Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday 28 August 2009

Majority 'oppose' Megrahi release

An ICM/YouGov survey poll in Scotland has revealed that a very significant majority of Scots opposed the release of convicted Pan-Am bomber Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison, because of his advanced prostate cancer, so that he could return to Libya 'to die' with his family. I wrote my view of the release here (I was strongly opposed) and followed it up with another article a couple of days later, to respond to some of the anonymous vitriol I had received through the comments in another local blog as a result of my stated view (which I stand by still, incidentally).

The just-published opinion poll reveals that my views on this matter are not in any way atypical of the majority of Scots, despite efforts by certain SNP politicians and apologists for the policies of that political party (mainly those who themselves share the political aims of the SNP) to use relentless 'spin' to try and show that it was their view that had majority public support. It didn't and it doesn't! Just as the public support for the SNP itself has taken a well-deserved beating compared to the position it held in the opinion polls a year ago.


  1. Is this really something to shout about?

    A dark day indeed if the BBC's poll is correct.

  2. Wardog

    Yes, it is something to shout about, to counter the SNP 'propaganda' or 'spin' we have been subjected to over the past week since MacAskill made his very bad and wrong decision.

    Megrahi should have remained in prison, or in a prison hospital, until he died.

  3. "Megrahi should have remained in prison, or in a prison hospital, until he died"

    Is that the law?

  4. Silly comment!

    This blog is called "Bill's Comment Page" and is a blog where I express my opinions. Tough if you don't like them.

  5. I think you've maybe miss understood, I'm only asking is you think your sentiment complies with Scots law?

    Some would say that it does, Iain Gray for example.

    I was just curious where the legal process figured in your own thinking.

  6. Sorry I jumped the gun there ;)

    I have no pretence to legal knowledge, however from what I have been learning as a result of this case, Scots Law provides for the concept of 'compassion', which I can accept is a sound one in certain circumstances.

    From what I understand it, the person entrusted with exercising this principle, in this case the Justice Minister, has discretionary powers to exercise it or not. I rather got the impression that Mr MacAskill tried to imply in his speech announcing his decision that he really had no choice, under Scots Law, but to decide as he did. I do not believe this is so; he could have decided either way with equal correctness under the law.

    I do not quarrel with the concept of 'compassion', simply that in this case his exercise of it was ill-advised.

    Further, I find it rather unsettling that at least a part of his reasoning for making the choice he did was based on what was estimated to be the excessive cost of maintaining adequate security for al-Megrahi in a place other than prison; I believe something like 48 police officers were said to be going to be required. I've not seen any analysis to show whether this manning level was realistic or necessary. Hwever, the point I make is that 'justice' is sullied if the principle is accepted that excessive cost is accepted as even a part of the decision-making process for making one decision over another.

  7. I've read a few comments on the 'discretionary' aspect of all this but I think it's a bit of a red herring.

    The guidance from the Scottish Prison Services is that if a prisoner meets the criteria then they should be considered for compassionate release.

    Unlike the states, the calculation from the Justice Minister is rather more confined, no consideration of the scale of the offence is to be considered, only the prisoner's state and the recommendations of the various parties including the parole board should be considered.

    Difficult I grant you but as I understand that is the due process.

    I've read stories recently where an american governor might refuse compassionate release to a bedridden fellon out of political expediency, basically to appease the 'mob', that seems a rather primitive form of justice (probably more accurately described as punishment in that case) that thankfully we don't have here in Scotland.

    The 48 officers (I'd read it was 56) is a lot of resource. I'm not sure it's principally about the cost of doing that, more the ethics & practicality of how that would impinge on other hospice users.

    If for instance he was put into a house with state paid medical care with that level of police guard and a media circus outside that house waiting form him to die.

    Is that really desirable?

    Seems barbaric to me, eye for an eye type stuff which I suspect would have brought the type of international outcry that we've seen over guantanomo bay.

    That's a Scotland I for one have no wish to live in or contribute to.

  8. Hi Wardog

    As I mentioned in a footnote to my original post on this matter, I think what might or might not happen in the US (or England and Wales for that matter) is largely irrelevant. We have our justice system in Scotland, they have theirs.

    I think all the points you raise are 'red herrings', to use a phrase you used yourself. It really boils down to whether you think a convicted mass murderer should be released from prison. Other prisoners die in prison, as a result of general old age, heart attacks, strokes or other things - even self-harm. Every prisoner has the possibility of dying in prison without exception - we will all die one of these days, whoever we are.

    I do not believe in the death penalty; I am strongly opposed to it, because it is nothing but state-sponsored cold-blooded murder; we should not emulate those we punish. I do not believe in 'eye for an eye' justice, as you might be seeking to suggest. However, I do believe that people must be made to pay for their crimes - and frankly life-imprisonment is a far greater punishment than an early execution in my view, particularly when it is not cushioned by the almost automatic system of 'parole' we have in this country (under both justice systems in the UK), or the realisation that we do not in fact have the 'stomach' to punish people adequately. The decision is made, so it is too late to do anything about it now, except debate it.

    I think this whole case should have been turned over either to the US or held under joint jurisdiction with them - it is only the merest accident that caused this disaster to occur over Scottish airspace. If it had to be held under Scots law then I think also it should have been held before a jury and not a panel of judges (a decision that was also made on grounds of cost and inconvenience, because the agreement called for the trial to take place in specially-designated 'Scottish territory' in the Netherlands)- everyone seems to think he would never have been convicted by a jury on the evidence available. That may be so, but we must live with the method chosen and the decisions reached. Subsequent appeals against his conviction failed and his latest appeal was withdrawn by him. The law should have been allowed to take its course.

  9. "Other prisoners die in prison"

    Is there evidence of this in the UK, once a diagnosis of terminal cancer is made?

    (genuine question)

    I haven't seen anyone with evidence for that.

    I guess we'll need to agree to disagree on the other points.

  10. Is there evidence of this in the UK, once a diagnosis of terminal cancer is made?

    I have no idea and, to be frank, I'm not particularly interested in finding out. If you want to try and find out, please do so. I have wondered whether this whole decision was made because of some supposed reluctance to thinking about the 'dreaded big C'; it is one of many diseases, dreadful I agree for those affected and I would wish it on no-one, no-one at all. But I fail to see what it has got to do with a decision to release a mass murderer. Would it be different if he had had a stroke which had left him in a vegetative state, but not necessarily at imminent risk of death? Or if he had cyrrhosis of the liver, either self-inflicted through excessive drinking or as a result of some indeterminate genetic reasons, which gave him only a few months to live? I ask these, too, as genuine questions.

    As you say, we must unfortunately accept that we disagree fundamentally on the decision that was made. It is too late to change the decision in this case; perhaps the outcry caused will result in slightly different assessments in the future, hopefully not in cases of similar gravity.

  11. "Would it be different if he had had a stroke which had left him in a vegetative state, but not necessarily at imminent risk of death?"

    As far as I can see, yes it would have been different as he wouldn't have met the criteria for compassionate release.

    "if he had cyrrhosis of the liver, either self-inflicted through excessive drinking or as a result of some indeterminate genetic reasons, which gave him only a few months to live?"

    As I understand it, the cause is immaterial, it's simply the diagnoses of terminal decline that is needed to meet the criteria for compassionate release, so in these cases he would be eligible form compassionate leave.

    The idea of divorcing ministers from such decisions has been floated but not as much as I think the opposition should be doing it, let's not forget that these guidelines have been brought in by the Labour/Liberal Parties and with the support of the whole parliament and that UK Justice isn't that much different (See ronny briggs for example)....

    It was always going to be difficult call to make and my own feeling is that Mackaskill made the decision for the right reasons however unpalatable.

    I'll watch with interest to see how the wider case develops, I suspect a lot of worms will be spilled on this one. The US reaction wasn't simply to appease 182 US families, the vehemence displayed let the cat out of the bag.

    There is strong & growing body of evidence that there is something not right with this conviction.

    This should be given a chance to be explored outwith the judicial system as a matter of public interest.

    There are a lot of people who may well be crying into their porridge if in time and likely after his death Megrahi is found to have been innocent.

  12. Hi Wardog

    I completely agree it is a very messy case and I don't envy Mr MacAskill having to make the decision.

    My view on the Ronnie Biggs case, by the way, was precisely the same. I am aware who brought in the legislation under which these releases were possible (the prisoner transfer agreement, not the compassionate release part). I have been accused of being many things, but being a closet Labour/LibDem is not one of them - lol ;)

    I have been railing (ranting?) about Labour and its quasi-'Police State' legislation for many years in this blog. I was formerly a member of the Conservative Party until 2001 when I resigned upon the appointment of IDS as leader - that is discussed in my 'Who is Bill?' page.

  13. What 'prison hospital'? should he have remained in?

    The prison estate does not have facilities for prisoners dying from terminal cancer - because they are released when they reach that stage.

    It is not really true to say that other prisoners die in prison. Prisoners may die unexpectedly but where there is a prognosis of death they are released. No application for release which met the medical criteria Megrahi's met has been turned down.

    So I am not clear what you are suggesting. Are you suggesting that we should have created suitable facilities in the prison estate to detain just one prisoner until death?

    Or that we should stop compassionate release full stop?

  14. I'm well aware there are not prison hospitals as such, but prisoners are from time to time taken from prison to hospital, under guard, for necessary medical interventions. It is in this context that I refer to 'prison hospitals', as a practical humane measure to provide medical intervention when necessary.

    The tone of a lot of criticism of people who think as I do is that we are heartless. I do not accept that assessment for one second; what I am is someone who believes that justice must be served and I do not think that it is when people such as al-Megrahi (and Biggs) are released from incarceration solely because they happen to be terminally ill. Life imprisonment or a term of years of imprisonment whould mean precisely what it says.

    Or that we should stop compassionate release full stop?

    In a word, yes.

    (I note, 'Indy', that your profile name leads nowhere - you are effectively an 'anonymous' commentator.)


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