Thursday, August 20, 2009

Releases from jail on compassionate grounds are correct

On balance, the decision of Scottish Justice Minister to release 57 year old Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds to return home to Libya is the right one. Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, had served 8 years of his life sentence having been found guilty for the bombing of the Pan Am flight which exploded over Lockerbie in December 1988. Serious doubts remain over who was really responsibile for the bombing which resulted in the deaths of 270 people (259 on the plane and 11 on the ground).

Canon Patrick Keegans was a parish priest in Lockerbie at the time of the atrocity. Giving Premier Radio his reaction to the verdict, he says Mr MacAskill didn't cover the whole story. He said:

“He quite simply painted Megrahi in the blackest of terms as a mass murderer and then said that we will have compassion. I am very disappointed he did not mention once the doubts many people have regarding this conviction.”

Revd. John Mosey lost his daughter Helga in the tragedy, but said Megrahi should be shown mercy, although he respects the decision of the courts. He said:

“I have no option not to forgive. If I don’t forgive my heavenly father won’t forgive me. However the law must not forgive. The law must pursue and protect the public, that’s what it’s there for.”

He added he would have liked to see more questions answered in this case:

“We would have preferred him to go home either an innocent man or a guilty man. Now it’s all in the air and we don’t really know either way.”

Revd. Ian Galloway, a spokesperson for the Church of Scotland, said he thinks the right decision has been made:

“It’s really important in any circumstance when you have the opportunity to show mercy that that is taken very seriously. Of course it’s possible that information can come out in later date and it could be greatly regretted.

“The Christian face has its origin in a blameless man suffering a violent death and with his last breath calling down God’s mercy on his violent killers. That example of mercy is one that we must at least acknowledge in the decisions that we make.”

I believe that the recent release of Ronnie Biggs also on compassionate grounds was also the right decision. I have visited the elderly lifers wing of Norwich Prison where staff do a good job of providing the care some of these inmates need but few people deserve to die in prison. There comes a time when the question of how the public interest is being served must be asked and it is right that it that is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Unlike the United States, we do not have the death penalty. In some cases life should and does mean life but there is a time for compassion, moving on and doing the right thing.

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