More on al-Megrahi and Lockerbie

Today’s [London] Times rather sportingly publishes my letter, sent last week, disputing all three of a Times editorial’s reasons for condemning the decision of the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, to release on compassionate grounds the Libyan convicted of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing, Mr al-Megrahi.  My letter as published is the second one down at

As the text has been slightly cut, I am reproducing here the full text as originally submitted to the Times:

Your three arguments against releasing Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi (Return Flight, leading article, August 21) fail to convince. You criticise the Scottish Justice Secretary because “it is hard not to suppose that he intended at least to leave a whisper of suspicion about the safety of al-Megrahi’s conviction”, as if he should have been unaware of the judgement of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission that there are several grounds for a second appeal against that conviction, even though he correctly set this aside in arriving at his decision to release al-Megrahi.  You take the view that “Mr MacAskill needlessly scored a nationalist point in his condemnation of the United Kingdom Government”, but that can only be a matter of opinion, and is anyway irrelevant to the rightness or otherwise of his decision to release al-Megrahi.  You concede that “All prisoners are … eligible to be considered for compassionate release” and point out that “not all prisoners are thereby entitled to have that request granted”, which no-one could dispute;  but your conclusion that “al-Megrahi’s crime is such that he ought to have served out the full term of his life in prison” is evidently at odds with the recommendations of the prison and parole board authorities and the Justice Secretary’s medical advisers, all of whom Mr MacAskill was obliged to consult, and with Mr MacAskill’s judgement of the respective claims of punishment and retribution on the one hand, and of compassion for a dying man on the other.  You acknowledge the “nobility” of the minister’s decision in the end to give more weight to compassion than to retribution: should we then infer that your denunciation of it is ignoble?  That’s how it looks to me, anyway.

My views on the subject are set out more fully in a recent blog post here:  any Scottish parliamentarian who contemplates speaking in today’s debate on Mr MacAskill’s brave and merciful decision could get no better briefing beforehand than the original post and in particular the 11 comments (so far) appended to it, including my responses to most of them.  The comments range from strong agreement with my approval of Mr MacAskill’s decision to equally strong, even vehement denunciation of it.  Most are meaty, and some suggest an original slant.  I hope there’ll be many more, either on this post or else appended to the discussion at

The other letters in today’s Times about the decision to release Mr al-Megrahi are also of much interest — especially the letter immediately following mine from Mr Ralph Lloyd-Jones about the

vengeful unforgiving attitude of the US. Even President Obama has expressed his displeasure at Scotland’s compassionate release of a lowly Libyan secret serviceman. Whereas the anger of many relatives of those who were murdered is understandable, the British bereaved have also compared favourably with their American equivalents by expressing compassion in this case.

This widespread American reaction has I believe come as something of a shock to many on this side of the Atlantic, including some of those who (mistakenly, in my opinion) think Mr MacAskill’s decision was wrong.  (See, for example, the letter published in The Independent on 22 August from an old friend, Bob Knowles, here [scroll to a third of the way down the web page].) My impression is that the balance of UK media comments has so far tended to come down against Mr MacAskill;  the overwhelming majority of the responses to my own contrary view, both on this blog and in private e-mails, have come down in his favour..  When passions have cooled a little, I believe that the Scottish Justice Secretary will be seen to have brought much credit to himself and to the Scottish National Party government of which he is a member.  I just hope this won’t have the indirect consequence of increasing the vote for Scottish independence in the referendum planned by the SNP for 2010.  We in all parts of the UK, not just Scotland, need the eloquent and compassionate voices of Mr MacAskill and other Scottish political leaders of all parties.


1 Response

  1. Shuggy says:

    Well said, sir.