Cameron: Lockerbie bomber should have died in jail

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi "should have died in jail", David Cameron said today as he sought to calm renewed criticism in the United States of his release amid fresh questions over the role played by BP.

The British Prime Minister, making his first official visit to Washington since taking office, said the decision to free al-Megrahi had been "profoundly misguided" but denied that the beleaguered oil giant had been in any way involved.

Earlier, No 10 said that Mr Cameron had now agreed to meet a group of US senators who are pressing for a new investigation into the case.

Previously officials had said that Mr Cameron was unable to find time for talks with the senators in his "very full schedule" and had instead offered them a meeting with the British ambassador Nigel Sheinwald.

With the political firestorm over BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico threatening to dominate his visit, the British Prime Minister again sought to distance himself from the decision last year of the Scottish Government to allow al-Megrahi to return to Libya.

"I will say to them (the senators) that I agree that the decision to release al-Megrahi was wrong. I said it was wrong at the time," he told National Public Radio in Washington.

"It was the Scottish government that took that decision. They took it after proper process and what they saw as the right, compassionate reasons. I just happen to think it was profoundly misguided.

"He was convicted of the biggest mass murder and in my view he should have died in jail. I said that very, very clearly at the time; that is my view today.

"Of course BP has got to do everything necessary to cap the oil well, to clean up the spill, to pay compensation. I have met with BP and I know they want to do that and will do that.

"But let's be clear about who released al-Megrahi... it was a Government decision in the UK. It was the wrong decision. It was not the decision of BP - it was the decision of Scottish ministers."

Announcing the change of heart over meeting the senators, a No 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister recognises the strength of feeling and knows how important it is to reassure the families of the victims.

"We are happy to see them face to face and find time in the diary,"

The White House has indicated that last summer's release and claims that BP played a part in it are likely to come up when Mr Cameron joins the US president at the White House for talks.

Mr Cameron has already pledged his Government will "engage constructively" with a planned Senate foreign relations committee hearing later this month on the al-Megrahi release.

In an article today for the Wall Street Journal, he insisted that there were no differences between himself and Mr Obama on the issue.

"Let me be absolutely clear there's no daylight between us," he wrote.

"I have the deepest sympathies for the families of those killed in the bombing. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found guilty of murdering 270 people. They weren't allowed to go home and die in their own bed with their relatives around them.

"I never saw the case for releasing him, and I think it was a very bad decision."

BP has previously confirmed it spoke to the previous Labour government in 2007 about the "negative impact on UK commercial interests" caused by the slow progress on a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya.

But it denies any involvement in the release in 2009 of al-Megrahi, who was given three months to live after being diagnosed with terminal cancer - and the British government has told the US there is "no evidence" to suggest it had.

The majority of the 270 people killed in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988 were American.

Al-Megrahi is the only person convicted of involvement in the atrocity and his return to a hero's welcome in Tripoli triggered fury in the US, which has only been heightened by his continued survival as the months passed.

Meanwhile Labour former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also sought to distance himself from the decision by Scottish Justice Minster Kenny MacAskill to free al-Megrahi.

"It was clearly wrong because it was done on the basis he had less than three months to live and it's now 11 months on," he told The Herald newspaper.

"Al-Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds and, as I understand it, that depends on him having less than three months to live, so something has gone badly wrong."

A spokesman for Mr MacAskill retorted that it was the former Labour government which had signed the prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) which paved the way for al-Megrahi's return to Libya.

"It was David Miliband's own government which did the 'deal in the desert', and David Miliband was British Foreign Secretary when the UK signed the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya - with the clear intention of sending al-Megrahi back to Libya," the spokesman said.

"This ludicrous about-turn by David Miliband will damage his credibility and do him absolutely no good, either in his party or anywhere else."

Mr Cameron said he had asked Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell to review the papers relating to the case to see if there was any further information that could be made public.

"I am asking the Cabinet Secretary in the UK to go back over the paperwork and see if there is anything else that should be released and there is the clearest possible pressure out there of what decision was taken and why," he told ABC News.

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