Compassion on the Ground
The Scottish people voted clearly in favour of a devolved parliament in 1997. This action transferred significant powers of self-government to Scotland but with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we remain the United Kingdom. That is the label on our seat at the United Nations and I am grateful that this is the case. Together the United Kingdom is stronger than the sum of its parts.
Devolution can have a double impact in that a decision now in the gift of Scotland can be significant for our whole nation and its consequences can reverberate around the world. Such is the case with the decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds. Mr. Al Megrahi was convicted for planting a bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 on Lockerbie just before Christmas 1988. The decision to make an early release affects us all.
The bombing and subsequent crash killed 270 people of 21 different nationalities, including 11 in the town of Lockerbie. This again illustrates the global impact of terrorist atrocities whether they are carried out by individuals, groups or nation-states. The most recent chapter of this particular incident allows the summary comment of “compassion on the ground and slaughter in the air”. Perhaps this oversimplifies?
Mr. Al Megrahi did make an appeal against the conviction and this was rejected in 2002. A further appeal was made but without any conclusive outcome. We should acknowledge that it is possible for British justice, devolved or not, to miscarry. There is ample precedent for this and no system can be perfect. If there was a miscarriage of justice or a suspicion of this, surely the Scottish Government would have said so and if not, why not?
The silence of the Scottish Government on the legal process is suggesting that they believe that justice was done and that the original conviction was sound. If this is true, it seems difficult to rationalise an early release given the scale of the mass murder that was committed. What kind of message does that send to victims and their families from all over the world? Might the decision give another message to those people planning such acts in the future?
Innocent airline passengers have faced decades of threat from hijacking and bombings resulting from conflicts with which they might have no direct involvement. The early release decision does nothing to reduce this threat. Instead it just damages the reputation or our country.
Either a government has made an unjustifiable early release decision or it has discovered a miscarriage of justice but not stated that fact. We do not really know which is true. That is farcical. It is perversely re-assuring to know that one very British attribute has survived devolution and raised its head in exactly the right season.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
26th August 2009