When on the night of December 21, 1988, a part of the debris from the explosion aboard Clipper Maid of the Seas, Pan Am Flight 103, landed on their home at 16 Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie, Kathleen Flannigan (nee Doolan, aged 41 years), her husband, Thomas (44) and their daughter Joanne (10) were killed instantly. Sadly, no remains of Kathleen or Thomas were subsequently recovered. Their younger son Steven (14) was at a neighbour’s house where that neighbour was kindly checking out the new bicycle Joanne was to get as a Christmas present. From the neighbour’s garage, Steven saw the fireball that engulfed his home. After what seems to have been a serious fall out with his parents, Steven’s older brother, David (19) had left home a few weeks earlier to stay with a friend in Blackpool. However, some sort of reconciliation had been achieved and his mother had told her friend that David was coming home on Boxing Day. Both boys both later died in unfortunate, indeed, tragic circumstances.
This family were the sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephews of a good friend of mine, Peter Doolan, during my schooldays at Our Lady’s High School, Motherwell. They were also the daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and grandsons of a teaching colleague at St Aidan’s High School, Wishaw. Unfortunately, I did not get to know Lawrence Doolan as well as I would have liked because he was on sick leave when I joined the staff in January, 1980, and only returned briefly before retiring when the school broke up for the summer holidays.
I would hope that it would be accepted that I am hence anxious that justice be done for and on behalf of all the victims of that dastardly act, but what has long concerned me is not the guilt or otherwise of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi. No, what I would like to know is this: Why did Her Majesty’s Government − the real one, the one with its head office in Downing Street – not intervene to prevent the Scottish administration freeing Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds?
Why did Her Majesty’s Labour Government not insist that barring a decision by the Scottish justiciary to free him, he must remain in prison? And, and just as important, why did none of the Opposition, particular the Tories, demand that they do?
In all that has ever been discussed in the print media, on TV and the Radio as well as at both Westminster and Holyrood, both before and after Megrahi was allowed to return home, it has been taken as a given that any decision to release him from Greenock Prison could only be taken by the Scottish administration. And that is perfectly correct. But only in so far as it goes.
Under the devolution disposition, in relation to legislation ALL matters concerning national security, foreign policy and foreign relations are reserved to Westminster. Similarly, in relation to executive action ALL matters concerning national security, foreign policy and foreign relations are reserved to Whitehall.
Megrahi’s arrest, detention, trial, imprisonment and then, finally, the decision to set him free on licence intimately involved all elements of that oft times unholy trinity: national security, foreign policy and foreign relations.
At all material times Megrahi was a Foreign Service officer of the Libyan State Security apparatus, acting on instructions of his government. As far as I know, he remains one; although, obviously, now on sick leave. His actions, whatever they may have been, were for and on behalf of that government. Even his surrender to the Scottish authorities was done under instruction of that government.
Innocuously enough styled Head of Airport Security, since Megrahi’s normal activities would have impinged on our national security then surely even prior to the heinous crime which brought him to world attention he, his activities and his professional associates would have been of interest to the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, and, in all probability, to the Security Service, MI5?
It seems self-evident that in anticipation of the possibility of Megrahi’s release it would have been obvious to those in Downing Street, Whitehall and Edinburgh that any decision to release him would hazard serious implications for our national security and our foreign relations. And, indeed, as to the latter our relations with the USA were severely damaged.
Predictably so since the deal to have Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah put on trial was negotiated by the Foreign Office who gave assurances to our most cherished foreign partner that there would be no question of parole if convictions were secured. Life would mean life.
Presumably for both the Blair and Brown administrations there was some foreign policy imperative which made breaking that promise, and the deterioration in relations with the United States that would, and duly did, ensue acceptable to Downing Street and Whitehall.
But why should I think that Downing Street and Whitehall could have prevented Megrahi’s release?
Consider this, those apprehended in Scotland in relation to the bombing at Glasgow airport were interrogated and put on trial outwith the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts. This was also true of the accused arrested in Scotland. He was removed from the jurisdiction for reasons of national security. Elish Angiolini, the Lord Advocate, graciously acceded to the request from Downing Street and Whitehall.
Had she been daft enough not to so accede it would have been pointed out to her from south of the border that the courts, even the Scottish courts, would not have supported her as the constitutional arrangements put in place for devolution to go ahead made it clear that national security, as also foreign relations, trumped delegated powers in all areas.
And that includes the control of prisons and prisoners. Her Majesty’s Government, the real one, both avoided and evaded their responsibilities for national security and foreign relations by not instructing the Scottish administration not to free Megrahi and, had they demurred, then taking them to the Court of Session. I am no lawyer, but I cannot envision that a recourse to the Supreme Court in London would have been necessary.
It was Denis Healy who said that the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion was the thickness of a prison cell wall. Those who evaded their responsibilities by allowing Megrahi’s release should remember that omission is as much of a sin as commission.