Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 13:25 UK

The route from Lockerbie to Libya

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South of Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Camp Van Zeist
The Libyan's trial was held under Scots law in the Netherlands

The legal wrangles over the fate of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing have long since ceased to have much to do with the town hit by the tragedy.

The moment Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was indicted on murder charges it moved matters onto an international stage.

A court in the Netherlands, the United Nations and the Scottish Government have since discussed his fate.

Along the way, it has been easy to forget the south of Scotland town where 270 people died on 21 December 1988.

It took nearly three years for US and British investigators to indict Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah on murder charges.

First appeal

There then followed a lengthy diplomatic tug-of-war to persuade Libya to release the two men to stand trial.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the country's leader, Colonel Gaddafi, to hand over the suspects.

Eventually, in March 1999, Nelson Mandela flew to Tripoli and confirmed the two men would be surrendered the following month.

Their trial got under way the following year and ultimately saw Megrahi convicted while his co-accused was found not guilty.

It should have allowed "closure" for the families of victims in Lockerbie and the US more than 10 years after the bombing took place.

However, within days Megrahi had lodged an appeal against his conviction, prompting another lengthy legal process.

Lockerbie sign
The town of Lockerbie has been distant from the legal process

It took until March 2002 for judges to rule that the appeal had been unsuccessful.

Soon afterwards Megrahi was taken to Barlinnie Prison to serve out his life sentence.

There remained continued calls for him to be transferred out of Scotland and talk of a fresh appeal.

It was duly lodged in September 2003 and, four years later, it was decided that it could proceed.

In the meantime, Megrahi had been transferred to Greenock Prison.

The appeal process was further complicated by the confirmation last year that the Libyan had been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.

That prompted a failed bid to have him released on bail on compassionate grounds.

And as the appeal rumbled on, further applications were made for his release or transfer to a Libyan jail.

Heart surgery

The Scottish court considering his appeal said it would not be rushed into reaching a decision.

Then the process hit a further hurdle when one of the judges involved had to undergo heart surgery.

Finally, it was confirmed this week that Megrahi would be allowed to drop his appeal.

It meant that the Scottish Government - and Kenny MacAskill in particular - became the key decision-maker on the Libyan's future.

He has now confirmed that Megrahi is to be freed on compassionate grounds.

It means he will get to spend however long he may have left to live in his homeland.

The legal process which had Lockerbie as its starting point has reached a finish line thousands of miles from the Dumfries and Galloway town.



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