Britain feared that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi would take harsh actions against its interests if the 1988 Lockerbie bomber died in jail, leaked U.S. cables published by WikiLeaks claim.
The U.S. cables say the British government fully supported Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi’s release by the Scottish authorities last year.
The details, published in the Guardian, allege Libyan leader Gaddafi made “thuggish” threats to halt all trade deals if Megrahi stayed in jail.
Ministers insist the decision was based purely on the Scots justice system.
The Scottish government released Megrahi in August 2009 on compassionate grounds because he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. He returned to Libya and is still alive.
The U.K. was “between a rock and a hard place” on the issue, one cable to Washington said.
The British ambassador in Libya allegedly told a U.S. diplomat that the Libyans could “cut us off at the knees“.
The Guardian also reported that the messages also showed Libya had offered “a parade of treats” to the Scottish administration if it agreed to let Megrahi go, though the cable confirmed they were turned down.
According to the leaked cables, British diplomats had planned dramatic and pre-emptive measures preparing for hostile demonstrations and leaving only essential staff in the embassy, were Megrahi to die in prison.
The American charge d’affaires in London, Richard LeBaron, wrote a cable to Washington in October 2008, saying “The Libyans have told HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] flat out that there will be ‘enormous repercussions’ for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship if Megrahi’s early release is not handled properly.”
In January 2009, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, confirmed that “dire” reprisals had been threatened against the U.K., and the British were braced to take “dramatic” steps for self-protection.
Meanwhile, reacting to the leaked cables, former U.K. justice secretary Jack Straw said the revelations had no connection to the final decision of the U.K. government to release Megrahi.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the cables “vindicated” their position and everything they had said publicly and privately at the time.
“We weren’t interested in threats, we weren’t interested in blandishments, we were only interested in applying Scots justice and that’s what we did,” he said.