Ministers wanted Prince Andrew to help persuade Colonel Gadaffi not to “exact vengeance” on Britain if the Lockerbie bomber died in a Scottish prison.
Secret papers seen by The Sunday Times reveal that the Duke of York’s relationship with the dictator was seen as a key plank in a strategy to facilitate the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi or to avoid violent repercussions should he die from cancer while in jail.
The documents undermine claims by Gordon Brown’s government that it played no role in trying to secure Megrahi’s return to Tripoli. They underline the threat his death would pose to the UK’s commercial interests in Libya and to the safety of British citizens.
The plan to exploit Prince Andrew’s contacts with Gadaffi is contained in a letter from Rob Dixon, head of the Foreign Office’s North Africa team, to David Miliband, then foreign secretary, and minister Bill Rammell.
Until now only censored versions of the sensitive Foreign Office papers on the release of the Lockerbie bomber have been released by the government.
However, unredacted papers discovered in Tripoli reveal that Gadaffi wanted Megrahi returned “at all costs”.
One memo from Dixon, dated January 22, 2009, states: “We also believe that Libya might seek to exact vengeance on the UK in the event of an unsuccessful application to transfer Megrahi.”
The threat of retaliation was made explicit to Miliband in a telephone call two months later by Musa Kusa, Libya’s foreign minister who fled to Britain this year.
The papers highlight: “The significant risk of harassment — or worse — of embassy staff and UK nationals; the delay or cancellation of UK commercial contracts; a potential diminution of UK-Libya counter terrorism and wider bilateral military co-operation.” The uncensored documents show Dixon proposed “further selective use of HRH The Duke of York’s personal contacts with both Gadaffi and Musa Kusa … on a case by case basis”.
The Sunday Times previously revealed that Prince Andrew, while he was Britain’s special trade representative, met Gadaffi on three occasions in 2008 and 2009.
After greeting Megrahi on his return to Libya in August 2009, Gadaffi praised the duke, as well as Brown and the Queen for helping secure the bomber’s release.
A source close to Andrew said the duke played no role in Megrahi’s release and was not a “friend” of Gadaffi.
Buckingham Palace said: “The issue of the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was raised by the Libyans but the Duke of York was crystal clear that any and all decisions on al-Megrahi were a matter for the Scottish executive and Scottish judicial system exclusively.”