[Most British daily newspapers today contain reports to the effect that compassionate release of Abdelbaset Megrahi is imminent. The following are excerpts from the report in today's edition of The Herald, which is the longest and most detailed.]
Then man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing is expected to be released next week on compassionate grounds - nearly eight-and-a-half years after he was jailed for life for the murders of 270 people in the atrocity over Scotland.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, who is in the terminal stages of prostate cancer, is expected to return home to Tripoli before the start of Ramadan on August 21. His return will also coincide with the 40th anniversary of the coming to power of Libya's leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
The Herald understands a final decision on Megrahi will be made and announced by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill next week.
The Scottish Government has strongly denied allegations that the prisoner and the recent Libyan delegation were given any suggestion that he should drop his appeal in order to win the right to return home. The decision will be based on Megrahi's deteriorating health and medical assessments.
However, he is expected to drop the appeal which began in April of this year. (...)
Originally it was thought that Megrahi would return home under a recent Prisoner Transfer Agreement signed with Libya. The Justice Secretary consulted with relatives of victims, Megrahi himself and the US State Attorney on this decision.
Prisoner transfer is thought to have been rejected as an option because it would be subject to judicial review and could lead to interminable delays. There is concern that Megrahi, who is serving a 27-year sentence in HMP Greenock, could die before the end of such a review and before the end of the current appeal. (...)
Martin Cadman, whose son lost his life in the Lockerbie bombing, last night welcomed news of Megrahi's imminent release.
"I've been waiting for it for a long time," he said. "First of all they were saying that Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah were accused, then Fhimah was found not guilty, and they were accused of acting with others, and as far as I know the Scottish authorities and everyone else has done nothing try and find who these others are. The whole thing is really very unsatisfactory for relatives like myself."
David Ben [Aryeah], who advised some of the UK families affected by the Lockerbie tragedy, said: "The majority of UK relatives have been extremely unhappy with the whole trial and the first appeal and what has been happening now. I was present the day of the verdicts and I was confused. So, I do not believe, and I will never believe, that this man was guilty of the crimes he was charged with.
"Of the American relatives, the vast majority are very quiet but a few very vocal ones have never accepted anything other than Megrahi's total guilt. Some of them, sadly, would like him to rot in prison for the rest of his days." (...)
History will be the judge if as expected Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, next week takes the decision to send the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing back to Libya on compassionate grounds.
The legal process which began almost 21 years ago will finally be over. Whether Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the man convicted of the atrocity, did or did not plant the bomb which exploded over Lockerbie may never be known.
[The Herald's contention that Mr Megrahi is expected to abandon his appeal if granted compassionate release and its assertion that once compassionate release is granted the legal process will be finally over are deeply worrying. What is the source of this expectation? The Scottish Government Justice Department has stated unequivocally, in correspondence with me, that it has never been suggested to Mr Megrahi or to his government that compassionate release was dependent upon, or could be influenced by, his agreeing to abandon his appeal. Mr Megrahi's stated position has always been that he wishes the appeal to proceed in order to clear his name, though if it came to a bald choice between clearing his name and being allowed to return to his homeland to die surrounded by his family, he would reluctantly choose the latter. That was the dilemma that faced him when prisoner transfer was the only option on the table. But compassionate release is not contingent upon abandonment of the ongoing appeal: that is precisely its advantage over prisoner transfer from the standpoint of both Mr Megrahi and the Scottish public interest. Why therefore are there still rumblings about the appeal being abandoned if compassionate release is granted?]