20 Jul 2010

Timeline: Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi

The Lockerbie bomber released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds had three months to live. Eleven months on, he is still alive – prompting a fierce debate over his early release.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi

Channel 4 News looks at the timeline of events leading to al-Megrahi’s release.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who was charged with the 270 counts of murder, mounted multiple appeals against his 27 year sentence.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) refered al-Megrahi’s case back to the High Court on six grounds that there “may have been a miscarriage of justice” and that it was “in the interests of justice” to review his sentence.

However, after being diagnosed with terminal prostrate cancer, he was released on the grounds that he only had three months to live. Al-Megrahi had served less than a third of his sentence – eight years in prison.

Senators in the US argue that oil giant BP pushed for his early release in order to secure a $900m oil deal in Libya. They accuse BP of planning to pay off victims of the Gulf oil spill with “blood money”.

21 December 1988: Pan Am Flight 103 is blown up over Lockerbie en route from London to New York. All 259 passengers and crew members are killed, as well as 11 residents in Lockerbie. The Scottish police and US authorities launch a joint investigation.

November 1991: The UK and the US authorities accuse Mr Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi and Mr Al Amin Khalifa Fhima of involvement.

1999: The Libyan government finally agreed to hand over both suspects. A special Scottish Court is set up at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, and the trial begins in May 2000.

January 2001: Megrahi is sentenced to life imprisonment for 270 counts of murder and Fhimah was acquitted. Megrahi immediately appeals his conviction, but this is rejected in 2002.

June 2002: Nelson Mandela calls for Megrahi to be moved to a Muslim country. Then prime minister Tony Blair rules out moving him from prison in Glasgow, Scotland.

August 2003: Lawyers acting for families of the bombing victims reach a £1.7bn compensation agreement with the Libyan government.

September 2003: Megrahi appeals against his conviction again.

November 2003: A change in the legal system rules that al-Megrahi must spend at least 27 years in prison custody before becoming eligible for early release.

June 2006: The challenges are put on hold as the independent Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) continues to review his case (it began in 2003).

June 2007: The UK government strikes a deal with Libya on a prison transfer agreement (PTA), but not for Megrahi.

2007: The SCCRC refers al-Megrahi’s case back to the High Court on six grounds that there “may have been a miscarriage of justice” and it was “in the interests of justice”.

February 2008: Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, seeks assurances that al-Megrahi will not be part of any transfer deal with Libya.

March 2008: Al-Megrahi’s latest claims, that secret documents existed unseen by the defence, fails to persuade judges.

April 2008: The US stands by its international agreement for al-Megrahi to continue his sentence in Scotland.

October 2008: Al-Megrahi’s lawyer announces that the prisoner has been diagnosed with “advanced stage” prostate cancer. Al-Megrahi applies to be released on bail, pending a court decision on his appeal.

November 2008: Al-Megrahi’s bail bid fails.

December 2008: 20th anniversary of Lockerbie bombings.

May 2009: Libya asks for al-Megrahi to be moved from Scotland under the terms of a prisoner transfer agreement.

July 2009: Al-Megrahi seeks release on compassionate grounds, owing to his terminal illness.

18 August 2009: Al-Megrahi drops his second appeal.

20 August 2009: He is released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds and returns to Libya. US President Barack Obama brands the move a mistake, as the families of some US victims express their anger. Then Prime Minister Gordon Brown writes to Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi asking that the country acts “with sensitivity” on Megrahi’s return.

21 August 2009: Al-Megrahi returns to Libya.

22 August 2009: Col Gaddafi is seen on Libyan television praising Brown and the British government for setting Megrahi free.

24 August 2009: The Scottish Executive is recalled to discuss the move, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill faces a grilling from MSPs.

25 August 2009: Brown says he is ”repulsed” by al-Megrahi’s hero’s welcome in Libya, insisting the British government had no role in restoring his freedom.

29 August 2009: Leaked letters from the Justice Secretary Jack Straw indicate that he backed away from efforts to insist that al-Megrahi would be exempt from the PTA ”in view of the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom”.

1 September 2009: Documents by the Scottish Government at a meeting with a Libyan minister in March are released.

September 2009: New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg sends an initial letter calling on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to investigate BP’s Libyan deal.

22 April 2010: Explosion of Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico – BP faces a criminal investigation after the death of 11 workers, clean up costs run past the billion mark with a matter of months.

14 July 2010: US senators, led by Lautenberg, launch a second call for an investigation of BP’s Libyan business interests, accusing the oil giant of lobbying for the early release of the convicted Lockerbie terrorist – with plans to now use “blood money” to pay off victims of the Gulf spill.

19 July 2010: Prime Minister David Cameron arrives in Washington as questions over BP’s links to the early release of the Lockerbie bomber threaten to eclipse the crux of his talks with US president Barack Obama – the Afghan war.

20 July 2010: David Cameron tells American radio that the release of the Lockerbie bomber was “profoundly misguided” and he “should have died in jail”.