LONDON // The British government yesterday rejected calls for a new inquiry into the 1988 Lockerbie bombing as Abdelbaset Ali Al Megrahi was buried in Tripoli.
However, the quasi-independent Scottish government, which released Megrahi on compassionate grounds almost three years ago, said that the criminal investigation into the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which claimed 270 lives, remained "live" and that any new lines of inquiry would be rigorously pursued.
Nobody believes that Megrahi, who died on Sunday, acted alone in bringing down the London-New York flight, while some campaigners are convinced the 60-year-old was not involved at all. It is possible his family will launch a fresh, posthumous appeal against his conviction.
One popular theory is that Lockerbie was the work of members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, acting at the behest of Iran, which wanted revenge for the downing earlier in the year of Dubai-bound, Iran Air flight 655 by a US navy missile. All 288 people on board were killed.
But David Cameron, the UK prime minister in the United States for a Nato summit, quashed any idea of ordering a new inquiry. "I've always been clear he should never have been released from prison," he said. "I'm very clear that the court case was properly done and properly dealt with."
He was supported by Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, who said there should only be a fresh inquiry if new evidence emerged. He added that he felt the ousting of Muammar Qaddafi's regime could lead to just such information being found.
"I am obviously very sympathetic to the families who have gone through this terrible grief and who don't feel that they have got proper answers," he said in an interview with Britian's ITV Daybreak yesterday.
"The opportunity we have got, I think, is we have a new Libyan government in place. Col Qaddafi is not there any more. Let's really intensify our contact with them and see whether they can help us find some of the truth about what has happened."
Robert Forrester, from the Justice for Megrahi group, claimed that successive British governments had "for years acted to obstruct any attempts to investigate how the conviction of Mr Al Megrahi came about".
He added: "Some in the legal and political establishments may well be breathing a sigh of relief now that Mr Al Megrahi has died. This would be a mistake. Many unfortunates who fell foul of outrageous miscarriages of justice in the past have had their names cleared posthumously."
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond insisted the Lockerbie case remained a live criminal investigation because police and prosecutors had never believed Megrahi acted alone. "Mr Megrahi's death ends one chapter of the Lockerbie case, but it does not close the book," he said.
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Salmond's deputy, defended the decision to release Megrahi after he had served 8 years of a life sentence on compassionate grounds in August 2009, because he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer. At the time, it was said he had only about three months to live, though he subsequently survived almost three years and was treated as a hero by the Qaddafi regime on his return to Libya.
Ms Sturgeon told BBC Radio Scotland: "Compassion is a long-standing principle in the Scottish criminal justice system. One of the things that I hope will happen as a result of Megrahi's death is that some of the wilder conspiracy theories surrounding his release will now be laid to rest. He did have terminal prostate cancer and he died of terminal prostate cancer."
She added that the Scottish government had confidence in Megrahi's conviction in 2001 by a special Scottish Court set up in the Netherlands
"The only place that the guilt or innocence of Megrahi can be determined is in a Scottish court of law and, of course, it is now open to relatives of Megrahi to apply to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to seek a further appeal, and it remains to be seen whether they do that," she said.