LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s former Labour government did “all it could” to help Libya seek the Lockerbie bomber’s release, according to a report by the top British civil servant published on Monday that could arouse anger in Washington.
Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was jailed for life for blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988. Scottish authorities freed him in August 2009 on compassionate grounds after concluding he had just months to live because of cancer.
Megrahi was given a triumphant homecoming in Libya and is still alive nearly two years later, causing anger in the United States because 189 of the 270 victims were American.
Leading U.S. politicians have questioned whether a desire to secure energy deals with Libya played a part in the release. British oil giant BP has interests in Libya.
Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who took power after ousting Labour an election in May, has called the release a mistake and promised last year to publish documents reviewing it.
The report by Britain’s top civil servant found that there was no evidence that either the government in London or BP had applied pressure on the Scottish regional authorities who ultimately decided to release Megrahi.
Nevertheless, the report said Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour government had taken steps after Megrahi was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2008 that made it easier for Libya to appeal for his return.
The government concluded British interests would be hurt if he were to die in a Scottish jail, because of “the extremely high priority attached to Mr Megrahi’s return by the Libyans.”
“Policy was therefore progressively developed that HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) should do all it could, whilst respecting devolved competences, to facilitate an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish Government for Mr Megrahi’s transfer under the PTA (Prisoner Transfer Agreement) or release on compassionate grounds,” the report said.
Steps taken by London included ratifying a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, explaining to Libya how to apply for a transfer under that agreement or for compassionate release, and telling the Scottish government there was no legal barrier to a transfer.
Labour has said it did not lobby for Megrahi’s release as this was a matter for the Scottish administration, which has broad independent legal powers.
BP and Scottish ministers have denied the oil company lobbied for Megrahi’s release.