Ambassador says Megrahi release was ‘a mistake’
Sir Nigel Sheinwald regrets Scottish decision to release Lockerbie bomber - but denies there was a BP plot
The British Ambassador to Washington, Sir Nigel Sheinwald (above left), has stepped into the row over the release from jail of the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi (right), saying Britain's new coalition government is clear that it was a "mistake" to let him go.
Sheinwald said: "The British government deeply regrets the continuing anguish that his release on compassionate grounds has caused the families of Megrahi's victims in the UK, as well as in the US."
As The First Post has reported, Megrahi was released on the say-so of the Scottish Justice Secretary after a team of doctors who visited him in Greenock jail last July concurred that he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer and had only three months to live
The fact that Megrahi underwent further cancer treatment when he returned to Libya, and remains alive today, has caused distress to the families of the 270 victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and to politicians who argued against his release on compassionate grounds.
Sheinwald's intervention comes as the US Senate's foreign relations committee prepares to hold a hearing into the release of Megrahi on July 29 - one year and a day since the doctors gave their clearly misguided pronouncement. (As our Lie Detector, below, reveals, Megrahi has now outlasted the doctors' prognosis by very nearly nine months.)
The Senate hearing comes after four senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggesting BP - America's public enemy number one - had lobbied the British government to release Megrahi to help it secure a $900m oil exploration deal with Libya. Clinton responded: "I have received the letter and we will obviously look into it."
At the time of Megrahi's release, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made it clear - publicly - that the decision on Megrahi was a matter for the Scottish parliament alone. But he did say that he "respected" the Scots' right to release Megrahi. This phrase was taken (a) as an endorsement of Megrahi's early release and (b) as further proof - from the point of view of conspiracy theorists - that the Labour government had engineered a deal to get Megrahi released in return for oil and other trade deals.
Brown and other ministers refuted this allegation. And despite calling Megrahi's release a mistake, Sheinwald made it clear yesterday that the Scots did have the right to release him on compassionate grounds and that the BP rumour was "not true".
BP acknowledged yesterday that it pressed the government over the signing of a prisoner transfer agreement with the Gaddafi regime, but insisted it had made no representations about Megrahi's actual release.
Executives from the company have been asked to give evidence at the upcoming Senate hearing, where they are likely to face forceful questioning by senators still furious at the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Meanwhile, a Scottish newspaper, the Herald, reports that Megrahi is no longer responding to chemotherapy, is receiving only palliative care, and that medical experts say "a cold could finish him off". ·
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