Lockerbie bomber must serve at least 27 years

The man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing was told yesterday that he must spend at least 27 years in prison for his part in Britain’s worst terrorist atrocity.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi (51) remained impassive as three judges at the high court in Glasgow increased the recommended 20-year minimum sentence handed down after his trial two years ago.

The 27-year sentence was backdated to April 1999 when Megrahi was extradited from Libya for trial—he will be 74 before he can be considered for parole.

The brief hearing, which was Megrahi’s first appearance in a court in Britain, follows a change in Scots law that requires life prisoners to be told how long they must serve before they are eligible for release.

The Crown Office is considering whether to appeal against the new sentence, which was condemned by relatives of some of the victims.

Kathleen and Jack Flynn, from New Jersey, lost their son, John Patrick, in the atrocity. On what would have been his 36th birthday, they arrived in Glasgow to watch his killer through the bullet proof glass of the court. Afterwards, the couple said the sentence meant Megrahi would serve one month for each victim.

“Mr Megrahi would never walk the face of the earth as a free man as far as my justice would be concerned,” said Flynn (62).
“To me, it seems like the punishment does not fit the crime.”

Megrahi had arrived at the court from Barlinnie prison just after dawn amid unprecedented security. In a hearing that lasted a few minutes, Margaret Scott QC, said her client still strenuously protested his innocence. “He serves his sentence in a foreign environment, in solitary confinement and he is utterly alone,” she said.

The judges, Lords Sutherland, Coulsfield and MacLean, told Megrahi it was difficult to imagine a worse case of murder than the killing of 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103.

“Quite clearly this was a wicked act carried out in the full knowledge that the plan, if successful, would result in the slaughter of many entirely innocent persons,” said Lord Sutherland.

He indicated that Megrahi might have been sentenced to 30 years but they took into account his age and the fact that he was serving his sentence in a foreign country.

It was the same three judges who sentenced him to life with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 20 years after his conviction in January 2001 at a special Scottish court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. His co-accused Al-Amin Kalifah Fhimah was cleared and set free.

Megrahi, who was head of security at Libyan Arab Airlines, appealed following his conviction but this was rejected last year and he was moved to Bar linnie. Two months ago, he applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission for a review of his sentence and conviction. It is still considering his application.

Yesterday’s hearing was a consequence of the European Convention on Human Rights being incorporated into Scots law in 2001. The change meant all lifers in Scotland must be told the length of the “punishment part” of their sentences—how long they must spend in jail before they can be considered for parole.

Speaking afterwards, Megrahi’s lawyer, Eddie MacKechnie, said his client knew it would be “a difficult day,” but was pinning his hopes on winning a new appeal.

Asked what Megrahi’s mood was, he said: “His mood is one of faith and hope in his legal team and advisers, faith in justice and faith in his religion. I respect the gentleman. He will have his day in court, we hope, and then all of us will know what really happened, perhaps, on December 21 1988.”

MacKechnie said they had presented new evidence as part of their application to the review commission, but declined to comment on claims that they had obtained a statement from a senior US intelligence official alleging that a key piece of evidence—a fragment of circuit board from a timer device—was planted.

“Some of that evidence does involve intelligence informa tion, or perhaps the lack of it, at the trial,” MacKechnie said.

Later, the Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who believes Megrahi to be innocent, said he had approached the advocate general, Lynda Clark, and asked her to ascertain from the judges on what grounds they had increased Megrahi’s sentence. “What has happened in the last two-and-a-half years to make them alter their opinions?” he said. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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