Lockerbie: David Cameron criticises al-Megrahi release

David Cameron: "Today is a day to remember the 270 people who lost their lives in an appalling terrorist act"

David Cameron has reacted to the death of the only person convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing by saying he "should never have been released".

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, 60, has died at his home in Libya. His prostate cancer had led to his 2009 release from prison in Scotland on compassionate grounds.

The prime minister said it was "a day to remember the 270 people" killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said the investigation was still live.

The bombing in December 1988 remains the deadliest terrorist incident ever to have taken place on British soil.

All 259 people aboard the plane, which was travelling from London to New York, were killed, along with 11 others on the ground.

Megrahi was found guilty of the bombing in 2001.

Two years later it was established that the minimum term he must serve in jail before being allowed to apply for parole would be 27 years, backdated to 1999, after European law required Scotland's courts to set more precise sentences.

Analysis

Here in Lockerbie they do not dwell on the memories of the night it rained fire. The small market town has moved on.

But, 24 years later, what happened here and why is still disputed.

And in recent months, without fuss, the police investigation into the bombing, which never closed, has been stepped up.

Scottish and American officials have been to Tripoli, trying to persuade the new Libyan government to grant visas to detectives from Dumfriesshire.

They are still searching for the answers to some big questions: Who ordered the bombing? Who else was involved? What was the motive?

It is not clear whether the Libyans will co-operate. In any case, Megrahi's supporters say the police are looking in the wrong place.

They believe the Libyan was framed and they hope for a fresh criminal appeal in Scotland into the conviction.

Some legal experts rate such an appeal as just about possible but highly unlikely.

However, he was released in 2009 when he was said to have only months to live.

His release sparked the fury of many of the relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie disaster. The US - whose citizens accounted for 189 of the dead - also criticised the move.

But other relatives have campaigned on behalf of Megrahi.

Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing, is a member of the Justice for Megrahi campaign.

He said he believed there was evidence yet to be released which could prove his innocence.

And Jean Berkley, whose son Alistair died in the atrocity, said the Libyan's death would not change her determination to see a full public inquiry.

"I would say our focus has never been on Megrahi, he is part of a much larger picture. His death does not change anything and we still want an inquiry," she said.

"There are still all these unanswered questions and his death doesn't change that."

Answering questions from journalists, Mr Cameron dismissed calls for an inquiry into Megrahi's conviction, which the Libyan always contested.

The prime minister said: "This has been thoroughly gone through.

"There was a proper process, a proper court proceeding and all the rest of it. We have to give people the chance to mourn those that were lost.

"I'm very clear that the court case was properly done and properly dealt with."

But Mr Salmond told the BBC it had always been Scottish prosecutors' case that Megrahi "acted in concert with others in an act of state-sponsored terrorism".

Mr Salmond said Scotland's criminal justice authorities would "rigorously pursue any new lines of inquiry", and said the new Libyan government had indicated it would co-operate with the investigation.

Scotland's senior law officer the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, who visited Libya earlier this month, said the investigation into the bombing would continue "to bring to justice the others involved".

Mr Salmond said Megrahi's relatives could still posthumously appeal against his conviction by applying to the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission.

He added: "Mr Megrahi's death ends one chapter of the Lockerbie case, but it does not close the book."

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said it was a day to remember "all victims" of the Lockerbie bombing "who still live with the terrible loss they suffered that day because of a despicable act of terrorism".

Former Liberal Democrat leader and Scottish QC Sir Menzies Campbell said the decision to release the Libyan had been ill-judged, and "undermined confidence in the Scottish legal system".

"Answers to many of the outstanding questions have died with Mr Megrahi," he said.

But Mr Salmond said the death "put to rest some of the conspiracy theories which have attempted to suggest that his illness was somehow manufactured".

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