Scottish minister hits back in Lockerbie bomber row

Scottish minister hits back in Lockerbie bomber row

The row over the release of the Lockerbie bomber intensified today after former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband claimed it was “clearly wrong”.

The Labour leadership contender cast doubt on the medical grounds which allowed the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi last year.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who authorised the release in August, hit back, saying he had followed the rules.

He said Mr Miliband was part of Tony Blair’s government that struck a “deal in the desert” to return Megrahi to Libya under a separate prisoner transfer agreement.

Megrahi, who is terminally ill with cancer, was eventually given a three-month prognosis and sent home “to die” in Libya.

Mr Miliband previously said British interests, and business, “would be damaged” if Megrahi had been allowed to die in a Scottish jail.

But today he told the Herald newspaper: “It was clearly wrong because it was done on the basis he had less than three months to live and it’s now 11 months on.”

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.

The Scottish Government had been asked to consider two applications last year - one for compassionate release on medical grounds and one through the prisoner transfer agreement.

Mr MacAskill granted his compassionate release from Greenock prison after seeking medical advice, a decision which was met with anger, particularly among victims’ relatives and politicians in the US.

Mr Miliband continued: “The decision was made in accordance with our constitution and so it was a decision for the Scottish minister to make.

“Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds and, as I understand it, that depends on him having less than three months to live, so something has gone badly wrong.”

Mr MacAskill, speaking on a visit to a Scottish jail today, hit back saying: “Mr Miliband, it has to be remembered, was a member of the British government that entered into a prisoner transfer application with the state of Libya.

“This was against the wishes of the Government of Scotland. We made it quite clear that if they entered into a prisoner transfer application, then it would include by nature Mr Al Megrahi, and they refused – including Mr Miliband – to exclude Mr Al Megrahi.”

He added: “With regard to compassionate release, that is a matter for the rules and laws of Scotland.

“I followed the rules and laws set down in Scottish statute, and within the prison service rules, and I believe I also adhered to the values and beliefs that we have in Scotland.”

The exchanges came amid further criticism of the way the process was handled.

British Prime Minister David Cameron – who is visiting US President Barack Obama – said it was a “very bad decision”.

Last week, four US Democrat senators called for an inquiry to examine claims that oil giant BP lobbied the British Government for Megrahi’s release to smooth an exploration deal with Libya.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there was “no evidence” to support the claims.

The UK’s representative in Washington has also revealed that the British government believes the release of the Lockerbie bomber was a “mistake”.

Mr MacAskill today repeated his offer to assist any inquiry held into the circumstance surrounding the atrocity.

Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, said earlier this week that the US Senate should call Mr Blair to give evidence and “get the truth” about the refused prisoner transfer agreement.

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