James Forsyth

The government’s handling of the al-Megrahi affair has been colossally incompetent

The government’s handling of the al-Megrahi affair has been colossally incompetent
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Once one gets beyond one’s revulsion at the British government using the prospect of the release of a convicted mass murderer to grease the diplomatic skids, one is struck by the government’s incompetence during the Megrahi affair.

Megrahi is the only man convicted of a bombing that killed 180 Americans—how did Whitehall think that Washington was going to react to his release? The United States is this county’s most important strategic ally and it seems bizarre to strain relations with it in the hope of improving relations with Libya.

The correspondence between the Scottish Executive and the British government strongly suggests that if London had been prepared to offer this advice to Edinburgh, Megrahi would not have been freed. Indeed, reading the letters that were exchanged it is clear that the Scottish Executive—with its insistence that those involved in the Lockerbie bombing be excluded from the prisoner transfer with Libya—was behaving in a far more principled manner than the British government.

Gordon Brown's comments today were very carefully worded. He said that there were “no private assurances to Colonel Gaddafi”. But we know from the released documents that there were private assurances offered by one of Brown’s ministers, Bill Rammell, to Libyan officials. One senses that this story is just going to keep getting bigger and bigger.