Prisoner release

I remember visiting a farm in Northumberland where the owner was still finding remnants of Pam Am Flight 103 on his land, miles away and months after the Lockerbie bombing.  It was a horrible experience for him.

270 people died on 21 December 1998, including 11 people on the ground.  Now the only person convicted of the bombing, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, has been released on compassionate grounds.

He was indicted on 270 counts of murder in 1991 but Libya only handed him over for trial eight years later.

I'm sorry for anyone who has a terminal illness.  It doesn't give me pleasure to think that anyone might die in jail.  But does serving just eight years of a life sentence amount to justice?

Another dying man was released from prison this summer, one of the great train robbers, Ronnie Biggs.  The driver of the train, Jack Mills, who was badly beaten by the robbers with an iron bar, never worked again, and died only seven years later.

In the meantime Biggs had escaped from jail after only 15 months of his 30 year sentence.  He was a fugitive for 36 years, only returning in 2001 when he needed medical treatment.

After serving just over nine years of his sentence Biggs, too, is free.  In April the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, refused to release him, saying that Biggs was "wholly unrepentant."  A few weeks later, Straw changed his mind.

When capital punishment was abolished, the bargain was that murder would receive a life sentence.  But ‘life' rarely means life.  The average time served by criminals given mandatory life sentences is just 16 years.

Of course, compassion has a place in our criminal justice system.  But when criminals who have evaded justice, never shown remorse for their crimes or acknowledged the suffering of their victims, are freed after just a few years of their sentence, justice is not done.

Michelle Taylor