Alex Massie

Peter Mandelson and the Lockerbie Bomber

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No, there's no connection. Liberal Vision's Angela Harbutt has some fun suggesting that the Prince of Darkness has been on manoeuvres again, this time plotting to spring the Lockerbie bomber from his cell in Greenock prison. It runs like this: Peter Mandelson was on Corfu again this summer and there he met Colonel Gaddafi's son. Just days later reports surfaced that Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi might be released. Coincidence? Surely not! Indeed, certainly not!

Now Miss Harbutt is, I assume, not being entirely serious. And nor, I trust, is Tory Bear when he leaps aboard this bandwagon. But doubtless this is the sort of thing that plenty of people are quite happy, even keen, to believe.

So it's worth pointing out that it's nonsense. Just to be on the safe side, you understand. Nonsense, because Mandelson has no power to determine whether Megrahi is released or not. Nor does any politician at Westminster. Equally, the idea that the Lockerbie bomber could be released on compassionate grounds has been around for some time now. Ever since it was determined tht his prostate cancer is terminal, in fact. So Mandelson's discussions on Corfu are entirely irrelevant.

But Megrahi could not be released, even on compassionate grounds, while he was appealling his conviction. He's subsequently dropped that appeal, clearing the way for him to be released on account of his cancer. If you want to findĀ  conspiracy theory in any of this then here it is: the Scottish political and legal authorities are happy to release Megrahi on account of his cancer because they feared what might happen if his appeal went ahead and was upheld.

No, I don't suppose this is the real truth either. But, for all that he adds to the political and media classes political entertainment, there are limits to what even Lord Mandelson can achieve behind the scenes.

UPDATE: Magnus Linklater has a scathing assessment of the SNP's handling of the matter.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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