Selected comments on the decision to release the Lockerbie bomber

As described in a separate Ephems blog post, I have had a number of responses to an e-mail expressing my support for the decision of the Scottish Justice Secretary on compassionate grounds to release the Libyan convicted of complicity in the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, from his Scottish prison cell to enable him to spend the final weeks of his life in his own country with his family.  All but two of these have agreed, also supporting Megrahi’s release.  A selection of these responses follows:


The United States strikes me as being somewhat selective over this affair in the application of the principles of the religion it purports to embrace so wholeheartedly. The President and his State Secretary might find it salutary to turn to Matthew 5:

7. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

38.Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39.  But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

43. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45.  That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47.  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?


Here here Brian so nice to see someone stand up to pressure….esp from the Yanks!!

You wrote:
“I couldn’t help enjoying the spectacle of this Scottish National Party minister of a second-tier Scottish government, a minister of whom none of us had ever heard until last week, defiantly rejecting the pressures from the seven misguided Senators, an interfering Hillary Clinton and a sorrowful White House to make a decent, humane decision”

Hear, hear!


I for one cannot believe that Megrahi, even if he was guilty, was acting on his own.  It is tragic that many relatives of the dead clear want someone, anyone, to suffer, whether guilty or not, and are unaware – or choose to ignore – that some of the kin, over here if not in the US, have grave doubts about the guilty conviction arrived at by a panel of Scottish judges trying the case in the Netherlands under Scots law.  The reasons for doubt include the (legitimate) failure of the prosecution to release some evidence to the defence; the dubious reliability of the testimony of a Maltese witness; and the fact that not long before the ourage, the German authorities had seized four explosive devices apparently very similar to the one detonated over Lockerbie from a Palestinian terrorist group.  There are also allegations – possibly merely the stuff of urban legends – that the Dumfries and Galloway police either ignored, or suppressed knowledge of, possibly pertinent items found on the ground at Lockerbie – CIA badges, a suitcase containing (perhaps) heroin – suppress your disbelief and invent your own scenario!  As you imply, we shall probably never know the truth.


I see it as an example of moral courage. It brought to mind another, greater example (here [see extract from Hugh Thomas’s history of the Spanish civil war]).

In this context you may care to see the Leading Article in today’s ‘Times’ which (I am glad to say) comes to the opposite conclusion.

[To which I replied:

Thanks.  Utterly predictable, I’m afraid, given the [London] Times’s propensity for being wrong on virtually every issue.  Not one of the editorial’s three arguments seems to me to stand up to a moment’s scrutiny.  I think I may be feeling a blog post coming on.

Yours has been the first and (so far) only response to my e-mail to disagree with it, which just shows what a narrow section of opinion I draw most of my friends from!  It’s interesting, though, isn’t it?, that reactions to the release of Megrahi (McGrahey?) appear to be resolving themselves into a left-right division, although probably not in the US, judging by last night’s Situation Room on CNN where the condemnation was almost universal.  The modern sanctification of the wishes of victims has clearly sunk deep roots.]


Thank you for this. I agree completely.


Have you seen the whole of Kenny MacAskill’s speech on television?  Very good, I thought, and brave. The trouble with this case is, although MacAskill could not say it, that one has lingering doubts about his guilt and it is difficult to dissociate that from any decision, although MacAskill emphatically did so as he had to do.
What I wonder would have been the reaction if he had died in prison but he had not withdrawn his second appeal and that appeal had then found the verdict unsafe?
Incidentally …  MacAskill … is of course a cabinet minister in the Scottish Government.


Sorry, but I don’t share your views on Megrahi. A terminally sick villain in British custody would receive excellent care in his last days, in whichever palliative surroundings he were to find himself. So why release him? And had nobody foreseen the hero’s welcome on his return to Libya? What next – a national funeral? I hope not.
I was just as aghast at the release of Biggs (whom my students on their year abroad used to visit when he was leading a delightful life in Rio).

[To which I replied:
Thanks.  There’s obviously no right or wrong view on this:  it’s a purely subjective assessment of whether the claims of punishment and retribution should outweigh the claims of compassion for a dying man who has appealed to be allowed to spend his final weeks in his own country and with his own family.  FWIW, your reply is one of only two of the dozen or so responses to my e-mail so far to disagree with it — not that that has any statistical significance, of course, but it’s perhaps interesting.

Everyone is expressing nausea at the welcome accorded to Megrahi on his return to Libya, but I don’t see how that likely and predictable prospect could have been allowed to affect the decision on whether to let him out.  Moreover, it could legitimately be argued that those who believe that Megrahi was wrongly convicted (not without some pretty solid reasons for that belief) would have been justified in celebrating his return to his homeland and his family.  Of course the spectacle of the welcome he received must have been odious to many of the Lockerbie victims’ families, but for the reasons in my e-mail I don’t believe that their wishes and feelings should have been allowed to dominate either the decision on his release or the media coverage of the whole controversy surrounding it.

For pretty much the same reasons and on pretty much the same subjective grounds, I would have been ‘aghast’ (your word) if Biggs, who incidentally was in no way personally involved in the single act of violence committed during the great train robbery, had been kept in jail until he died.  Nor do I attribute any credit whatever for the decision to release Biggs to Jack Straw, who as usual changed his mind on this as on every other issue according to the vagaries of the views of the editor of the Sun newspaper.  As I have just written to a Scottish friend who was one of those who agreed with my Lockerbie e-mail, I wish we could swap Straw for MacAskill!]

This is in no way a statistically significant selection of comments, but it helps to illustrate the wide — indeed wise — range of opinions on different aspects of Megrahi’s release. (Please append any further comments to my accompanying blog post, not to this page.)