Monday, 21 May 2012
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted for the Lockerbie bombing, died yesterday from metastatic prostate cancer, 33 months after he was released from prison on the grounds that his median life expectancy was less than 3 months.
First, my sympathies are with the victims of the bombing.
Second, I think it likely that al-Megrahi was not guilty as charged. However, he does seem to have been an officer in Gaddafi's intelligence service: that's not in itself a crime but it does make it likely that his imprisonment was a sort of rough justice.
Third, the medical report supporting his release was poor. All doctors' names are redacted in the published version, but it seems to have been written by Dr Andrew Fraser, chief medical officer for the Scottish Prison Service, who is not a cancer specialist. And it seems that no expert in the treatment of advanced prostate cancer was involved in preparing the report. (Karol Sikora, who is not such an expert, though he is an oncologist, was hired by the Libyan government to support al-Megrahi's release, and continued for some considerable time to agree with himself in the press.) Unlike Dr Fraser, I consulted a well-qualified expert (this was not long after al-Megrahi's release): she estimated his median life expectancy at two years.
Putting this all together, I suspect that the politicians responsible for the decision - Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, says that he's the one - also thought that al-Megrahi might well not be guilty, and found it expedient to commission a medical report supporting his release. I do not accuse Fraser of acting dishonestly, but I do suggest that he was given the responsibility of writing the report because he was amenable to reaching the desired conclusion, and would not have to be dishonest in order to be wrong.