Libya to allow UK police to probe Lockerbie: minister

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 15, 2011 4:38 PM
Libya to allow UK police to probe Lockerbie: minister

By Adrian Croft

LONDON (Reuters) - The Libyan government will allow British police to go to Libya to investigate the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and the unsolved 1984 killing of a policewoman in London, a British minister said on Thursday.

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, who held talks with Libyan ministers in Tripoli last week, said the Libyan government had given permission for British police to carry out fresh investigations into the two shadowy episodes that occurred under the rule of late strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

"I have absolute confidence that the police from Dumfries and Galloway (in Scotland) and the Metropolitan Police (in London) will be going back to Libya to get their investigations going again and they will be given a positive opportunity to do so by the Libyan authorities," Burt told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Burt, the Foreign Office minister responsible for North Africa and the Middle East, said no date had been set yet for a police visit, noting that Libyan authorities had a lot of other issues to deal with in a turbulent post-Gaddafi transition.

But he said that in his talks with Libyan Interior Minister Fawzi Abd al All and Foreign Minister Ashour bin Hayal, both had recognized the importance of the so-called "legacy" issues.

They include the bombing of a U.S. airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, the killing of policewoman Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London and Libyan aid for Irish Republican Army guerrillas during 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

Fletcher, 25, died after being hit by a shot fired from the embassy during a demonstration against Gaddafi. After an 11-day siege, 30 Libyans in the embassy were deported and no one was ever charged with her killing.

Libyan Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 of playing a "significant part in planning and perpetrating" the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie that killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.

He was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum jail term of 27 years but was returned to Libya in August 2009 after being freed from a Scottish jail on the grounds he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer. He remains alive today.

The decision angered many victims' relatives and strained traditionally strong ties between Britain and the United States, with some U.S. politicians asking whether it had been designed to help oil giant BP secure contracts in Libya.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who took office in May 2010, has called the release a mistake. However, Scotland has responsibility for its own legal system following devolution in 1999.

In August, a British newspaper said Libyan officials knew the whereabouts of a former diplomat wanted for Fletcher's killing. In the same month, officials from Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) gave conflicting statements about whether they would permit any suspect to be tried abroad.

Britain played a leading role in the NATO air campaign that helped NTC fighters topple Gaddafi in August.

(Reporting by Adrian Croft)