The British prime minister David Cameron has ruled out an inquiry into the release last year of the Lockerbie bomber, but ordered a review of documentation to show there was nothing sinister in the decision. Mr Cameron was to meet later today in Washington with four US senators who have demanded greater transparency about the move in the wake of reports that BP pushed for the bomber's release to safeguard a lucrative oil deal with Libya.
Mr Cameron said that no new investigation was necessary as the Scottish Executive had already held an inquiry into its controversial decision last August to release cancer-stricken Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al Megrahi. He dismissed allegations that lobbying by BP could somehow have influenced the decision, but said he was prepared to release more documentation to put the matter to rest if predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown agreed.
"I've asked the cabinet secretary today to go back through all of the paperwork and see if more needs to be published about the background to this decision," Mr Cameron said yesterday after White House talks with the US President Barack Obama. "I'm not currently minded to hold an inquiry because I think publishing this information, combined with the inquiry that's already been, will give people the certainty that they need about the circumstances surrounding this decision."
Mr Cameron said the role of BP and any lobbying was for the company to respond to, while stressing he had always been against the decision, which was made before he became the British prime minister. "I haven't seen anything to suggest that the Scottish government were in any way swayed by BP," he said. "They were swayed by their considerations about the need to release him on compassionate grounds, grounds that I think were completely wrong. I don't think it's right to show compassion to a mass murderer like that."
Al Megrahi, 58, is the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a US Pan Am jumbo jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie that killed 270 people, the majority of them Americans. Freed last August after serving only eight years of a 27-year term, al Megrahi is still alive despite a doctor's assessment before his release that he had as little as three months left to live. Mr Cameron said the British government would co-operate with any US congressional hearings into the matter but reiterated his belief that it was simply a wrong-headed decision.
"I don't think there's any great mystery here. There was a decision taken by the Scottish Executive, in my view a wholly wrong and misguided decision, a bad decision, but their decision nonetheless. That's what happened." Mr Obama said he, like all Americans, had been "surprised, disappointed and angry" at the release of al Megrahi and would welcome any additional information that provides better insights into the decision.
"But," he added, "I think that the key thing to understand here is that we've got a British prime minister who shares our anger over the decision, who also objects to how it played out." The US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley acknowledged that while the United States wanted al Megrahi back in prison, the prospect was unlikely. "If we had a preference, he'd be back in prison. I'm not sure how realistic a reversal of the Scottish authorities' decision of a year ago is at this point," Mr Crowley told reporters.