Guardian letter

One cannot help but sympathise with the difficult position that Kenny MacAskill has found himself in with regard to the possible early release, or transfer of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi. I have less sympathy with politicians who seize on this opportunity for posturing.

The purpose of imprisonment is surely threefold: to protect society from the risk of that person reoffending, to reduce the risk of others performing similar criminal acts and to offer some restitution to the injured parties: society as a whole, and in this case the families of victims and the community of Lockerbie.

In the present case the risk of this man re-offending must be negligible. The additional deterrent effect of his staying in a Scottish prison for the last few months of his life must be minimal, and arguably a goodwill gesture of releasing him on compassionate grounds may actually reduce the risk of international terrorism. The US relatives seem on the whole to wish him to stay in prison whereas the British relatives, notably Dr Jim Swire who has made exhaustive studies of this whole tragedy would favour his release. There have been a number of claims that Ali al-Megrahi may have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice and this issue is only likely to be settled by the holding of a public enquiry.

The final point that we should be considering is whether there is room for compassionate grounds for release from custody, as in the recent case of Ronald Biggs, or whether society is better served by insisting on its “pound of flesh”. That depends on the sort of society, the sort of nation that we wish to be.

While sympathising with the Scottish Justice Minister, I have less sympathy for the US senators whose contributions seem to be more for internal than external consumption. And I have no sympathy with Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski’s attempt to link Ali al-Megrahi’s fate to the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher. That seems to be little more than a cynical attempt to delay a decision until it is too late.

On the whole Kenny MacAskill seems to have shown considerable statesmanship in summing up a difficult dilemma.

Dr Charles West
Shrewsbury and Atcham Liberal Democrats
3 Bellstone,
tel:   07775 800744

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