Megrahi is dead, but the Lockerbie controversy is not

Abdelbasset al Megrahi with Said Gaddafi on his return to Tripoli Photo:

Abdelbasset al Megrahi is being buried today. But not as a hero. The Gaddafi regime that hired him as an intelligence agent would surely have had Libyan state TV at his funeral, showcasing the man it believed it snatched from a British jail against the wishes of the US.

Instead, Gaddafi is dead, his regime swept away and his man, Megrahi will be buried unheralded after spending his final months virtually hidden in a quiet Tripoli suburb.

But the aftershocks from his release and death rumble on, because although Abdelbasset Al Megrahi was convicted of mass murder, no-one believes his conviction to be entirely satisfactory. Many believe Libya had nothing to do with the attack. Many fingers point to Iran and its desire to avenge the shooting down of an Iran passenger plane by an American warship a year before Pan Am 103 was bombed.

Megrahi will be remembered most recently for the extraordinary scenes of celebration that marked his return to Tripoli; images that infuriated the relatives of the two hundred and seventy people who died in the bombing for which he was the only man convicted.

Abdelbasset al Megrahi walks down the stairs upon his arrival at airport in Tripoli August 20, 2009 Credit: Reuters

He had been released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Government because he had prostate cancer with a life expectancy of less than three months. The British government said it did not want to see him die in jail.

His sudden release and return sparked a firestorm of criticism. American politicians united to condemn Britain. President Obama sought Megrahi's house arrest. Gordon Brown insisted there was no conspiracy, no cover up and no deal on oil, though the government said British business would be damaged if Megrahi died in prison.

American relatives of the Lockerbie dead were convinced that he was not terminally ill; that they had been duped.

Megrahi had served just eight years of a twenty seven year minimum sentence for the worst terrorist atrocity in British history, when a bomb brought down Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie twenty four years ago.

The wrecked nose section of the Pan-Am Boeing 747 at Lockerbie Credit: PA

Fragments of a timer and clothing, and a witness in Malta tied him to the bomb.

He was convicted after an extraordinary trial in the Netherlands but, ever since, British relatives of the dead have said they believe he was not responsible.

Megrahi always protested his innocence and began campaigning to clear his name as soon as he got to Libya.

His death does not end the controversy.

American relatives say "it's Judgement Day finally for Megrahi; we are glad we're not in his shoes."

But a quarter of a century on from the bombing, the full truth about the Lockerbie bombing is unlikely ever to be know. It's in no-one's interest- not Libya's, not America's or Britain's -to re-open the can of worms that it represents.

One thing is clear. Even if he did it, Megrahi did not act alone. Someone else is responsible for the atrocity. They've evaded justice for two decades and probably always will.

Bill Neely reports:

More on this story