15 Nov 2008

Cancer-striken Lockerbie bomber refused jail

10:16 am on 15 November 2008

A court has refused to release from prison a cancer-stricken Libyan man convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.

The Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland on Friday acknowledged that Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi's cancer was incurable, but said he could not be freed on bail pending an appeal of his life sentence for the bombing that killed 270 people, most of them American.

The bombing on 21 December 1988 is Britain's deadliest terrorist attack to date.

Al-Megrahi's lawyers argued that their client should be released because he recently was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the disease has spread.

In a written decision, the three judges who considered the appeal said al-Megrahi "was not at present suffering material pain or disability", and he was entitled to use the National Health Service. They said if al-Megrahi's condition worsens, they might reconsider their decision.

Al-Megrahi, 56, and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah were prosecuted in The Hague in 2001 for the bombing. Fhimah was acquitted. Al-Megrahi lost one appeal but has been granted another one. The court is expected to hear the second appeal next year.

Al-Megrahi did not appear in court Friday, but in a statement said he was "very distressed" that the court had refused him bail, as he wanted the chance to spend his remaining time with his family. He continued to maintain his innocence.

The Libyan government has agreed to pay more than $US2 billion in compensation to victims' families as part of leader Muammar al-Gaddafi's campaign to end years of international isolation.

But doubt remains over who carried out the bombing.

Relatives of the victims of Pan Am 103 were divided over al-Megrahi's conviction. Some British families have said they think he is innocent, but relatives of US victims have said he is guilty and should remain in jail.