Gordon Brown was accused of double dealing last night after an official document emerged claiming that Libya was told that he wanted the Lockerbie bomber to die a free man.
The disclosure threatens to undermine the Government’s determinedly neutral stance over the release of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi.
It could also deepen the rift with the Obama administration, which yesterday demanded answers from the Government over its role in the affair.
Papers released by the Scottish government included the minutes of a meeting with Libya earlier this year during which it was stated that Bill Rammell, then a foreign office minister, told Tripioli that neither the Prime Minister nor David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, “would want Mr Megrahi to pass away in prison”.
Britain is already under pressure over its decision to strike a prisoner transfer deal with Libya in defiance of a decade-old pledge to Washington. The Foreign Office insists that the US was never given an absolute commitment, but revelations that Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, believed that such a deal would be in the “overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” have infuriated US diplomats.
Philip Crowley, chief spokesman for the US State Department, told The Times: “In the late 1990s, as the US and the UK were putting in place the legal framework for the trial of the perpetrators of Pan Am 103, it was our collective view that any suspect found guilty would serve out his entire sentence in Scotland. The US did not change its position but the UK did . . . It’s really up to the UK to explain its current position.”
Lord Trefgarne, chairman of the Libyan British Business Council, wrote saying that the possibility of al-Megrahi dying in prison would have “serious implications for UK-Libyan relations”. If his return under the prisoner agreement was not possible then the executive should consider compassionate release, the Tory peer added.
Mr Rammell, who visited Tripoli in February, last night did not dispute Libyan claims about the views he attrributed to Mr Brown and Mr Miliband.
In a statement, he merely reiterated that the bitterly-contested decision to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds had been one solely for the Scottish government.
“Neither the Libyans or the Scottish Executive were left in any doubt throughout this entire process that this was a decision for the Scottish Executive over which the UK Government sought no influence,” he added.
Downing Street sources last night did not comment directly on the claims. But they pointed out that even the words attributed to Mr Rammell had been followed by an explicit statement that the matter of al-Megrahi’s future was for the Scottish executive to decide. Aides said Mr Brown has always felt it wrong to express publicly a personal view on a quasi-judicial decision that was in the hands of the Scottish executive.
The disclosures, however, prompted David Cameron to accuse Mr Brown of “double dealing and demand an independent inquiry. “The British Prime Minister has got to be straight with the British people, said the Conservative leader. “For weeks he’s been refusing to say publicly what he wanted to happen to al-Megrahi, yet we now learn apparently privately the message was being given to the Libyans that he should be released.”
In the midst of the gathering storm, the man at the centre of it was said to be close to death. A Libyan government spokesman said al-Megrahi was “deteriorating fast”, adding: “Only God knows when it will be over but he is dying now.”