Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond today insisted he did not regret the controversial release from prison of the Lockerbie bomber.
He said his administration acted in good faith on the evidence available at the time when the decision was taken to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds, saying he had three months to live.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s first visit to Washington as premier has been overshadowed by the row over al-Megrahi’s release, with US senators suspicious that oil giant BP may have had a hand in the affair.
Mr Salmond was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if he regretted al-Megrahi’s release and replied: “No, because you can only take a decision on the basis of the evidence at the time and the decision we took was with due process and in good faith.
“You can only take a decision based on information at the time. It’s not unheard of for people who have been released on compassionate grounds to live longer than the three months specified.”
Libyan al-Megrahi is the only man to have been convicted of the Lockerbie atrocity which killed 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988.
He was released from a Scottish prison last August but is said to be still alive and living with his family in the Libyan capital Tripoli.
Mr Salmond insisted: “If you take a decision in good faith, you don’t regret it.”
He criticised ex-premier Tony Blair for negotiating a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) with Libya in 2007 – which was not invoked for al-Megrahi’s release – at the same time as sealing a deal for BP in the country, saying it gave rise to suspicions of “deals in the desert”.
He said his administration had consistently opposed the PTA and went on: “As far as the Scottish government is concerned we had no contact with BP, either written or verbal, as far as the process of compassionate release was concerned.
“The reason they didn’t lobby the Scottish government, I suspect, is because we had made our opposition to the PTA well known and very public.”
Mr Salmond added: “We have had absolutely no doubts about the deep feelings and huge, huge hurt about such an atrocity.”
But he went on: “Not all the relatives have the same position. Some, though not all, of the British relatives concerned were in favour of the release of Mr Megrahi.”