Relatives stand guard outside providing some level of privacy for the man beyond the high white walls.

This is the house of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi. He has been the subject of worldwide attention, but it is the first time the Western media has been allowed into his home. We are welcomed in an empty marquee put up for his return, and ushered to the lounge where he lies in a cream-coloured hospital-style bed.

It is late afternoon and outside the streets are quiet with those preparing to break their

Ramadan fasting. Their large home is obscured from passers-by.

Outside, in the searing heat, there is a rectangular lawn taken up with a swing and slide and large round trampoline used by Megrahi’s grandchildren.

The bed stands in stark contrast to the beautiful and opulent home surrounding it. It looks out of place next to the gilded gold chairs and dramatic archways. He coughs for a long time before he can welcome us.

Wearing long robes and an ornate cap -- in stark contrast to the white baseball cap and tracksuit he wore to board the plane to Tripoli last week -- he wipes his mouth with a tissue. His breathing is laboured.

The effort of shifting his weight in order to see and speak to us causes him to wince visibly but he rejects his children’s offers of water. He is, it seems, determined to speak. Critics may claim his illness is an affectation but that is impossible to believe.

His daughter, Ghada, and ­second-youngest son, Ali, smile as he speaks and grin when asked how they feel to have their father home. They flit in and out of the room, bringing us cola in cut glass crystal glasses, offering salted nuts and pastries, speaking in broken English and Arabic. Despite his diagnosis they seem so much happier than when we met them at their temporary home in Newton Mearns, near Glasgow.

“It was always my dream to come back to my family,” he says. “It was in my prayers every day and when I received the diagnosis, even more so. I believe in destiny but I said I want to die in my ­country. My first dream was to clear my name. It’s not just because of me and my family, but also for the victims’ families. We all want to know the truth. The truth never dies and I believe that one day people will find out.”

His priority is to spend time with his five children. The youngest, Motasem, was just four months old when Megrahi was extradited to stand trial at Camp Zeist.

Sons Ali and Mohamed are now in their mid teens, and their ­brother Khalid and sister Ghada are well into their twenties. She is married with two young children.

Khalid, Megrahi’s eldest son, has borne the burden of paternal responsibility since he was a young boy, but the head of the household is now back and says: “I want to give them a message in this short time left. I don’t like them to misunderstand others or make wrong judgments. As a Muslim, I would pray five times a day but I pray six times a day. I put in an extra prayer to allow me to be closer to my family and now for my health.

“Since I was sent to Camp Zeist in 1999, I have made a phone call to Tripoli every day to speak to my mother and every day she told me she was praying to ask to see me before she dies. Even now she does not know I am ill. She lives in another part of the house and does not see all this.” He points to the hospital bed.

His other priority is to complete an autobiography. “The outline is ready and most of the material is ready, too,” he says. “It will be a history of my life. I will raise some of the new areas of evidence from the case. It will surprise so many people. It might be shocking to some people as well.

“I hope to be able to read this book before I die. I need people to read it -- for them to be the jury in my case to see what judgment they make when they finish reading it. I don’t need their hearts. I need their brains to think properly and make the right decision about my case.”

Following the storm after his release and the manner in which he was welcomed, concern has been growing about how he and his case will be presented at the 40th anniversary celebrations on Tuesday of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s ascent to power. But Megrahi will be spending the day and those following it in hospital.

“I have met the three Libyan doctors and they have insisted that I go to hospital and so I need to go there on Sunday,” he explains, between bouts of coughing.

“I don’t know for how long I will stay but they have said it will be at least two to three weeks for more check-ups. There will be doctors coming from abroad to discuss different treatments. I feel so much more comfortable here with my family and I would not want to criticise the health treatment in Scotland -- the staff were all very good to me -- but the health centre in the prison, for example, is very small.”

One of the most pressing questions in recent days has been why Megrahi dropped his appeal. Those who believe in his conviction have used his move as confirmation of his guilt. Others feared he had been forced to do so. He had hoped that by making an application under the prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) -- which meant he had to drop the appeal -- and on compassionate release grounds, he would increase his chances of returning to Libya. If the authorities said no to one application, they might grant another. “I made two applications. I decided that I should go for both options rather than just having one chance.”

Megrahi explains he has always been desperate to clear his name and was determined to pursue the appeal, but that ultimately it was far too slow and his desire to see his family and country before he died finally tipped the decision.

“People have said there was pressure from the Libyan authorities or Scottish authorities, but it wasn’t anything like this. I spoke several times with my solicitor and QC and [asked] if there was any way for me to go home and continue the appeal. I would have to have waited another two years for the appeal which I doubt I would have had time to live that long. I called my lawyer and asked him to drop the appeal because of my family. It is all about my family.

“Things were very bad and I needed someone to support me while the chance of life was very short. People have to appreciate that my illness was one of the main reasons for me to drop the appeal, despite the fact that the work my lawyers have done has been very crucial and very important.”

The end of the appeal will not, however, be the end of the story. He hopes his autobiography will clear him in the eyes of the public who read it and also tells us that he is willing to back a public inquiry. Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the tragedy, has already called for such an investigation. The Scottish Government said it would facilitate one but the UK Government seems firmly opposed to such an idea.

“I support the issue of a public inquiry if it can be agreed. In my view it is unfair to the victim’s families that this has not been heard. They should at least get the chance of a public inquiry. If the UK guaranteed it, I would be very supportive. I would want to help Dr Swire and the others with the documents I hold.

“My feeling is that the UK Government will avoid a public inquiry because it would be a headache for them and the Americans and it would show how much the Americans have been involved and it would also cost them a lot of money which they may not want to spend because of the recession. I would support a public inquiry though. It would help them to know the truth. As I said, the truth never dies.”

Before Kenny MacAskill ­decided to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds last week, he visited him in prison -- a move that some branded as naive.

The Libyan says of the Justice Secretary: “My first impression of Kenny MacAskill was interesting. Prisoners tend to view the minister of justice as a very tough man who is hard on them, but when I met him I thought he was a very decent man and he gave me a chance to say what I wanted and to express myself. He gave me the chance to make a presentation to him and he was very polite.

“Now he is facing a lot of criticism from people, but in my view he has made the right decision not because I am thinking about myself but because one day people will realise it was the right decision. I talked to him a little about the case and said that the appeal was going to take a long time.

“I told him the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) decision (on possible miscarriages of justice) was in June 2007 but we were still waiting and I am a very ill person. He is aware of my condition because he has received the reports from doctors and the Scottish Prison Service about my health condition.”

Despite being weak, Megrahi is still enthusiastic in talking about the case and some of the matters he wished to raise at the appeal.

“I was supposed to receive a fair trial and I was supposed to be subject to fair procedure. From day one of the trial there were delays and delays from the Crown Office. I was supposed to receive the documents and the papers. Regarding the indictment, by law I was supposed to receive it within 110 days, but I was waiting more than 400 days. It was abnormal.

“The SCCRC found at least six grounds of appeal and said there were six grounds on which it may have been a miscarriage of justice. From that point we asked the Crown for more documents and more papers. We received only some of them and they were still redacted. Most of the pages were black and I think this is shameful. They were supposed to give us everything.”

Referring to the revelation by former MP Tam Dalyell that police notebooks recording the bombing’s aftermath were destroyed, he said: “It is very strange that the police forces that dealt with the case -- and there were more than 400 officers -- it is very strange that their notebooks went missing. When one officer was asked about the notebooks, he said they were all destroyed. I find this very strange. Surely the decision to destroy the notebooks of so many people is a decision that someone must have made? This is not fair and a big question mark about the case.”

He is also deeply critical of the Court of Session proceedings, where a special advocate was appointed to represent him because of the confidential nature of many pieces of evidence.

“I met the special advocate just one time and when I met him he said he doesn’t know anything about the documents and he said that he is not entitled to get in touch with me once he does know about it. Where is the justice in that? He is meant to represent my interests yet he cannot talk to me about a piece of crucial evidence. It could be of benefit to me and to the case, but they just say it is top secret and I am not entitled to see it or to see him again.

Is he angry? “Anyone receiving a wrongful verdict is bound to be angry in prison. I was not at all angry with the Scottish people. Maybe I am lucky because the Scottish people are so friendly.

“I remember when Dr Swire visited me. The governor and staff were very kind and supportive and tried to understand what I was feeling and the stress I had. They tried to help me. Even the prisoners in my section tried to help.

“The only thing was ­coming from a completely different ­culture and having a different ­mentality sometimes. My family are so happy that I am back. It is good to be back for home-cooked food. My big boss -- my wife -- she is a very good cook.”

We leave him in his bed, surrounded by his family, a man who knows time is short but with a focus and determination to deal with unfinished business.

© Herald & Times Group


‘Scottish people are so friendly and sent me letters of support’

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi recalls his first day in prison in Scotland with warmth and says the support he received from Scots then set the tone for the relationship he had here.

“I still remember the first day I spent in Scotland,” he says quietly. “I received 27 cards and letters and 24 of them were supportive. Only three said anything against me and from that time I have not received any others from people talking of hating me.

“The only people who seem to feel like that are some of the families in America and I understand why. They think that because they believe I am a killer and a criminal. They made their decision on day one, but the British people, especially the Scottish people, seem to know a lot more about the case as it has evolved.

“I want to thank all the people in Scotland for their support. Every day I used to receive so many letters and postcards -- some would even send me money.”

He spent eight years in Scotland but only saw what was visible from his cell window or on television.

He says he does not miss the “dreich” weather of Greenock, pronouncing it with a strong Scottish accent. He explains he had to learn many Scottish words and understand the very different accents in HMP Barlinnie and Greenock.

In his youth, Megrahi visited the UK a couple of times, travelling to London and Cardiff, but he speaks English now with a distinctly Scottish accent.

“Unfortunately I went to Scotland but I never saw any of it,” he says. “I knew only from magazines and newspapers that it is very beautiful.

“I would like to have seen it. I like all the green areas and the mountains. I saw a programme about Loch Ness. I like the story about the monster.

“Some say the language of the Scottish people can be difficult to understand, particularly the Glasgow accent. One time one of them said ‘broon breid broon breid’. I said ‘what do you mean’ -- it was brown bread, you see. Another said ‘my heid my heid’.”

Soon after we arrive, he asks about the Celtic-Arsenal game earlier in the week. Megrahi himself follows Rangers and speaks with warmth of how watching football on TV helped to pass the “gloomy” days in prison. He laughs when he points out the conflict with his sons’ choice of team. “Two of my sons support Celtic, but that is part of what comes from them living in Glasgow.”

His wife, Aisha, and five children moved to a house in Newton Mearns in 2002 to be nearer to the prison for visits. All of them have spent varying amounts of time in the country. His oldest son, Khalid, studied IT at ­Glasgow Caledonian University and son-in-law Mohamed did a Masters in Law at Glasgow University. In an interview with The Herald in

December, they explained how difficult it had been to move there. Shortly after their arrival, their semi-detached house was pelted with eggs. And despite the friendly letters Megrahi received, he explains that during their first Christmas in Newton Mearns his wife sent cards to all of the neighbours. Almost all were returned unopened.

Today, sitting in their Tripoli lounge with her father, Ghada says she would never want to go back -- not because of the people, but because of the circumstances under which they were there.

Megrahi says that he spent his days in prison working on his case, watching TV and reading newspapers.

“I used to read The Herald every day,” he says. “I am very grateful to the paper for the objective way in which it covered the case.

“When I finished reading it, I would try to pass it on to other prisoners and staff. Many of them preferred the tabloids but I may have converted some.”

He is keen to thank the prison governor, prison

officers, and the medical staff who treated him and says even the other inmates tried to provide support to him when he was told he would soon die.

He says he still feels anger at being “wrongfully” convicted but feels that in many ways he was “lucky” to serve his sentence in Scotland because the people are “so friendly”.


How The Herald recorded the key steps

Our exclusive interview with
Colonel Gaddafi’s son yesterday was the latest in a long line of agenda-setting stories on Lockerbie by Chief Reporter Lucy Adams.

Her other key reports include:

October 2005

Secret talks are under way to transfer Megrahi from Scotland to a prison in Libya or a neighbouring north African country.

June 2007

Mohammed Abu Talb, the original suspect in the Lockerbie bombing, could face prosecution in Scotland if Megrahi wins his second appeal.

 October 2007

A top secret document which could undermine the case against Megrahi is obtained by the Crown Office but never made public under national security guidelines.

October 2007

CIA allegedly offered $2m to the Crown’s key witness at the Lockerbie trial, the Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, and his brother Paul.

December 2007

The Crown Office refuses to hand over a secret document sourced from an unnamed foreign country about the MST13 timer which is said to have detonated the Pan-Am bomb.

May 2008

Prosecutors bid for a closed-door session to discuss the document, which the then Foreign Secretary has said should remain confidential.

November 2008

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora, 23, died in the bombing, pledges to continue Megrahi’s appeal if the Libyan dies in prison before his appeal is heard.

December 2008

Wife of Megrahi calls for her husband to be returned to Libya following confirmation he has terminal prostate cancer.

January 2009

Official talks held between Westminster, Holyrood and Tripoli over a potential diplomatic deal which could end the impasse over Megrahi.

February 2009

Prosecutors try to keep secret 48 pieces of evidence relating to the Lockerbie trial, including a secret fax that could discredit key Crown witness Tony Gauci.

April 2009

Senior legal officials write to all relatives of the Lockerbie bombing victims explaining the prisoner transfer process.

June 2009

A confidential medical report describes the “emotional and psychological distress” of Megrahi.

July 2009

Dr Jim Swire writes an open letter to the Justice Secretary to plead for the release of Megrahi on compassionate grounds in a bid to allow the appeal to continue.

Megrahi signs a secret document agreeing to drop legal proceedings if Scottish ministers allow him to return home under a prisoner transfer agreement. Campaigners push for compassionate release.

A psychologist and cancer expert who has assessed the condition of Megrahi describes his state as “desperate”.

Megrahi applies for release on compassionate grounds.