Brown’s silence on Megrahi: “absurd” says Clegg, “right” says Steel

Nick Clegg has today condemned Gordon Brown for issuing no statement following the release on compassionate grounds of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Al Megrahi:

Although the decision to release Megrahi was a Scottish one for which Gordon Brown was not personally responsible, the fallout puts the UK at the centre of an international storm.

“In these circumstances, it is absurd and damaging that the British Prime Minister simply remains silent in the hope that someone else will take the flak.”

He went further on this lunchtime’s BBC Radio 4 World at One, openly criticising the decision of the Scottish Executive, saying, “I find it difficult to accept that someone convicted in a British court of law should be released as he was.”

But speaking on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today Programme his predecessor Lord (David) Steel – a former presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament – defended the Prime Minister’s stance:

“I think they are respecting the proper constitutional position. He’s right to hold off and let the Scottish executive take the strain on this one,” he said. “They’re quite right to wait until the row is over until they pronounce on it.”

Asked his opinion on the release he said: “I think it was a bit ham-fisted, I don’t think he necessarily made the wrong decision. Most opinion in Scotland is in favour of the decision on compassionate grounds.” He went on to say that if the decision had been made the previous week “quickly and quietly there would have been less of a furore when it actually happened”.

Meanwhile a PoliticsHome poll on the issue finds that, though the public as a whole disapproves of Mr al-Megrahi’s release by a margin of 53-35%, Lib Dem supporters approve of it by an almost identical margin, 52-35%.

Lib Dem supporters were also more likely than supporters of other parties to harbour doubts about Mr al-Megrahi’s conviction. A slim majority of the public suspect it was unsound, but by an overwhelming margin Lib Dem supporters believe it’s open to question: 49% agreed the original conviction was suspect, with 25% disagreeing, and 27% not offering an opinion.

Finally, it’s interesting – though not altogether surprising – to note that Lib Dem supporters are by far the most likely to agree with the principle that prisoners can be released on compassionate grounds: over two-thirds (68%) believe it to be right, with less than one-quarter disagreeing.

By contrast, Labour supporters were fairly evenly split – 47% agreeing with compassionate release, 42% disagreeing – Tory supporters disagree with the principle by a hefty two-to-one margin, 61%-32%.

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43 Comments

  • coldcomfort 24th Aug '09 - 3:52pm

    If he had died in Scottish jail he would have been hailed as a martyr and the reception would not have been confined to Libya. It is inconceivable that he acted alone. No useful purpose would have been served by keeping him in Scotland.

  • Andrew Suffield 24th Aug '09 - 4:59pm

    And let’s not forget that all the evidence against him has been discredited as lies or fakes, he was probably innocent all along, and he’s been let out on compassionate grounds as an *alternative* to an appeal which he would not have lived long enough to see the end of (estimates were that it would take two or three years; he’ll be dead in less than one).

    Basically the whole thing was a tragic miscarriage of justice, and the actual guilty party got away with the crime. Funny how little attention that’s been getting in the news.

  • Andrew Suffield 24th Aug '09 - 5:23pm

    not in a court of law it hasn’t

    Actually, quite a lot of it has been discredited in a court of law. It just hasn’t been through the relevant appelate court to get him released yet. For example, the Mebo evidence was handled in the appropriate Swiss court. The SCCRC examined his case and approved an appeal on the basis of the evidence presented – it just didn’t have time to be seen through before he’ll die. It’s been working through the system since 2003, with his probable release in 2010.

  • Releasing prisoners on compassionate grounds is well established in Scots law. The Scottish Justice Secretary released him following legal advice, which is entirely proper. I dislike some of the hyperbole coming from some politicians and I don’t think it is for Clegg to decide whether the decision was right or not nor Mr Obama come to that! The manner of the homecoming can be criticised though

  • I don’t think anyone sees this bringing down the SNP Government. It could bring down the Justice Secretary, since his going to see Al-Megrahi in prison looks like a very questionable thing to have done. (I personally think he was wrong to go, and his explanation is very thin, but I wouldn’t call for his resignation over that – or indeed over his decision, although I disagree with it.)

    The uniqueness of compassionate release to Scotland has been greatly exaggerated. It exists (albeit separately) in England and Wales – Jack Straw just used it in the Ronnie Biggs case. I think it even exists in America: it’s just that for political / cultural reasons it is not used.

    The real question here is whether there are any circumstances in which it is right to withhold compassion to any degree. What expectations can people have of how the justice system will treat criminals who have harmed them or their families? What right do politicians have to intervene and ‘forgive’ people on behalf of their victims (and on behalf of entire countries)?

    I genuinely think the institution of liberal, dispassionate justice (with humane treatment) is made very vulnerable to attack if you abandon any sense of proportion between crime and punishment.

    Al-Megrahi was convicted of killing 270 people. He disputes his guilt, and therefore has not shown remorse. He has served 8 years in prison where I think it is accepted he has been treated well (and some time on remand?).

    I think in those circumstances, compassion may require a range of things as he approaches death, but not that he be freed.

    I think people’s reactions are clouded by the background – especially the view that he could not have been acting alone / by his own volition and that there is doubt about the conviction itself. I have my own doubts, but I’m afraid the only way to resolve this was through the appeal – not by the snap judgement of folk like me who’ve read about it on the internet.

    There is a huge moral question here, but I think this is the shabbier of two shabby and unsatisfactory outcomes.

    Just to point out in response to James, this was not a judicial decision that MacAskill did not interfere with. The decision was the exercise by MacAskill of discretion given to him as a politician. Everyone agrees he is entitled to take the decision, but it is his decision – not that of judges or officials – and he is rightly accountable for it.

  • Graham Evans 24th Aug '09 - 7:03pm

    I think it extremely regrettable that Nick Clegg has sought to follow the lead of David Cameron and try to make political capital out fo the release of Megraphi. Despite the criticisms of his low profile in terms of the economic debate, I believe he has been right to follow the lead of the more experienced Vince Cable. On the Megraphi issue Nick would have been wise to seek the counsel of David Steel before sounding off. His actions have strengthen the charge that Liberal Democrats are political opportunists, unwilling to make principled but potentially unpopular decisions.

  • Those who claim that Al-Megrahi was convicted by a court should recall that the “court” in question was located in a military base in the Netherlands and there was no jury (even James Hanratty and Michael Stone got a jury, for what good it did them). There were five Scottish judges (the Scottish judiciary is a tiny, cloistered world), each of whom was susceptible to unseen pressure from the Freemasons, who exercise far more pervasive influence in Scotland than they do in England.

    There is no doubt that Al-Megrahi is innocent. The “evidence” against him is worthless. Tony Gauci, the mens’ outfitter from Malta, was paid by the CIA for his “testimony”, and he was shown a picture of Al-Megrahi before he stepped into the witness box.

    The repulsive gaggle of corrupt politicians, spooks and neocon hacks who are so loudly and busily deriding the Scottish government are in no doubt of Al-Megrahi’s innocence. The attack on Panam 103 was carried out by a Syrian backed Palestinian splinter group. But the US government needed Syrian support for the first Gulf War, so they decided to pin it on Lybia. Blair, Cheney, Clinton, et al, know this.

    As for Herr Mueller, we should tell him to climb the Empire State Building and jump off the top.

  • James – my point isn’t that he didn’t seek legal advice.

    My point is that it is quite clear that he is neither legally required to do one thing or the other. The power is given to him as the Minister to decide, and he is accountable for his decision.

  • MacAskill’s mistake was to allow himself to become associated with political bargaining, economic bargaining or the question of Megrahi’s innocence.

    If he had made an early statement that Megrahi would be released on compassionate grounds (the right thing to do, that David Steel waffled around), MacAskill may have had a future political career. The Americans would have been annoyed anyway, but nobody can learn lessons about justice or rehabilitation from their system. All MacAskill has achieved is to make it difficult for others to release other convicts to die in dignity.

  • A positive lesson that has emerged from this episode is that the United Kingdom’s “special” relationship with the United States of America has been revealed for what it is – that of client state to imperial master. The slightest deviance from orders earns vengeful disapproval. Let’s hope the people start to stir from their somnolence.

    The Lockerbie bombing was investigated some years ago by Paul Foot, one of the greatest journalists this country has ever produced. The “evidence” heard by the judges was the horse manure served up by the FBI/CIA (the latter are brighter and smell better than the former, but their morals are equally dubious). The fact that their lordships didn’t believe a word of it is evidenced by their acquittal of Al-Megrahi’s co-accused. A compromise verdict, if you like. Don’t annoy the brothers too much, but express your annoyance at flagrant political bullying of the judiciary. Foot spoke of “five lords a leaping to conclusions”, something one has an excuse to do when one listens to nothing but perjury for X number of weeks.

  • Roger Shade 24th Aug '09 - 9:28pm

    I cannot see what it has to do with Gordon Brown and I think the opposition should not make political capital out of the situation. I am truly disappointed that Nick chose to join in David Cameron’s opportunistic politcking. The Liberal Democrats supported devolution and should support the Scottish Government’s right to make decisions based on Scottish law. Alright MacAskill made some minor mistakes but that doesn’t make his decision fundamentally wrong. And as for the Head of the FBI insinuating the decision undermines the rule of Law, perhaps he can explain how it is lawful to torture prisoners held by agents of his country’s Government.

  • The fact that you do or don’t like the conduct of the American Government – about this or anything else – shouldn’t effect your view about how our justice system should work.

    There are many people suggesting that this is being reduced to party politics – and no doubt it is by some. However, it is just as offensive of those who agree with MacAskill to suggest that sincere disagreement with their view must be party political grandstanding when in many cases it clearly is not.

    MacAskill tried to rebut criticism of his decision today by pointing out that Jim Wallace, while Scottish Justice Minister, granted compassionate release to “a child killer”. I am not sure what he hoped to prove by saying that, but I don’t think he was attempting to address the substance of the question which had been put to him, or the substance of the decision which Jim Wallace had taken in that case.

  • All the participants in this sordid business are posturing. All of them clearly know things they don’t want to admit to knowing. I don’t pretend to know what those things are (I don’t like know-it-all conspiracy theorists!), but I can tell when people are blatantly dissembling.

    Why wasn’t Megrahi released on compassionate grounds on condition he stayed in Scotland? That could well have saved a lot of embarassment. Ernest Saunders made a “miracle recovery” from terminal Alzheimer’s. Plenty of people live for ages with prostate cancer… Release to house arrest in Scotland is the obvious compromise solution. Why did we not go for that?

    I suspect the answer to my question is, “Because Gaddafi offered some sort of deal. As he has, many times before. And we agreed the deal. As we have, many times before. That deal required Megrahi to reach Libya.”

  • Herbert Brown 25th Aug '09 - 9:19am

    [Clegg:] “I find it difficult to accept that someone convicted in a British court of law should be released as he was.”

    I suppose “as he was” could mean almost anything, but it certainly could be construed as advocating the abolition of release on compassionate grounds. I wonder if there’s any chance of a clarification. But perhaps the whole point is not to be clear.

  • While Clegg is right to call on GB to comment, leaping on the anti-release bangwagon right AFTER the difficult decision has been taken does not look good at all.

  • “Now whoever believes this guy didn’t take the flack (Gaddafi gave him no choice!) does not think Mossad exists!”

    Some conspiracy theories I can swallow. I’m not totally persuaded by the idea of Gaddafi being Mossad’s stooge though…

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 25th Aug '09 - 6:18pm

    I feel if Nick is going to criticise Gordin Brown for making no comment he needs to say what comment he would make if he was PM.

    I haven’t seen anywhere Nick’s view as to whether he agrees or disagrees with the Scottish minister’s decision.

    It may be the media frustrating Nick’s message.

  • “When someone as usually measured as President Obama speaks out in such terms, it requires a political response.”

    What if President Obama didn’t speak out in such terms? How would the military-industrial-petrochemical complex react? Would they sit back and twiddle their thumbs? Or would they do to President Obama what they did to his predecessor, President John F Kennedy, and his brother, Senator Robert F Kennedy?

    Obama is in a lose/lose situation. If he says nothing he looks weak. If he tells the truth, his masters kill him. If he does what his masters command, then he loses credibility with international opinion, but stays in office and reforms the healthcare system.

    James Graham: A trivial pedant’s quibble. The trial wasn’t held in the Hague (and had nothing to do with the International Criminal Court), but was a Scottish Court convened in a military facility way out in the Geest. Minor error, perhaps, but someone who uses the “conspiracy” smear as liberally as you do ought at least to have a command of his facts.

    Philip Young: A CCTV camera outside the Panam luggage store at Heathrow might have been helpful to the Lockerbie inquiry. But would it have shared the fate of the video rolls from the filling-station opposite the Pentagon? My point: unless we can trust the law enforcement agencies, no category or quality of evidence can be relied upon.

  • “What if President Obama didn’t speak out in such terms? How would the military-industrial-petrochemical complex react? Would they sit back and twiddle their thumbs? Or would they do to President Obama what they did to his predecessor, President John F Kennedy, and his brother, Senator Robert F Kennedy?”

    If they are that powerful, how come there is a President Obama in the first place….

  • Hywel, perhaps we should wait until we see what happens to Obama’s healthcare reforms before we answer that question. Maybe, in the meantime, you can tell us how there was a President Allende and a Prime Minister Whitlam. We know what happened to both.

  • Terry Gilbert 25th Aug '09 - 9:19pm

    Yes, it was a disappointing remark by Nick Clegg on WatO. Though at least he didn’t actually say he disagreed with MacAskill’s decision.

    Incidentally, James, the party website is crap – sometimes whole weeks go by without a single news item, even during crucial by elections! Some intelligent public comment on the daily news would be welcome! But that’s FPTP politics, I suppose….

  • James Graham’s mouth is a match for his tummy. Ignore him, or play to his ego? No, catch him out talking drivel, then sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

  • The overthrow of Salvador Allende was on the watch of Richard Nixon. Now there was a man who knew how to organise a complex conspiracy and keep it from becoming public….

  • LibDem Guru 26th Aug '09 - 8:59am

    Libdem voters letting us down again?

    The murderer should have been left to die in prison as a signal to individuals, countries, religions & ideologies; that think they can take away our freedoms by using force. Well no you can’t.

    Death is too good for these types!

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Aug '09 - 9:36am

    Once again, Nick Clegg’s comments reveal him to be a very shallow man. There was an opportunity for something thoughtful and liberal to be said here, instead we have a thoughtless jumping to the most obvious line which leaves our party looking like opportunists. I myself, having been leader of the opposition in a London borough, know how it is that journalists write their story with the usual simplistic “why oh why” line, and then phone opposition leaders for a “isn’t it terrible, wicked bad government” quote – often they’ve written the quote for you and just want you to say “yes” when they say it, then they’ll quote it as your words. In this position, you should use it as an opportunity to get the journos to think and make quite sure it’s you and not they who are setting the agenda.

    The line here is surely to say what good and humanitarian people we are that we have let this man go free to die in his homeland with his family, and then turn it around to challenge the Libyans to show a similar humanitarianism. We may ask them if they will tell us the truth about Lockerbie to show the sort of humanitarianism to the families of the victims who are so hurt because so much has been left unknown. We might also point out the brutal record of executions of the Libyan regime and ask them why if we will not execute a convicted killer of dozens and set him free when he is dying, they have had public hangings of people whose only crime is to disagree with the regime.

    We see Libyans rejoicing at the release of this man, so the question now is what are they rejoicing for? If it is rejoicing at the release of a man they believe to be innocent, we should expect that to be shown in the nature of their rejoicing, and if they have the humanitarianism we have shown they should in this rejoicing be expressing sorrow at the deaths for which they say he was wrongly convicted. If the reality is that they are rejoicing because they think him to be a hero for doing the deed, we might expect a different reception. So by releasing him we have given them an opportunity to show who they really are, are they human beings with a sense of humanity of the sort shown by the release of a sick man? Or are they brutes?

    An act of kindness like this can and should be turned round to ask for reciprocity. If they cannot or will not give it, we have won the propaganda war. But if like Nick Clegg you appear not even to know the rules of the game, well …

    19% in the polls and falling. Great communicator? Huh.

  • Libdem Guru 28th Aug '09 - 6:19pm

    So with Cowley Street hiring in all these PR bigwigs

    How much are they costing?
    What are they gonna do to raise profile and increase market share?
    Are they in any danger of getting results, or is this just another waste of OUR money?

    Mark Pack seems to think he knows all the answers but he never got back to me on a previous blog.

    Maybe Chris Rennard can blog back?

  • someone convicted in a British court of law

    Earth to Nick: he was convicted in a court convened in Holland under Scots law. There is no such thing as a British Court of law, and even if there was, he wasn’t convicted in one.

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