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Report: Former British Government Helped Libya Prepare Appeal

Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing but released from his Scottish prison on compassionate grounds, is seen below a portrait of Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi, September 9, 2009 (file photo)

Prime Minister David Cameron says the former British government did not disclose the full facts surrounding the release of the only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am plane over Scotland.

A report says the British government at the time of the release did not apply direct pressure to convince Scottish authorities to release the Libyan sentenced to life for the bombing, but it did help facilitate the appeal the Libyans made.

Scottish officials released Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from prison 17 months ago on compassionate grounds, saying he suffered from prostate cancer and had less than three months to live. The decision to release the only man convicted of the bombing of an American airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 was controversial, prompting protests in Britain and the United States. A majority of the 270 victims were American.

British Prime Minister David Cameron commissioned a review of government documents related to the case. The report concluded, in part, that the British government then had facilitated the appeal made by the Libyans to have Megrahi released under a Prisoner Transfer agreement or on compassionate grounds. Cameron quoted from some of the newly released documents while addressing the British Parliament.

"One of the foreign office papers released today makes plain that, and I quote, ‘Facilitating direct contact between the Libyans and the Scottish executive is a key part of our game plan on Megrahi.' Another foreign office paper from January 2009 says, and I quote, 'We now need to go further, and work accurately and discreetly to ensure that Megrahi is transferred back to Libya under the PTA or compassionate grounds,'" said Cameron.

The report concluded there was no direct pressure by the British government on Scotland to release Megrahi, and Cameron said it also dispelled rumors the British oil company BP was involved. At the time, BP was negotiating an offshore oil deal with Libya worth more than $600 million.

"Those who think there was some sort of conspiracy cooked up between BP, the British Government, and the Scots to release Megrahi, that is not right," said Cameron. "It was a Scottish decision by the Scottish government, in my view mistaken."

Cameron was not prime minister when the decision was made. The Labour Party ran the government at the time. Its present leader, Ed Miliband, called the report serious and thorough, and emphasized it exonerated the previous government.

"The report makes clear that there is no evidence that, and I quote 'U.K. interests played a part in Mr. Megrahi’s release by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds,'" said Miliband.

He added that the report said the government took great effort not to communicate its view to the Scottish government. "The message of today’s report is that Megrahi’s release was not influenced by the U.K. government."

Cameron said, however, that while the government did not directly pressure Scottish officials, it also did not make its role in facilitating the Libyan request clear. Al-Megrahi is still alive and living in Tripoli.