Court refuses to free Lockerbie bomber due to cancer
AFP - Saturday, November 15
LONDON (AFP) - - A Scottish court on Friday rejected an appeal by the Libyan man jailed over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing to be freed on bail because he has cancer.
Judges said Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet Al-Megrahi, jailed in 2001 over the bombing which killed 270 people, could live for years depending on how successful his treatment is.
"While the disease from which the appellant suffers is incurable and may cause his death, he is not at present suffering material pain or disability," said Lord Justice General Arthur Hamilton at the Appeal Court in Edinburgh.
The 56-year-old former Libyan intelligence officer is serving life with a minimum term of 27 years for blowing up Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York over Scotland on the night of December 21, 1988.
He is seeking to have his conviction overturned, and an appeal is due to be heard next year.
But his lawyers applied for his interim release after announcing last month that Megrahi has prostate cancer which has spread to other parts of his body.
The Libyan, who is being held at Greenock prison in western Scotland, voiced deep disappointment at the ruling.
"I am very distressed that the court has refused me bail pending the hearing of my appeal, and the chance to spend my remaining time with my family," he said in a statement read out by his lawyer Tony Kelly.
"I wish to reiterate that I had nothing whatsoever to do with the Lockerbie bombing, and that the fight for justice will continue whether or not I'm alive to witness my name being cleared," he added.
Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the bombing and who became a spokesman for the Lockerbie victims' families in the years following the tragedy, lamented the court's decision.
"It has never been a goal of our group to seek revenge," he said in a statement read by a lawyer outside the court.
"The refusal of a return to his family for a dying man whose verdict is not even yet secure looks uncomfortably like either an aspect of revenge -- or perhaps timidity."
In its ruling, the court said Megrahi may still have years to live, adding that he had full access to public health service facilities while behind bars.
"There is, it appears, no immediate prospect of serious deterioration in his condition... If he responds well to the course of palliative treatment which he has now started, his life expectancy may be in years," it said.
"While recognising that the psychological burden of knowledge of an incurable fatal disease may be easier to bear in a family environment than in custody, the court, having regard to the grave nature of the conviction... is not persuaded that the stage has been reached when early release is appropriate."
At a one-day hearing last week on his appeal, prosecutor Ronnie Clancy said Megrahi should not be released due to the seriousness of the offence.
"The crime of which the appellant stands convicted is one of incomprehensible gravity," he said.
"Given as a mere figure, the total number of dead does not reveal the personal tragedy or the details of the suffering inflicted on hundreds and hundreds of families of those involved," he added.
Swire, spokesman for UK Families Flight 103, said he hoped Megrahi would appeal the decision to Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill.
"It seems tragic that Scottish justice has missed a golden opportunity to display mercy in a situation where it has been unable to complete the appeal process within a reasonably timeframe," he said.
"No doubt the prisoner will now apply to Kenny MacAskill for release on compassionate grounds. Personally I hope that he does and that he succeeds. A mix of compassion and courage is required."
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