Fri, Sep 04, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Brown says he supported release of Libyan bomber

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown risked alienating the Obama administration and British public opinion on Wednesday, when he admitted that he agreed with the Scottish executive’s decision to release the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, on compassionate grounds.

Following two weeks of silence, he was forced into setting out his position after papers released by the Scottish executive showed that in February this year Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell told the Libyans that Britain did not want Megrahi to die in a Scottish prison.

The British government had not foreseen that Rammell’s remarks, which disclosed British support for early release, would be published by the Scottish government on Tuesday.

In a statement, Brown said: “I respect the right of the Scottish ministers to make the decision, and the decision.”

The Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged that his remarks were an endorsement of the early release.

In a further embarrassment for the Labour party, Brown’s support for the release was flushed out of him on the day that his Scottish Labour party colleagues helped pass a motion in the Scottish parliament condemning the release by 73 votes to 50.

Brown, who was due to meet his Cabinet yesterday for the first time since the summer holidays, faced immediate criticism from former home secretary Jacqui Smith.

“It does not feel right to me that someone who has been convicted for an extremely serious offense be able to return, in a way in which his victims were not able to, back to Libya,” she said.

Brown’s silence had been prompted partly by fears of a counter-reaction in Washington and among the Lockerbie families.

Nearly 190 Americans died in the Lockerbie bombing in December 1988 and the US administration believes it was given a binding commitment by then-British foreign secretary Robin Cook that anyone convicted of the bombing would serve a life sentence in Scottish jails.

Both the US State Department and Department of Justice said yesterday that they “had received assurances in the 1990s that Megrahi’s full sentence would be served in Scotland.”

Brown himself said yesterday that his silence had been prompted by his determination to focus solely on persuading the Libyan regime not to make Megrahi’s release a subject of celebration once he returned to Tripoli.

Defending his actions at a conference in Birmingham he said: “There was no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double dealing, no deal on oil, no attempt to instruct Scottish ministers, no private assurances by me to Colonel Qaddafi.”

He said the Lockerbie bombing was a “terrorist act of the gravest brutality,” but added that Libya had moved from being a sponsor of international terrorism to being an ally in the fight against nuclear proliferation.

“It is in all our interests and Britain’s national interest that Libya rejoins the international community. So it was the duty of those responsible to look at all possible outcomes of the Megrahi case and their effect on our relations with Libya and on international terrorism and nuclear proliferation,” he said.

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