

“When such an appalling crime is perpetrated it is appropriate that a severe
sentence be imposed.

“Mr Al Megrahi has since withdrawn his appeal against both conviction and
sentence.

“As I have said consistently throughout, that is a matter for him and the
courts.

“That was his decision. My decisions are predicated on the fact that he was
properly investigated, a lawful conviction passed and a life sentence
imposed.

“I realise that the abandonment of the appeal has caused concern to many.

“I have indicated that I am grateful to and proud of those who have served in
whatever capacity in bringing this case to justice.

“I accept the conviction and sentence imposed. However, there remain concerns
to some on the wider issues of the Lockerbie atrocity.

“This is a global issue, and international in its nature. The questions to be
asked and answered are beyond the jurisdiction of Scots law and the
restricted remit of the Scottish Government.

“If a further inquiry were felt to be appropriate then it should be initiated
by those with the required power and authority.

“The Scottish Government would be happy to fully co-operate in such an inquiry.

“I now turn to the matters before me that I require to address. An application
under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement and an application for compassionate
release have been made. I now deal with them in turn.

“Prisoner Transfer.

“Firstly, the Prisoner Transfer Agreement.

“The Libyan Government applied on 5 May 2009 for the transfer of Mr Al
Megrahi. Prisoner Transfer Agreements are negotiated by the United Kingdom
Government.

“Throughout the negotiations and at the time of the signing of the PTA with
Libya, the Scottish Government’s opposition was made clear.

“It was pointed out that the Scottish Prison Service had only one Libyan
prisoner in custody.

“Notwithstanding that, the UK Government failed to secure, as requested by the
Scottish Government, an exclusion from the PTA for anyone involved in the
Lockerbie air disaster.

“As a consequence Mr Al Megrahi is eligible for consideration for transfer in
terms of the agreement entered into by the Governments of the United Kingdom
and Libya.

“I received numerous letters and representations, and recognised that a
decision on transfer would be of personal significance to those whose lives
have been affected.

“Accordingly, I decided to meet with groups and individuals with a relevant
interest.

WI met with the families of victims: those from the United Kingdom who had
relatives on board the flight, as well as those whose kinfolk were murdered
in their homes in Lockerbie; a lady from Spain whose sister was a member of
the cabin crew; and I held a video conference with families from the United
States.

“I am grateful to each and every one of them for their fortitude on a matter
which I know is still a source of great pain.

“I also spoke to the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the
United States Attorney General, Eric Holder. I met Minister al Obidi and his
delegation from the Libyan Government to hear their reasons for applying for
transfer, and to present to them the objections that had been raised to
their application.

“I have noted and considered all the points presented, and also relevant
written representations I received.

“Prior to ratification of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement, it was scrutinised
by the Westminster Joint Committee on Human Rights, to which Jack Straw, UK
Secretary of State for Justice, gave a commitment that in cases where
applications were not submitted personally by the prisoner, the prisoner
must be given the opportunity to make representations.

“Mr Al Megrahi had the opportunity to make representations, and he chose to do
so in person.

“Therefore I was duty bound to receive his representations. I accordingly met
him.

“It was clear that both the United States Government and the American families
objected to a prisoner transfer.

“They did so on the basis of agreements they said had been made, prior to
trial, regarding the place of imprisonment of anyone convicted.

“The United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, was in fact deputy Attorney
General to Janet Reno at the time of the pre-trial negotiations.

“He was adamant that assurances had been given to the United States Government
that any person convicted would serve his sentence in Scotland.

“Many of the American families spoke of the comfort that they placed upon
these assurances over the past ten years. That clear understanding was
reiterated to me, by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I sought the views of the United Kingdom Government. I offered them the right
to make representations or provide information. They declined to do so.

“They simply informed me that they saw no legal barrier to transfer and that
they gave no assurances to the US Government at the time.

“They have declined to offer a full explanation as to what was discussed
during this time, or to provide any information to substantiate their view.
I find that highly regrettable.

“I therefore do not know what the exact nature of those discussions was, nor
what may have been agreed between Governments.

“However, I am certain of the clear understanding of the American families and
the American Government.

“Therefore it appears to me that the American families and Government either
had an expectation, or were led to believe, that there would be no prisoner
transfer and the sentence would be served in Scotland.

“It is for that reason that the Libyan Government’s application for prisoner
transfer for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi I accordingly reject.

“Compassionate Release

“I now turn to the issue of compassionate release.

“Section three of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993
gives the Scottish Ministers the power to release prisoners on licence on
compassionate grounds.

“The Act requires that ministers are satisfied that there are compassionate
grounds justifying the release of a person serving a sentence of
imprisonment.

“Although the Act does not specify what the grounds for compassionate release
are, guidance from the Scottish Prison Service, who assess applications,
suggests that it may be considered where a prisoner is suffering from a
terminal illness and death is likely to occur soon.

“There are no fixed time limits but life expectancy of less than three months
may be considered an appropriate period.

“The guidance makes it clear that all prisoners, irrespective of sentence
length, are eligible to be considered for compassionate release. That
guidance dates from 2005.

“On 24 July 2009 I received an application from Mr Al Megrahi for
compassionate release. He was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in
September 2008.

“I have been regularly updated as to the progression of his illness.

“I have received numerous comprehensive medical reports including the opinions
of consultants who have been treating him.

“It is quite clear to the medical experts that he has a terminal illness, and
indeed that there has recently been a significant deterioration in his
health.

“In order to consider the application for compassionate release, I was
provided with reports and recommendations by the Governor of Greenock
Prison, the doctors and prison social work staff.

“Also, as laid out in statute, I have consulted the Parole Board.

“This is the normal process for consideration of an application for
compassionate release and my decision is in accordance with all the advice
given to me.

“It is the opinion of his Scottish Prison Service doctors who have dealt with
him prior to, during and following the diagnosis of prostate cancer, and
having seen him during each of these stages, that his clinical condition has
declined significantly.

“Assessment by a range of specialists has reached the firm consensus that his
disease is, after several different trials of treatment, “hormone resistant”
– that is resistant to any treatment options of known effectiveness.

“Consensus on prognosis therefore has moved to the lower end of expectations.

“Mr Al Megrahi was examined by Scottish Prison Service doctors on 3 August.

“A report dated 10 August from the director of health and care for the
Scottish Prison Service indicates that a three-month prognosis is now a
reasonable estimate. The advice they have provided is based not only on
their own physical examination but draws on the opinion of other specialists
and consultants who have been involved in his care and treatment. He may die
sooner – he may live longer.

“I can only base my decision on the medical advice I have before me. That
medical advice has been made available to the United States Government at
their request and has been published on grounds of public interest.

“It has been suggested that Mr Al Megrahi could be released from prison to
reside elsewhere in Scotland.

“Clear advice from senior police officers is that the security implications of
such a move would be severe. I have therefore ruled that out as an option.

“Having met the criteria, it therefore falls to me to decide whether Mr Al
Megrahi should be released on compassionate grounds.

“I am conscious that there are deeply held feelings, and that many will
disagree whatever my decision. However a decision has to be made.

“Scotland will forever remember the crime that has been perpetrated against
our people and those from many other lands. The pain and suffering will
remain forever. Some hurt can never heal. Some scars can never fade.

“Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive.
Their pain runs deep and the wounds remain.

“However, Mr Al Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is
one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or
overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.

“In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity.

“It is viewed as a defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people.

“The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis
for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith
and beliefs by which we seek to live.

“Mr Al Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were
not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives,
let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them.

“But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his
family in his final days.

“Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be
available.

“Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown.

“Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by,
remaining true to our values as a people. No matter the severity of the
provocation or the atrocity perpetrated.

“For these reasons – and these reasons alone – it is my decision that Mr
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie
bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on
compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya to die.”

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