British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was drawn into a damaging row yesterday over the release of the Lockerbie bomber after revelations a British minister told Libya the prime minister did not want him to die in prison.
Minister of State for the Armed Forces Bill Rammell confirmed late on Tuesday that he suggested to Libyan officials that the prime minister and Foreign Secretary David Miliband did not want bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi to die in a Scottish jail.
Rammell’s comments to the Libyans were contained in notes of a meeting released earlier on Tuesday by the Scottish government about Megrahi, the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing that killed 270.
“I did say that,” Rammell told the BBC. “But we need to put it in context. I was making it emphatically clear that this was a decision for Scottish ministers.”
Rammell also said: “I have not discussed this [his comments] with the prime minister either before or after [his meeting].”
Rammell, then Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, met a Libyan minister and officials in Tripoli in February, six months before the release, a move that sparked outrage from the White House and US relatives of the victims.
The revelations are likely to increase pressure on Brown, whose government has insisted that the decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds was one solely taken by the semi-autonomous Scottish government.
The leader of the opposition Conservatives accused Brown of “double dealing” on the issue and called for an independent inquiry into what the government had “done in our name.”
“Tonight the British government stands accused and indeed the prime minister stands accused of double dealing,” leader David Cameron said. “On the one hand apparently saying to the Americans they wanted Megrahi to die in prison, but on the other hand saying privately to the Libyans that they wanted him released.”
The Brown government also published letters and documents on the Megrahi case on Tuesday in a bid to defuse the increasingly damaging row.
The government hoped publication of the documents would counter accusations that Megrahi was released as part of a deal to smooth the wheels of a massive oil and gas deal with oil-rich Libya.
Notes from a meeting between Libya’s minister for Europe, Abdulati Alobidi, and Scottish officials on March 12 suggested Brown and Miliband were opposed to Megrahi dying in a Scottish jail.
The notes, published by the Scottish government, said: “Mr Alobidi confirmed that he had reiterated to Mr Rammell that the death of Mr Megrahi in a Scottish prison would have catastrophic effects for the relationship between Libya and the UK. Mr Alobidi went on to say that Mr Rammell had stated that neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Secretary would want Mr Megrahi to pass away in prison but the decision on transfer lies in the hands of the Scottish ministers.”
Scotland freed Megrahi on Aug. 20 because he has terminal cancer. The Libyan served eight years of a life sentence for the bombing of a Pan Am jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.
Britain and the US condemned the joyous scenes that greeted his return to Tripoli, despite an appeal from Brown in a letter to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to keep the occasion low-key.
The release of the letters came as Qaddafi marked the 40th anniversary on Tuesday of the bloodless coup that brought him to power.
Susan Cohen, whose daughter was killed in the Lockerbie atrocity, accused politicians on all sides of putting profits before justice.
“I think there was collusion between the governments. It’s all very horrible — it was all down to financial contracts,” she said.
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