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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 15:15 GMT
Bomber's fate sealed

Colin Blane
BBC Scotland correspondent

For Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, this was only the second time he had been outside Barlinnie prison since he was flown there by helicopter from the Netherlands nearly two years ago.

In July this year he had a brief visit to hospital for treatment for a stomach condition.

On Monday, he was on the move while it was still dark.

An artist's impression of the scene inside the High Court
An artist made charcoal sketches of the hearing

It is just two miles from Barlinnie to the High Court in Glasgow but his heavily guarded convoy set out early, motorcycle escorts front and rear and a police helicopter hovering overhead.

Megrahi was safely in place in the cells beneath the building more than two hours before his hearing was due to start.

It is said to be the most secure court in Scotland and Court 3, where Megrahi's punishment period was due to be handed down, is screened from the public gallery by bullet-proof glass.

In the event, security was so strict, members of the public were not admitted.

Reporters had to be accredited in advance.

They were joined by three of the relatives of the 270 people who died in the Lockerbie bombing, Jack and Kathleen Flynn and Marina de Larracoechea.

Grey suit

When Megrahi was led into the dock, he seemed a little more stooped than when we had last seen him at the Scottish court in the Netherlands.

There he had worn traditional Libyan clothing.

Now he was dressed Western-style in a grey suit, yellow shirt and striped tie.

He listened through an earpiece.

Jack and Kathleen Flynn
Jack and Kathleen Flynn's son was killed in the atrocity
Behind him on the other side of the glass just four or five feet away were victims' relatives, some of whom had already said he should be kept in jail for the rest of his life.

The panel of three judges looked down on him, the same three judges who had found him guilty of murder.

Lord Sutherland began his brief preamble.

An artist, sketching for television, made short, quick strokes with charcoal.

Lord Sutherland explained that they had considered all the other cases where punishment periods had been set by Scottish judges.

'Wicked act'

He referred to the small number where 30 years had been imposed.

He spoke of Megrahi's "wicked act" which "would result in the slaughter of many entirely innocent persons".

Then Lord Sutherland set Megrahi's punishment period at 27 years which would have been longer but for the prisoner's age.

Megrahi did not react. Perhaps it took a moment for him to take in what the interpreter was saying.

Marina de Larracoechea
Marina de Larracoechea attended the hearing
The journalists had been told they could not leave the court until the three judges had gone but as soon as the door opened there was a scramble to get out and break the news.

The relatives of the victims took longer to emerge.

Kathleen and Jack Flynn gave a round of radio and television interviews.

They said the sentence was too short, not much more than a month for every one of those who died.

It had been a particularly difficult day for them.

Their son, John Patrick, was 21 when he died at Lockerbie.

This was his birthday. He would have been 36.

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