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Immunity ruled out in Lockerbie row. Plea to Lord Advocate fails over former US intelligence agent

* A New York jury yesterday awarded #1.6m in damages to the parents of Kenneth Bisset, a US college student killed in the Lockerbie bombing.

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It was the second such verdict since courts decided three years ago that PanAm was liable for damages on the grounds that its security procedures had failed to prevent a suitcase containing the bomb from being placed on Flight 103.

THE Lord Advocate yesterday effectively rejected the possibility of a disgraced former American intelligence agent being granted diplomatic immunity to allow him to give evidence on the Lockerbie bombing.

Mr Lester Coleman, a former US intelligence agent, has said he is willing to come to Scotland to give evidence on the outrage provided he was offered immunity from extradition to the United States.

However, Scotland's senior law officer said yesterday that neither the Crown Office nor the Scottish Office had any role or authority in relation to the extradition of Mr Coleman to the US, where warrants have been issued for his arrest. That was a matter for the Home Office and the English courts.

The comments by the Lord Advocate, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, made in a reply to Mr Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow, came on the same day that former Scottish Office Minister Allan Stewart called for the former American intelligence agent to be granted immunity from extradition to allow him to give evidence on the PanAm bombing to a Scottish court.

Mr Stewart, Conservative MP for Eastwood, speaking on Radio Scotland's Newsdrive programme yesterday, said: ''I think unquestionably he (Lester Coleman) should be granted immunity from extradition.

''There are very many questions about the Lockerbie tragedy. He says he has got very substantial evidence to offer. I cannot see why we in Britain have anything at all to lose by giving Lester Coleman the opportunity to put forward that evidence.''

He added: ''The Crown Prosecution Service appears to have decided who is guilty. I cannot understand why they seem to have this single-track approach and to be ruling out any other.''

Asked if he believed that the Lockerbie investigation was being hampered by a cover-up, Mr Stewart said: ''I think it is extremely odd . . . that other possible avenues of exploration to get at the truth about Lockerbie simply appear not to be being explored. That cannot be right.''

Mr Stewart's plea came just a few days after Mr Dalyell urged the Lord Advocate to give diplomatic immunity to Mr Coleman to uncover the part he claimed the US played in the Lockerbie tragedy.

Mr Dalyell said Mr Coleman was willing to speak to Scottish police about an alleged security loophole set up by the US which resulted in a bomb being placed on PanAm flight 103 at Frankfurt airport.

Mr Coleman's theory of a link with a drugs run from Lebanon through Cyprus and Germany was the conclusion of a book about him by Mr Donald Goddard, called The Trail of the Octopus. The book is now the subject of a libel action by another US agent.

Mr Coleman believes the bomb got on to the jet because US intelligence agents in Beirut in 1988 agreed with Lebanese terrorists to facilitate a route for drugs from Lebanon to the US in exchange for information about Western hostages.

Luggage containing drugs was protected by US intelligence, with normal security restrictions on baggage at airports removed. However, he alleges, the terrorists exploited the loophole by exchanging a bag of drugs with a bag containing a bomb at Frankfurt airport.

Mr Coleman was based in Beirut at the time and often travelled to Cyprus, where he had dealings with the American Drug Enforcement Agency.

Shortly after the book was published in 1993, Mr Coleman was indicted on charges of perjury and travelling on a false passport. He fled the US and is now in hiding.

The Lord Advocate, in his written reply to Mr Dalyell, the contents of which were published yesterday, explained that the Crown's position was based on evidence, and that careful consideration was given to any information received and appropriate investigations carried out.

In reply to Mr Dalyell's request that Mr Coleman be allowed to enter the UK with the promise of immunity from extradition to talk with the police, the Lord Advocate, says: ''Neither the Crown Office nor Scottish Office has any role or authority in relation to extradition to the United States.

''The procedures for extradition as between the United Kingdom and the United States are the responsibility of the Home Office and the English courts.''

Mr Dalyell said he found it ''extraordinarily odd'' that responsibility for extradition in Scotland was a matter for the Home Office and the English courts.

The MP said: ''Two Scottish lawyers have told me that they thought extradition and immunity from extradition north of the Border would be the responsibility of the Crown Office or the Scottish Office.

''The Lord Advocate's statement has certainly raised eyebrows in Scottish legal circles.''

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